「狼においつく」 (Ookami ni oitsuku)
“Catching Up to the Wolf”
I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of another anime that’s improved as much mid-stream as Golden Kamuy. About the only thing that comes to mind is the leap in quality between the first and second seasons of Karakai Jouzu Takagi-san, but there are some obvious differences. That show hadn’t been around as long, for starters. And while the second season was indeed wonderful, it certainly wasn’t starting from nearly as high a place as Golden Kamuy. The flowering this series has undergone this season is really exceptional.
Truthfully, this season of GK has had it all. Intimacy, grandeur, tragedy, slapstick, homoerotic psychedelic sauna sessions, tigers. I’ve mentioned Suehiro Kenichirou’s music before but whenever it plays, we’re swept away into a David Lean film. The more scope Noda-sensei injects into the story the more personal it feels, and the scope this season has been tremendous. It’s all coming together in exquisite fashion, a pastiche of complicated and fascinating characters, each a part of a grander whole that at times seems to revolve around them. It’s a piece of work, man.
The prison break at Ako is obviously a crucial juncture for any number of reasons, not least because Sugimoto is finally on the cusp of catching up to Asirpa. It doesn’t go according to plan, unsurprisingly. The reason? The explosives stored at an abandoned lighthouse above the Arctic Circle are defective – which honestly can’t be much of a surprise – and only a couple of small holes are blown in the prison walls. And through one of them should waltz what, but a Siberian tiger? This is Golden Kamuy – of course there’s a Siberian tiger.
And for the record, it’s not CGI.
In truth Siberian tiger attacks on humans have always been extremely rare, but that doesn’t mean you’d want to run into this largest of all cats. Revered by the locals as Gods, Sofia doesn’t let her men shoot this one, even after it takes down a number of them. Eventually she manages to annoy it onto the roof of the prison and she makes her escape, where she almost immediately meets up with Asirpa. Neither one of them takes long to recognize the other, either – which given Sofia’s status and Asirpa’s appearance isn’t surprising.
Even after he’s dead, Wilk is becoming yet another indelible Noda character – the guy just can’t help spitting them out. “Strength is the same as beauty” is what he told Sofia, and he later told her how he came by his name. Wilk was always fascinated by wolves, and his Polish father dubbed him Wilk as that means “wolf” in Polish. Sofia relates this story to his daughter as he related it to her, telling Asirpa of the lone wolf who was abandoned by his pack, calling them back to his side only to be killed by them. Pity jeopardizes the entire pack, and Wilk – whatever you think of his morality – practices what he preaches. He was, undeniably, a hard man.
However, as hard a man as Wilk was it’s clear he felt a softness towards his daughter. And Sofia’s story prompts the memory of another one in Asirpa’s mind, this time of how Wilk got his other name, his Ainu one – Herkew Oskoni. “Catching up to the wolf”. Wilk tells Asirpa that only he and her mother ever knew that name. And with that memory things begin to come clear in her mind, as the ever-watchful Ogata (whose ears have suggested that someone he knows might be close behind him) clearly takes note of.
It’s only now, as this season plays out, that just how extraordinary a man Wilk was has become clear. To have so compelled formidable figures such as Kiroranke and Sofia he had to have been – not to mention father a daughter as exceptional as Asirpa. His dream was huge in scope, imagining the ethnic minorities of Eurasia as a patchwork of tribes like the natives in America, waiting for someone to unite them to claim their independence. He’s the one person in the story who seems to have had a vision as sweeping as Tsurumi. But of course Wilk is dead, while Tsurumi lives on and continues to orchestrate events from a distance.
Asirpa, even setting aside her perilous position within her current company, is clearly about to face some very hard decisions. Sugimoto is close, and it seems certain that their paths will finally cross again before the season ends. As soon as Shiraishi became separated from the others after going to piss I suspected that he might meet up with Sugimoto and so he has – and just in the
dick nick of time, too. Their reunion is the final catalyst for the larger one to come, an event that will hit yet another reset button in Golden Kamuy’s story.