Originally published on The Fandom Post
What They Say:
“Grim Reaper”, “Race”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Well, it finally happened: Asirpa ate miso.
Beyond that shocking twist, these two episodes showcase Golden Kamuy at its best. Episode 4 is where we learn more about Asirpa, both her way of life in the village and her history with the wolf, Retar. Retar was originally a pup that Asirpa and her father found and raised, and later served as a companion to Asirpa after her father died until he ultimately had to leave her to live as a wolf rather than a pet. Seeing the normally composed Asirpa crying out for her father as Retar leaves is a heartbreaking moment that explains why Asirpa always acts more mature than her age suggests. She’s been through a lot, and had to do a lot of growing up on her own. Learning this further contextualizes her relationship with Sugimoto, both to him and the audience. More than anything else, Sugimoto is becoming a father figure to her. As he realizes this, Sugimoto decides to leave her behind and continue to search for the tattoos alone, only to be captured by more of Tsurumi’s men.
As it turns out, Tsurumi is acting on his own behalf, not a mission from the Japanese government. He and his men want to use the gold to buy weapons from America and take over Hokkaido as a form of revenge against the government that abandoned them after the war ended. Sympathetic as their situation is, the 7th Division’s actions firmly set them in the villain category. Sugimoto comes up with a clever backstory to try and hide his identity from Tsurumi, but Tsurumi recognizes him from the war and easily sees through it. He initially attempts to recruit Sugimoto, but quickly resorts to stabbing him through the mouth with a skewer. Tsurumi’s clearly an intelligent person, so the sudden bursts of violence he unleashes fill every second with tension when he’s on screen. On Sugimoto’s part, the way he continues to speak and even fight back with multiple skewers through his mouth and a knife halfway in his chest (courtesy of some of Tsurumi’s more unruly subordinates) reinforces why he’s known as the Immortal Sugimoto. He always fights like a berserker against impossible odds, and really does seem unkillable at moments like this. His normally-comedic shouting of his nickname takes on a more serious quality when he’s doing it just an inch from death.
Episode 5 features Asirpa’s rescue plan, which she executes with some help from the newly recruited/threated Escape King Shiraishi who we met before (a hungry wolf and a poison arrow serve as strong motivators). Their plan to fake an injury using the blood from a guard Sugimoto kills works, and the ensuing chase scene where he fights off Tsurumi’s men and escapes on a sled is one of Golden Kamuy’s best action scenes yet. The first half of the episode is a nonstop barrage of action that allows both Sugimoto and Asirpa to shine. Even more than the bear fights, this is the most exciting Golden Kamuy’s ever been, and things are only looking up from here. Asirpa berates Sugimoto for not trusting her as a partner, and the scene ends with a sense that she hasn’t completely forgiven him.
Their conversation will have to wait for another time, as we’re treated to more of Hijikata recruiting men to help him find the gold. As it turns out, his goal is also to take over Hokkaido and reform the Shinsengumi, similar to Tsurumi’s plan. Hijikata’s combat skills and sheer screen presence make him shine as a villain (Joji Nakata’s stellar voice work helps too), even if he hasn’t actually gotten involved in the main plot yet. We’re also introduced to yet another faction: the 7th Division soldier that Asirpa spared before has teamed up with a legendary bear hunter whose courage seems on par with Sugimoto’s. Both are now on the hunt for a white wolf, meaning they’re guaranteed to run into Asirpa and Sugimoto sooner or later. Between their introduction and Shiraishi joining Asirpa and Sugimoto’s search for the gold, it feels like Golden Kamuy has only just now gotten out of the prologue stage of the story, and things are only looking to get more intense as it goes on.
These two episodes have showcased Golden Kamuy at its best; exciting action, an interesting historical setting, and two strong leads make both episodes a joy to watch (animation issues aside). Now that all the parties are on the hunt, the search for the Ainu gold can begin in earnest.