I’d be tempted to sing “It’s a Small World” right now – that is, if I didn’t hate the song with every fibre of my being and it wasn’t the stuff of nightmares. It’s ironic, but by spreading out the story geographically the way he has in this arc, Noda Satoru has begun to tie it together narratively as it never has been. It’s a great gift for any storyteller to be able to achieve something sweeping and intimate at the same time, and Noda-sensei certainly has it. But we’ve not seeing it come to full glorious flower consistently until this season – with no small thanks to the adaptation, especially Suehiro Kenichirou’s soundtrack.
I had no idea what this week’s episode title was when I noted that Kiroranke “thinks like a revolutionary”, but this week’s episode certainly bore it out. He’s a tough one to peg, because Kiroranke is extremely good at deception. But he has the air of the zealot about him, and I have no doubt that he believes it when he tells Asirpa that the gold can help ethnic minorities all across Asia. The problem with zealots is that nothing and no one is too great a price to pay to achieve what they see as their noble goals, and I fear that Asirpa – sharp knife though she is – is above her pay grade in navigating these waters.
The story of Kiroranke, Wilf, and Sofia’s time in the company of the Japanese photographer Hasegawa-san and his wife Fina is enormously effective. This season has been chock full of flashbacks, and normally that would be a major potential problem. But these have been so well-integrated, and so illuminative about the characters in question, that each one has been a mini-masterpiece. The emotional wringer this story put me through was quite something – from worrying about Hasegawa and what Wilk and his crew might do to him and his family to the stunning revelation at the end of the episode.
“Strength and beauty are the same”, Wilk’s life philosophy, is a rather chilling notion when you think about it. It’s the mantra of a purist, an extremist. I thought for a time he was the lone wolf in allegorical question here just as Ogata was the mountain cat, but it turned out to be another. As Hasegawa teaches the trio English and marvels at Kiroranke and especially Wilk’s ability to absorb it quickly, his situation seems more and more precarious. And Hasegawa seems to sense it too – it’s pretty obvious that something is off with this trio. Sofia is no peasant (she speaks French) and the mens’ interest in Japanese is obviously not to be explained away innocently.
Eventually Hasegawa sends Fina and their infant daughter Olga away, seeming to have realized who the visiting trio are. But the Czar’s secret police arrive just after her departure. Ironically the trio of revolutionaries could have left unmolested, for they weren’t the reason for the visit at all. It turns out Hasegawa is a Japanese spy who’s been found out, and he’s enormously well-prepared for this eventuality. Circumstances make allies of Hasegawa and the revolutionaries, and with the help of the Gatling gun Hasegawa has been hiding inside his camera, they slaughter the attackers with chilling dispatch (and tragic consequences).
Was I surprised at the episode’s ending? Yes, certainly – it wasn’t until I heard “Hasegawa Kouichi isn’t my real name” that it hit me what he was about to say. Once spoken, it fit like a glove. The events of that day cast ripples which are still felt in the story right up to the present tense. Sofia has never recovered from the guilt at having accidentally killed Olga, and it led directly to her decision to stay behind when Wilk and Kiroranke crossed the ice to Karafuto. As to the impact on Tsurumi, well, that’s all conjecture of course. But a great many things surely had to happen to turn him into the man he is, and this was among the most important.
In practical terms, this reveal changes the dynamic of the story in a very significant way. Tsurumi knows who his quarry is, while Kiroranke has no idea of that fact. That gives a man as cunning as Tsurumi a considerable advantage, and I have no doubt that it’s a card he’ll play at some critical juncture. Indeed, as one takes stock of the current situation, the extent to which it’s come about as a result of Tsurumi’s manipulation of events and people is striking.
Wilk was such a cold person despite his handsome and honest looking face. I wonder if he married Asirpa’s mom for the same reason Tsurumi married Fina, a cover story, a way to integrate into the local community to get what they want, Russian intelligence for Tsurumi, and info on the gold for Wilk. Asirpa’s maternal grandpa was the most important man in their kotan after all.
I guess Wilk grew attached, just like Tsurumi. One really wonders what the present day Tsurumi is really after now. Revenge? On who? The revolutionaries? Russia? Japan? Does he want to take over the land where his family’s remains are? Does he just want everything to burn?
Hijikata well knows his New Edo will likely be a pipe dream, but he wants to go out with a big last hurrah. Is Tsurumi the same? Almost makes you feel bad for all the men of the 27th. All traitors to the Emperor now. None of them asked for this. Wonder who amongst Tsurumi’s benefactors and subordinates know about his Russian family.
Interesting speculation about Wilk, and very possible.
It’s hard to ever really know what Tsurumi is thinking. If I had to guess, I think he wants to make a big noise and inflict serious pain in retaliation for what he sees as the betrayal of the men he fought with.
Near the end of the episode I genuinely was thinking about what happened to Hasegawa-san after this ordeal. He seemed like someone that could turn up again.
And then the last scene played out, at first I was just thinking “oh, an answer of some sort”. But soon after it was more in the line of “Whu-whaaa” in agasp.
Being cursed with an extreme cause of genre savviness, it was a great feeling of actually being genuinely caught off-guard.
Just that simple reveal and suddenly I feel I understand Tsurumi a whole lot more.
And that was the genius of it.
As I noted, once he said what he did about Hasegawa not being his real name, I kind of gravitated immediately to Tsurumi. But up to that point? It honestly never crossed my mind.
I love it when this series throws a curveball at you like this. Overall it’s really good, but episodes like this really catch you off guard and blow you away.