Look at these two guys. Do they look trustworthy to you? Honestly? Are they the kind of folks you’d want to meet in a dark alley? No sir, not I. It is, of course, unfair of me to judge these two perfectly good books solely by their cover, but I have a pathological distrust of moustaches. Hey, if you’re not willing to show your upper lip, what else are you trying to hide? Think about it (don’t think about it).
In seriousness, in a story like Golden Kamuy it pays to simply distrust everybody one meets by default, especially suspiciously hospitable strangers. It’s a rule that has generally held, and at every opportunity Golden Kamuy likes to remind us of how suspicious everybody acts and how embroiled they each are in their own agendas. But there is one sole exception to our blanket paranoia: the Ainu. The Ainu villages we’ve seen so far have unfailingly been filled with genuinely pleasant people with no ulterior motives. Obviously, there’s a point being made here about their down-to-earth, hunter-gatherer lifestyle, in contrast to the political machinations of the various factions fighting over their gold. It’s a bit wanting for subtlety, and the utopian ideals about the ‘noble savage’ are insultingly simplistic, but I think Golden Kamuy has left room for exploration. I hope to see more of a different kind of Ainu, the ones who would support a war against the Japanese to retake Hokkaido. They allegedly exist, and add an interesting new dimension to, at the very least, Asirpa’s world-view.
For now, what the Ainu mostly provide for us is their spirituality. Not only is this a fascinating look into a culture that is largely foreign to us (at least, to me) but it also reveals something about the characters by how they relate to it. Some, like Tanigaki, fully engage with the it as part of his hunter tradition. Others, like Shiraishi, are only here for the food. Still others, like a certain soothsayer, are steeped in mysticism but we’re hard-pressed to tell the difference between a genuine spirituality and a charlatan. And our protagonist, Sugimoto, makes an interesting observation on our behalf: even the kamuy desire gold in the afterlife. It’s the age-old tension between spirituality and pragmatism. The Ainu’s spirituality is very grounded, and revolves around their way of life and providing for the table, less involved in the more abstract theism of our major modern religions. But there may come a day when pure pragmatism outweighs their traditions, and the old ways are swept away. Asirpa is already something of an iconoclast, hunting girl that she is. And there are likely those more extreme than her.
Compare and contrast all this to Ogata, who is completely lacking in faith. He doesn’t trust anyone or anything. He’s a creature of pure cynicism. And he is also portrayed as being fundamentally broken. His sin of double parricide (with a side of casual fratricide) is a great one; in fact, in almost every culture it’s one of the greatest ones. And such a sinner must be deeply flawed, lacking something human in his soul. But, at the same time, it’s Ogata’s broken nature that made him immune to Tsurumi’s ‘seduction’. It doesn’t justify Ogata’s homicidal nature, but there’s evidently plenty of room in Golden Kamuy for cynicism as well.
Ultimately, Ogata’s story made for a neat contrast to the one we got from Tanigaki last week. Tanigaki’s story was ultimately positive, where in the end he found something greater than himself. Ogata’s is decidedly less so, where in the end he had nothing but his own nihilism. And interesting, both broke away from Tsurumi. They travelled different paths, but they’ve arrived at the same stop. Time wil tell whether they share the same destination.