Originally published on The Fandom Post
What They Say:
“Eyes of a Murderer” and “Gleaming”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Golden Kamuy’s heroes are great, but these past few episodes have proven that its villains are just as good at stealing the show. Episode 8 begins with Shiraishi getting captured by Hijikata and his men, and having to toe the line between telling them about Sugimoto without revealing how many skins Sugimoto and Asirpa have actually gotten. Hijikata sends him after Henmi Kazuo, one of the escaped prisoners and a serial killer, and Shiraishi complies without telling Sugimoto and Asirpa about Hijikata. They encounter Kazuo in a whaling village, although Shiraishi is separated from the others and can’t identify him. Once they reunite and he does, Sugimoto finishes off Kazuo and takes his skin. Meanwhile, Tanigaki is confronted by Ogata and Nikaidou, who have gone rogue and attempt to kill him. Tanigaki uses a smokescreen to escape in order to prevent the Ainu from getting caught in the crossfire.
Even though he’s only around for two episodes Henmi makes quite the impression. Unlike Nihei, he’s an unrepentant murderer who became obsessed with death after watching his younger brother get mauled to death by a boar. His obsession with dying in just as violent a manner is played surprisingly goofily. He never comes off as a major threat as much as a comedic pervert (the frequent flashes of light from his crotch when he thinks about dying imply that he gets a sexual thrill out of it). The way he tries to hide his reactions from Sugimoto until Shiraishi identifies him makes for some amusing interactions, even while he and Sugimoto are fleeing from the 7th.
On the opposite side, Hijikata manages to steal every scene he’s in with his constant aura of menace. There’s a scene at the end of episode 9 where he disguises himself as a local and speaks with Sugimoto. Shiraishi instantly recognizes him but is to afraid to say anything, even as Hijikata gets threateningly close to a half-asleep Asirpa. Hijikata ultimately doesn’t do anything and leaves, but that doesn’t diminish how tense the scene is. Hijikata always has an aura of barely restrained violence no matter what he’s doing, which is further enhanced by the sheer gravitas of Joji Nakata’s voice. Now that Hijikata has met both Tsurumi and Sugimoto, he’s perfectly positioned to take a central role in battle for the gold. He also orders Shiraishi to make copies of the map, meaning Shiraishi is going to have to make a choice about who he sides with very soon. He’s been pretty selfish in the past, but he also seems to genuinely like Sugimoto and Asirpa, so its an open question what his ultimate decision is going to be. The other main takeaway from Hijikata’s conversation with Sugimoto is that Asirpa’s father may, in fact, be Nopperabo. Hijikata comments that her eyes make her look half-Russian and thinks back to Nopperabo after saying that. If he’s right, that fact could radically change Asirpa’s entire motive for finding the gold. For now, though, it’s only a hint at things to come.
While all this is going on, Tanigaki meets the rogue men from the 7th. They pretend to be travelers visiting the Ainu, which leads to another conversation full of razor-sharp tension as they talk to Tanigaki about the missing soldiers and vaguely threaten the Ainu as hostages. Like the conversation with Hijikata, they ultimately leave and attempt to snipe Tanigaki from afar, but the tension remains. Tanigaki’s escape is as clever as we’ve come to expect from Golden Kamuy, using smoke to block their line of sight and slip out with Nihei’s rifle. His plan to go after them with only one bullet is reminiscent of Nihei’s hunting style, showing just how much of an impact their brief friendship had.
The other standout scene in these two episodes is a far less serious one. While going after Henmi, Sugimoto and Asirpa encounter some Ainu whalers, and join them for a hunt. While the stakes are far lower than the battles against the 7th and the prisoners, the hunt stands out for its sense of wild adventure. The sequence both shows another facet of Ainu life, and leads to a fun chase where Sugimoto’s boat is being pulled along by the whale he speared. Watching him be pulled along in a freezing ocean by a huge whale further highlights the majesty and danger of Golden Kamuy’s wilderness, especially when we see how much damage a whale like that can do to a small fishing boat. It’s not a crucial scene for the overall plot, but it’s a memorable one none the less.
Even though it’s risky to be introducing so many new characters and subplots this late in the game, Golden Kamuy continues to impress with its execution. A lesser show would risk collapsing under so many characters, but even one-off characters like Henmi Kazuo are so entertaining that the show doesn’t drag when they become the focus. On the opposite end, the longer term villains like Hijikata and Tsurumi continue to steal the show every time they’re on screen. Sugimoto and Asirpa take a somewhat lesser role for these two episodes, but Golden Kamuy isn’t any weaker for it. Even though I’m somewhat worried about how it’s going to resolve so many characters and subplots with only four episodes left, I’m more than happy to go along if it means more time with characters like these.