Golden Kamuy Episode 3 Review

Originally published on The Fandom Post

What They Say: “Kamuy Mosir”

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ainu culture has always been a big part of Golden Kamuy’s appeal, and it takes center stage in this episode. Sugimoto and Asirpa’s stay in the Ainu village, where they go after escaping a group of soldiers from the Seventh Division, gives us a far more in-depth look at both Ainu life and Asirpa’s own place in the story. Learning about the Ainu is interesting enough, but the way their culture ties into Asirpa’s character is what makes this episode really shine. Most of the Ainu we see stick to their traditional way of life; they rarely have contact with the outside world, and many of them don’t speak Japanese at all. Asirpa, on the other hand, speaks fluent Japanese, travels far more than traditional Ainu women, and generally has a different perspective from many of her people. At the same time, she’s also proud of her heritage and continues to follow many of the Ainu traditions. For example, she doesn’t actually give a straight answer when Sugimoto asks if she believes in the traditional Ainu religion. Instead, she responds by explaining how those beliefs influence her people’s way of life and what the practical purpose behind them is. Part of what makes Meiji Japan such an interesting setting is the constant tension between the old and the new throughout that period. Asirpa presents a fascinating take on this common dichotomy by continuing to change with the times without abandoning the core of her traditions.

Beyond the look at the Ainu traditions, we’re also treated to a fun chase when a patrol from the Seventh Division finds Asirpa and Sugimoto. The two of them split up and manage to escape not by outfighting the soldiers, but by outsmarting them. Asirpa initially pretends she only speaks Ainu, and is saved by Retar, the wolf who helped her before, when the soldier figures out the ruse. Sugimoto hides in a bear den, betting on the Ainu saying that a bear won’t attack someone inside its den, and lets the (CGI) bear and the soldiers kill each other. The anime doesn’t spare us any gore for this scene, making it absolutely clear that survival isn’t always pretty. Even so, he and Asirpa both survive, although Asirpa decides to spare the soldier who attacked her, a decision that will no doubt come back to haunt her later on.

In between the action and lessons on Ainu culture, we’re treated to more of the clever humor we saw last week. There’s a running gag throughout the episode about Asirpa mistaking Sugimoto’s miso for poop and constantly teasing him about that. This kind of friendly ribbing, along with some A+ reaction faces, keeps Golden Kamuy from ever getting too serious and adds some much needed levity between the more serious moments.

Great as Sugimoto and Asirpa are, the real standouts are Hijikata Toshizou and Lieutenant Tsurumi. Both only make brief appearances, but leave quite an impact. Tsurumi is confronted by a superior for going after Sugimoto and Asirpa, and promptly bites off the man’s finger and lets his men kill the officer. This casual brutality, combined with the reveal that his scar is from having half his skull blown off, sets him up as an intimidating and unpredictable enemy for the future. On Hijikata’s side, he recruits another prisoner named Ushiyama the Undefeated to help him track down the map pieces and find the hidden gold. Hijikata remains calm for most of it, but gives off a constant sense that he could murder everyone around him, especially when he draws his sword and attacks Ushiyama in an instant before Ushiyama fends him off. Part of this comes from another stellar performance by Joji Nakata, the master of deep voiced anime villains. Both Hijikata and Tsurumi make quite an impression off just a few minutes of screen time, which has me excited for when they start getting involved in the main story.

In Summary:
Now that it’s (mostly) free of the animation issues that dogged the first two episodes, Golden Kamuy’s story gets a chance to really shine. The combination of survival, humor, intrigue, and adventure gives it a strong appeal across the board, only made stronger by having such a strong cast. If it can maintain this sort of quality, Golden Kamuy is going to be a show to keep an eye on this season.

Grade: A-

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