OP: 「Grey」 by (Fomare)
Golden Kamuy is the very definition of unfiltered and unfettered. Even so this is one of its most “these go up to eleven” episodes – and that’s a damn high bar, believe me. Everything we love about GK is on display here – brutality, slapstick, steaming manflesh, breakneck pacing, crazy animals, Asirpa facepulls. All that can sort of be grouped under the umbrella heading “this series is batshit nuts and doesn’t care who know it” – which I think, fundamentally, is its calling card.
Integral to the storyline is the new character, Gansoku Maiharu (Miyake Kenta, very clearly enjoying himself). He’s yet another who steps on screen and gives the impression that he’s been starring in his own series, just waiting for the cameras to catch up. We knew he was a prisoner, and indeed he has the tattoos. He’s also a violence junkie and general masochist who found being in prison with Ushiyama the most fulfilling of experiences. Like so many Noda creations there’s nothing overtly sympathetic about him, but you can’t help but like him. No mangaka I know is better at making rogues – up to and including serial killers – likeable.
The others in Sugimoto’s group aren’t even particularly interested in going through with the stenka. They’re perfectly content in cutting off the tavernkeeper’s fingers one by one Sakhalin Ainu style and killing him, but Sugimoto doesn’t want to miss any opportunity that might help lead him to Asirpa. He says he has a plan, though it’s never clear just what that is. As expected Gansoku is lured into the stenka by the new Japanese pugilists’ presence, and he proves himself to be a bit of a human wolverine. But he’s not driven by rage or hatred – he just loved pummelling and (especially) getting pummelled.
The stenka is a manic free-for-all, but it’s a tea ceremony compared to the rest of the episode. What happens to Sugimoto here is profoundly disturbing both in itself and in its implications. He trades a series of massive haymakers with Gansoku – getting more than he gives – and eventually the damage (perhaps paired with despair and rage at himself) causes him to totally lose it. This is no act – this is a fearsome animal lost in a fit of pure bloodlust, to the point where fists can no longer satisfy it. One has to wonder whether there are limits to just how much damage “Immortal Sugimoto” can take – as with Kenshin Himura, all of this physical abuse his body endures has to be taking a long-term toll.
I just love that Noda-sensei at some point thought to himself “what if I have these four buff half-naked dudes flee a wolverine and hide out in a sauna, where they have to get totally naked and beat on each other with white birch leaves?” That’s exactly what happens, after Tsugimoto wigs out so badly that his three teammates flee into the woods. Gansoku is already there and has been attacked by a wolverine, which is putting the tattoos in danger. They have no gun and fists certainly won’t work, so they head for the only refuge in sight – a banya, or Russian steam bath. This is as Golden Kamuy as Golden Kamuy gets – especially when Gansoku persuades to other three to flagellate him all at once.
Meanwhile, the adorable Cikapasi and Enonoka decide to go on an adventure and rescue her isohseta themselves. To say these two provide a contrast to the events going on around them is an understatement, but that’s part of Noda’s genius too. They follow the talkative blonde Russian to the shack where he’s in charge of watching the dog and set about trying to liberate the keys from him, with hilarious but ultimately successful results. But as they’re fleeing through the woods they encounter Sugimoto, who Cikapasi recognizes as dangerously berserk – and in fleeing him, they encounter the wolverine. This leads to a touching father-son style moment where Tanigaki helps Cikapasi get his first kill, and Cikapasi learns for the first time just what his name really means.
One thing you discover when writing about Golden Kamuy is that with eps like this one, trying to describe them is an exercise in futility – they just have to be experienced. To gild the lily, it turns out that the wolverine encounter has occurred on a frozen lake – which promptly breaks, dunking everyone but the kids and the dogs. This has the fortuitous side effect of bringing Sugimoto to his senses, and everyone goes to recover in the banya. And a sensible Sugimoto realizes that he doesn’t want to kill Gansoku, who despite his perversions really isn’t a bad guy and has done nothing to him. So for now their encounter seems to be over, as they agree to copy his tattoos and urge him to flee as far west as he can go to avoid pursuers. I’m sure we’ll see him again.
Stay tuned after the credits (both the new OP and ED are excellent, by the way), as there’s a very interesting scene which offers us our first glimpse of Asirpa this season. Her group – Kiroranke, Shiraishi, Ogata – is somewhere further north, shooting sea lions (Ogata) and cutting them up to eat raw (Asirpa). Things have gotten so complicated that he can be hard to remember who’s on which side (sometimes secretly), and Kiroranke is one of the story’s biggest enigmas. But one thing that’s certain is that Asirpa won’t give up on Sugimoto or he on her – that’ a higher priority than the gold for both of them, which is really the spine of this convoluted and serpentining story.
Author’s Note: Please check out my weekly podcast, with my co-host Setsuken from Anime-Evo.net! New episode reflections, anime news, manga recommendations, listen questions and much more.
ED: 「Yuusetsu」 (Melted Snow) by (THE SIXTH LIE)