by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Golden Kamuy ?
I'm really glad that we're getting more Golden Kamuy in October, as the end of this episode triumphantly declares. This episode is a lot of fun, but it feels like a breather along the way to greater things. It's not a bad way to end an exciting first season, but it's definitely not the way to end a series.
We learn at the beginning of the episode that all our important players survived the hotel fire—including Ienaga, whom Ushiyama successfully saved. She even gives our characters an important lead at the end, which suggests she'll be sticking around, so I guess I'll have to get used to her. On the subject of pronouns: Crunchyroll's subtitles this episode switch to using male pronouns for Ienaga, at least in terms of how Shiraishi and Ushiyama address her. However, the original Japanese dialogue doesn't gender these exchanges, and Ushiyama certainly seems undeterred in his feelings for her. While last week's episode positioned her gender change as a form of "deception", it also suggested an effort to express her inner self, using wording about achieving bodily perfection. So until the series does anything to suggest that Ienaga doesn't see herself as female, I'm just going to continue to refer to her that way.
The first third of this episode mostly serves as a way to get our characters from where they were last episode to where they need to be this week. Luckily, the other two thirds are as fun as this series gets. We finally get a focus episode on the series' brightest light of comic relief: Shiraishi. Sugimoto and Asirpa's dopey associate has really grown on me over time, to the point where I'm delighted every time he gets the spotlight. This is especially true when he's around women, where he smacks of desperation, introducing himself to the Ainu fortune-teller Inkarmat as having no girlfriend, and his thirst and gullibility only grow as the episode goes on. He even gets some of his own musical moments, like the use of the jawharp in his most ridiculous scenes. Also he gets some great faces—usually Asirpa's department, but now it's Shiraishi's time to shine. Even if Golden Kamuy isn't always shaking things up in the animation department, they know how to keep their characters expressive in a fun way.
It turns out that Shiraishi has a weakness for horse racing. Having a vice for gambling is a common trait of "shady" characters in anime, but also the gullible or weak—categories that both describe Shiraishi. (He's mostly the latter in the context of this morally-grey show, but let's not forget that Shiraishi is one of the Abashiri convicts himself.) He's fallen for Inkarmat's charms and uses her unique method of divination—involving animal skulls—to predict which horses will win each race. As suspicious as Inkarmat seems, her method works out well for Shiraishi, Her keeps winning bet after bet with her guidance. But in the final race of the episode, he's up against some more formidable opponents.
Inkarmat herself is definitely fishy. Her smirk just seems so fake to me, and as much fun as she has with Shiraishi, it's obvious that she's manipulating the game to get more money out of him. So some of that fakeness is part of her occupation, but I also suspect that this woman has ulterior motives for the group around, and maybe we'll get a taste of them soon. She certainly doesn't have trouble duping our heroes as part of this week's scheme, for motives that aren't quite clear yet. Inkarmat even tries to drive a wedge between the group, encouraging Asirpa to distrust her friends and claiming that she'll be better off if Shiraishi doesn't win.
So the last race gets complicated. Kiroranke gets recruited as a jockey due to his resemblance to the real one. His horse is supposed to lose the race, as the mob bosses who run the town have put their money on another horse. Despite all the tricks to slow his horse down though, Kiroranke still pulls ahead. This destroys the mob's prospects, while helping Sugimoto and friends, who pulled for Kiroranake's horse. It turns out that all of Shiraishi's winnings are for naught anyway, when Inkarmat ends up using them herself, but Kiroranke's win does help the group as a whole. I'm curious if we'll see more of this town in future episodes, as it apparently has a complicated dynamic between its historical ruling families and the mob's violence. We see how this race ends with bodies all over the tracks and stands. But for now, it seems like our heroes are on to their next location: Yuubari.
Sugimoto, Asirpa, and Shiraishi's section of the episode ends on a hopeful note of moving forward, and it's a good sign-off for this season. Even if the episode as a whole doesn't quite "work" as a finale, those last few minutes give us some closure. We also get some tantalizing leads on future plot threads in a post-credits scene. Tsurumi is already in Yuubari, and he's hot on the trail of a suspicious character who wears fingerprinted gloves. Combined with the development on Nijikata's front this week—he gains Private Ogata as a bodyguard!—our alliances seem ready for an epic showdown in October.
It's been fun taking this wild ride with Golden Kamuy. It hasn't always been a smooth one though, whether due to iffy production values or dips into cliché territory. Still, it's always been an interesting story that offers a lot to discuss. Golden Kamuy manages to hit so many genre notes: action-adventure, goofy comedy, and a surprisingly thoughtful twist on history. But mostly it's just a lot of fun, and if its next season can keep that up, Golden Kamuy could turn out to be something great.
Golden Kamuy is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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