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Golden Kamuy
Episode 18

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 18 of
Golden Kamuy (TV 2) ?
Community score: 4.0

Rarely do we get an episode that focuses so completely on one character like this, but I often find them to be the most rewarding. While a little does happen with other characters this week, episode 18 is essentially Tanigaki's story. We learn exactly why he left his village, why he joined the 7th Division, and the guilt that's still haunting him and driving his actions to this day. We see why he values family ties so highly, because of the way his history drove him away from his own.

(For the sake of consistency, I'm going to continue to refer to Tanigaki by his surname, even though this discusses his family who use the same name. I will try my best to word things so that they don't get confusing.)

Tanigaki joined the 7th Division in order to hunt down Kenkichi, a man he had grown up with in Ani, his home village. The two of them had been close, and they shared kanemochi together, which are designed to be able to be eaten in even the harshest circumstances. They don't need to be preserved, which means they can survive even in unforgiving climates. They keep Kenkichi and Tanigaki alive during their hunting trips, so they form a special bond. This culminates in Kenkichi marrying Tanigaki's sister Fumi, bringing them even closer. All this changes with Fumi's death; their hut burns down, and Fumi is found burnt to a crisp inside, but Tanigaki also finds a stab wound, courtesy of Kenkichi's sword, making him believe that his brother-in-law killed his sister.

My first thought upon seeing the stab wound was that Fumi killed herself to avoid the torment of death by burning, and that was at least somewhat close to the truth. Kenkichi killed Fumi at her own request because she was dying of smallpox. Per village tradition, not only was Kenkichi expected to abandon her—to avoid getting the disease himself—but her whole family would be shunned. He didn't want to leave her to die alone, and they both wanted to protect her family, so they agreed on stabbing and then burning her corpse as the most "humane" way possible for her to die. Fumi also correctly guessed that he would need to skip town after being blamed for her death, so she told him to choose the kind of life he wanted to live if he survived.

Of course, Tanigaki doesn't know any of this. Key to the plot was keeping everything a mystery, even from Fumi's family. So he's convinced Kenkichi murdered his sister in cold blood and vows revenge against him. He joins the military in order to exact that revenge, believing that Kenkichi had joined the Hokkaido 7th Division. Instead he joins the Tokyo 1st, and Tanigaki only meets him again on the battlefield as he's dying from his wounds. As he hesitates about whether to deliver the finishing blow, Kenkichi delivers the whole story, not realizing he's talking to Tanigaki until he feeds him some of his famous walnut kanemochi. Kenkichi ultimately dies anyway, but his determination to find a purpose for his own life away from Ani has left Tanigaki himself feeling uneasy. Now that he's realized his revenge was futile, what does he have to live for?

That seems in many ways to be the driving question of Golden Kamuy. The show started as a story focused solely on Sugimoto and Asirpa's individual journeys of self-discovery. Eventually, as we met more characters, the "search for gold" really became about a whole group of people trying to find a purpose in this bleak world torn by conflict. They'd all been set adrift from what their lives had been before the war, or before the colonization and industrialization of Hokkaido, or whatever conflict happened to tear their lives apart. And they're all struggling for ways to put it back together, which the Ainu gold seems to promise in different ways to each of them. It fits with the show's anti-war message that many of these men are haunted by the demons of war. Tanigaki's demons might have already existed before, but the war made them worse. Regardless, he can't return to his homeland, and so he's been set adrift.

These are the kinds of stories that Golden Kamuy excels at telling. The show still seriously struggles with fluid animation, so flashback episodes that are less focused on dynamic movement turn out looking much better. (Even the fight scenes involve a lot of still frames and montage.) So this episode downplays its struggles to play to its strengths: color, music, and the creation of an evocative mood. For that reason, this is one of the standout Golden Kamuy episodes.

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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