It hardly seems that we’ve gone, does it? After a short one season break Golden Kamuy returns, picking up basically where we left off, with Asirpa and gang, after 12 episodes of winter, freshly experiencing the Hokkaido spring. It’s ironic that although spring is the season of new beginnings Golden Kamuy does not seem to be in a hurry to reinvent itself, even as it launches into a new chapter. Instead, the first thing Golden Kamuy does is remind us what it really is all about.
One may mistakenly get the general impression, from promotional materials and elsewhere, that Golden Kamuy was all about gritty violence. Super edgy, super bloody. And yeah, sure, Golden Kamuy is capable of some stomach-turning stuff from time to time, and I’m sure some of you watching it are here for hard-boiled action sequences, and that’s all good. But that’s not how the second season of Golden Kamuy has chosen to open. Instead, it’s all sunshine, greenery, and Ainu culture, a stark contrast to the first season. There, we were greeted with war and Sugimoto stabbing some guy in the face. Golden Kamuy is a show of two halves, one about humans coexisting with nature while enjoying its bounties and one about humanity’s internal conflict as we destroy each other, and while traditionally conflict is the fuel of all stories it’s curious how Golden Kamuy keeps coming back to and even emphasises its more positive side. I’m glad for that; not only is cultural Ainu stuff simply interesting, Golden Kamuy would be a rather nihilistic show without it.
Violence and nihilism in anime is often associated with maturity. While there is certainly a correlation, in that they’re the kind of things we keep away from the immature, nihilism is more an adolescent thing that most adults manage to grow out of. Indeed, while Golden Kamuy‘s outlook on humanity is hardly idealistic, it never descends into nihilism. Its violence, brutal though it can be, always has a greater purpose and it’s never murder for the sake of a body count. In fact, in this episode nobody was killed at all (nobody who wasn’t already dead, anyway). There is nuance here, an additional layer to the character of Lt Tsurumi, showing that he knows that he can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar (even though just tatooing random people and skinning them would be more expedient). He’s not just a maniac, he has a charisma, and there is a reason why his men follow him. And in an obvious homage to Alfred Hitchcock it is a study in madness, in extreme obsession. And we are left wondering if Tsurumi is able to form a bond with Edogai because he is the voice of reason, or because he is, deep down, just as mad.
These are all things that we’re accustomed with in Golden Kamuy. Again, it’s not in a hurry to change its formula. But it does want to give a sense of progression, it seems, so rather than changing the script it settles for muddying the waters. The possibility of betrayal is raised, with all characters seeming to possess their own agenda. Honestly, the only characters I feel like I can 100% trust is Asirpa and Sugimoto — and maybe even that is naive on my part. But I’m glad to see that Golden Kamuy is keeping to its core while mixing things up, and as the plot thickens I’m excited to see where this second season is going to take us.