Golden Kamuy
Episode 15

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 15 of
Golden Kamuy (TV 2) ?

With the Edogai incident wrapped up for now, much of this episode is about putting pieces into place for the next big showdown. First though, the characters really want to put this last one behind them—and that even means burning down Edogai's house with all the evidence inside. It makes sense; the kibushi berries he had stored were in there as damning proof of both the existence of the fake skins and the way he made them (which potentially others could copy). But it's still sad to see all his years of creepy handiwork go up in flames. The dude seemed so willing to go gently into that good night because he believed his art would live past him, so it feels cruel to see it all destroyed so quickly. Once you shuffle off this mortal coil, your legacy is out of your own hands.

After that, we get a tense sniper battle between Hijikata's forces—now (however temporarily) aligned with Sugimoto's group—and the troops destroying the building. Ogata and Sugimoto are the big guns mowing everyone down, while Hijkata is their secret weapon in the shadows, taking down guys with his sword who think they're in the clear. Often when I would watch Golden Kamuy action sequences, I felt like skipping them, especially back in the days when this show was suffering in the animation department. Thankfully, things have improved since then, and this whole sequence is paced in a way that just keeps you on the edge of your seat, even though you know who's going to win. The music is some of the best this show has featured in a while too.

Once they escape the burning house and any pursuers, we return to the woods where Asirpa explains another aspect of Ainu culture and survival skills: woodcock hunting. (Depending on how extremely online you are, you may have already seen the woodcock doing its wiggly mating dance to Drake or squawking along to Collective Soul. Though Asirpa's hunting a different species, the Eurasian woodcock, it's the same basic idea: brown, plump, and good meat during the cold winters in Hokkaido. What's revealing about this scene is the way that the newcomers treat the food that Asirpa offers them. If you take the meal scenes as a way to convey connecting across cultures, it means something when someone refuses that connection. This time it's Ogata, who is resistant to eating the brain that Asirpa sees as a delicacy. Everyone else goes along with it, but not him. He also won't create chitatap the right way, refusing to say the word. At the same time, he also tries woodcock hunting Asirpa's way when she doesn't catch that many, and she's surprised when he proves to be pretty good at it. So maybe he's not all bad, but we should definitely view Ogata's resistance to trying Ainu food with raised eyebrows.

The group decides that since they lost their chance to tell the fake skins apart in the fire, they need to track down Nopperabo himself to learn the truth. The mysterious guy has been tight-lipped so far, but they wonder if maybe he'll talk to his daughter. At the same time, Asirpa and her father seem to have conflicting loyalties. Asirpa's loyalty is to her people, vowing revenge on the gold thief for taking such an important resource from them. Nopperabo's thievery puts his goals—and even his Ainu heritage—into question. What does he really want, and will his fatherly instincts override his secret agenda?

As our group journeys closer to him, we see the formation of a new secondary trio. Cikapasi, aka "Boner," the orphaned kid from Asirpa's village who has been hanging around the edges of the story, manages to talk Tanigaki and Inkarmat into forming a found-family with him. He even comes up with various convoluted ways to explain their connection. In this group, the non-Ainu character Tanigaki is instead the odd man out—the reverse of Sugimoto and Asirpa's trio with Shiraishi (if Shiraishi is still a core part of that trio, but more on that in a moment.) Of course, Tanigaki's origins in the Matagi tribe means he's not making quite as much of a stretch to fit in as Sugimoto does with the Ainu. It will be interesting to see how this group compares with our main trio, especially if the vibes I'm reading between Tanigaki and Inkarmat turn out to be right.

The cornerstone of this episode is the flashbacks to Hijikata and Shinpachi's past, where we learn a little more about their deep connection. They were once both reckless womanizing young men, but turned more serious as they aged and got more involved in the Shinsengumi. The main thing we learn about here is their grudge against Shirosuke Inudou, a sadistic warden of the Kabato prison where Hijikata was detained. He clearly has a deep-seated hatred of Hijikata, wanting to torture him until he lost the will to live before he executed him. This spurs Shinpachi's desire to reach him. While I'm sure we'll explore that further in future weeks, the emotional meat of his encounter is how Shinpachi reminisces about talking to Hijikata through the door. We see the characters get physically younger in the image as he trawls deeper into his memory. While this scene works to introduce a new character and plot elements, the real point is what it reveals about that central relationship.

It's with the last character-focus moment that we get our cliffhanger. Now that Sugimoto's group is officially aligned with Hijikata, Shiraishi is terrified that his double-agent duty will be revealed to Sugimoto. He has a terrifying dream about Sugimoto murdering him when he finds out that he was acting as a double agent. I knew once things got really bloody that it was all a dream; Shiraishi wasn't going to kick the bucket just when he was becoming useful to the plot, as his escape skills are their best bet to get to Nopperabo. He also wasn't going to escape either, but the potential consequences of him being discovered by an army set up for an interesting next episode.

That's largely the point of this episode: setup. It's here to get us from Point A to Point B, from the Edogai plot to the next skirmish in the battle for the Ainu gold. Still, it manages to elevate itself beyond that with some interesting character revelations. Golden Kamuy has a knack for balancing its quieter character moments, like everyone sitting down to eat woodcock chitatap, with pulse-pounding action and propulsive plot movement. It's what makes this episode feel like more than just a transition between bigger stories.

Rating: A-

Golden Kamuy is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a Ph.D. student in musicology, who recently released a book about the music of Cowboy Bebop. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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