I came into Golden Kamuy thinking it’d be an action-heavy series, and that would be what I’d be watching it for. Turns out, not at all. After a string of episodes focused on Ainu culture and all that good stuff we have a relatively (relatively) action loaded episode this week, and I think I actually prefer Golden Kamuy as a historical food anime. For one, action is not really Golden Kamuy‘s trong point. It has neither the animation nor the choreography for it. Many action series don’t actually have that many action scenes, and most of their episode time is not dedicated to fighting. Instead, they have the occasional bursts of action where they can focus most of their animation resources and those high spikes are enough to keep the show intense. Golden Kamuy does not do that, and perhaps should not do that. While in a more traditional action anime the action scenes are big pay-off moments, designed to look cool and feel cool, that’s not how they’re used in Golden Kamuy. Golden Kamuy never glorifies its actions. The focus is never about the cool factor, but the brutality. The fights we’ve seen so far involve characters who have neither superpowers nor special moves. They just maul each other. It’s an appeal to realism, perhaps; fights aren’t pretty. And perhaps it’s a cynical metaphor for human lives: short and brutal.
It’s not that Golden Kamuy is incapable of feel-good stories. Retar found a mate somewhere and even has cubs (yet still cavorts around with some other woman) so the wolves are probably not extinct after all. That’s optimistic. But I suspect that these brief respites of optimism are only there to juxtapose the pessimism. Take the history of the Ainu gold; to gain their wealth (and the capital to wage war) they sacrificed their natural bounties, and Golden Kamuy does not frame that as a worthwhile trade. Nature is always portrayed positively while human endeavour (yada yada weapons factory) are much less so. Golden Kamuy‘s view of the human condition is very bleak. Or perhaps that’s a side effect of a story where the entire male cast are stone-cold killers (except maybe Shiraishi, who needs to be the Escape King considering how often he stumbles into trouble). Then again, chicken or the egg?
Speaking of origins, the interesting parts about these bloodthirsty sociopaths is learning how they got the way they are, and accordingly this week we get more of the backstory of Crazy ‘Stache. Turns out, he’s basically Japanese Hitler (sorry, Tojo). For those who aren’t familiar with the story of Hitler’s rise to power… well, you’re seeing it right here, in general terms. As you may recall, Germany did not have a good time after World War I. They terms of the peace treaty held them responsible for the war, forced them pay reparations, and basically collapsed both their government and their economy. Hitler was a WWI veteran, did not have a good time, and felt that German soldiers were betrayed by politicians. About there Hitler and Lt Tsurumi diverge (unless Crazy ‘Stache wants to blame the Jews too) but overall it’s a familiar story. That’s perhaps because it’s been told so many times; history is full of examples where a government loses control of a disgruntled military. Napoleon, for example, learnt this lesson well. He was a nationalist, but he understood that armies fundamentally run on much baser fare than pride or patriotism. They ran on money. Pay your soldiers, or else you’ll end up with some loon out to build his own paramilitary fiefdom in Hokkaido.