「悪兆」 (Aku chou)
What a relentlessly fascinating bunch of people inhabit the world of Golden Kamuy. Even the comets which whizz through its narrative solar system for a couple of episodes before disappearing are usually memorable, never mind the planets themselves. Ogata is definitely one of those planets – or a moon orbiting around Planet Tsurumi, at the very least. And in a cast full of badasses, hardasses, psychotics and stone-cold men, Ogata is without a shadow of a doubt one of the scariest.
I never had any doubt that Ogata would win his showdown with Vasily, and not just because he’s too important a character to lose at this point of the story. Vasily is very good, clearly, and cold as ice, as witness his stony inaction as his wounder comrades slowly expired after encountering Kiro-chan’s homemade bomb. But Ogata is on another level, a machine. How else do you explain his ability to remain utterly motionless in bitter cold for so many hours, long enough to lure Vasily into his trap – thinking he’d hidden himself in an Uilta coffin? I’m not sure whether Vasily is actually dead (I kind of hope not, and we’ve seen characters in this series survive some spectacularly grave wounds) but for now he’s no longer an obstacle.
Ogata as a machine is a metaphor I’ve come back to many times over the course of Golden Kamuy. This is the second episode we’ve had which focuses on his younger brother Yuusaku, whose end we already knew about. I wasn’t aware of the military superstition above flag-bearers being virgins, but Yuusaku’s purity goes far beyond that – he declines even to kill and thus despoil the flag he carries. Ogata always seems emotionless, especially as he kills with terrifying efficiency. But this was personal – I’ve always felt that killing Yuusaku was a matter of satisfying a need, an emotional act by an impassive man. And this ep certainly does nothing to change my mind.
Meanwhile, the compelling drama surrounding Kiroranke and Asirpa continues to unfold. Kiroranke finally admits the truth – that as a 15 year-old in St. Petersburg he was drawn into the Narodnaya Volya. He carries the blood of the Karafuto Ainu along with the Tatars in his veins, he says – and I suppose it’s probably true – and he says he wants the gold for the same reason he helped assassinate Alexander in 1881, to liberate the ethnic minorities of the Far East. Like most extremists there’s a thirst for justice at the heart of his cause and I don’t doubt the broad outlines of his story. But Kiroranke is someone who will do anything to accomplish his goals, and I believe Asirpa is in the end a tool and an opportunity to him – nothing more.
Shiraishi’s impulse to run is probably a good one – he senses the hard truth about Kiroranke, and in practical terms anyone in Kiroranke’s company becomes a target in Russia. Asirpa’s refusal is not surprising, since it’s clear that Kiroranke has successfully ensnared her in the strings that tie him to her father’s past. The problem for Shiraishi is that for all his chicanery he does have a sort of honor to him, and he remembers the promises he’s made to Sugimoto – who’s probably the one man, more than any other, who’s treated Shiraishi with respect.
This episode also features a wealth of interesting insight into the customs of the Uilta. Kiro-chan seems to have the cultural knowledge of an anthropologist, the product I suppose of a life on the run in the frozen north. The Uilta’s rituals and Asirpa’s herbal medicine do wonders for Ogata, who’s developed a high fever after his frozen duel with Vasily. Their fortunetelling – reading the cracks in the shoulder blade of a reindeer tossed into the fire – seems to imply the relentless pursuit being undertaken by Sugimoto. But it eventually implies something else, and much more ominous, though Asirpa, Kiroranke and Shiraishi are gone long before the ill omen reveals itself.
I wonder if Yuusaku’s attempt at comforting Ogata was what finally doomed him, saying it’s simply not right for people with no remorse over murder to exist, thus denying what Ogata perceives to be his own existence. I also wonder if Tsurumi wasn’t egging Ogata on. Sure he said to not shoot the flag bearer. But why mention noble blood at the Chaya to Ogata, who is obviously sensitive to the topic?
Either way Yuusaku was right in the end, at least regarding guilt and his beloved brother. Let’s see if he will return as an ill spirit to be exorcised or the guardian angel Ogata is going to soon need but definitely not deserve, now that Sugimoto is catching up fast on his heels.
Asirpa’s position strangely reminds me of Kaoru from Zettai Karen Children, a completely different show in content and tone with Japanese Magneto and mutants instead of charming revolutionaries and disappearing minorities. But a protagonist with a heart filled with innocence and justice growing up, interacting more with the world, looking on helplessly then bitterly at how her people are treated, and finally turning into a terrorist leader in her adulthood? Why does that vision sound familiar? I wonder what Asirpa will choose in the end. That, not the gold, will likely be the final resolution to this tale.
I think (this is purely my own speculations) both your speculations in the first paragraph are on-point.
With Asirpa and company coming deeper into Russia I expect more of historical maelstrom of 1905 revolution to be shown. Kiroranke will be definitely a hunted man for the dreaded Okhrana, Tsarist secret police… And border guards were just first men thrown into the fight.