Golden Kamuy
Episode 19

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 19 of
Golden Kamuy (TV 2) ?

Golden Kamuy is a show full of tonal shifts, but this episode might have one of its most drastic. It starts out in a pretty lighthearted place, making boob jokes about Inkarmat and gigolo jokes about Tanigaki, but it ends in one of the show's darkest moments. If you thought Tanigaki's backstory was bleak, you aren't ready for Ogata's—which also does little to make him more sympathetic.

First, I want to talk about Asirpa's exposition scenes. It's weird that a show so flippant and brazenly offensive about everything else would be so consistently respectful toward Ainu culture. That doesn't keep it from using kids' names as a place for poop jokes, but Golden Kamuy absolutely wants you to believe that it's getting its cultural details right, with a focus on instilling the audience with appreciation for Ainu history and customs. It seems to act as a cultural ambassador in its own way; the manga proudly boasts its connection with Ainu representation groups, not unlike similar attempts at Native American media representation in the West. Most interesting to me is the way that the anime presents this information almost like an interruption to the story.

The art style will often change for these scenes to more artistically ambitious imagery that seems to come from Asirpa's imagination. It also has its own style of music, a gentle percussion-and-flute tune with an ethereal, imaginative feeling to it—adding to the sense that we're hearing a historical lecture. All this gives the scenes a feeling of existing outside the narrative. That's a lot easier to show in manga, but the anime has to go above and beyond in changing the art and soundtrack under Asirpa's voiceover to get the sense her descriptions are happening in some other time or place. It also contrasts sharply with the mood of the rest of the show, being respectful and awestruck rather than rude and harsh.

I guess that struck me this week, during the umpteenth set piece of this nature, because of how much it stuck out from other parts of the episode. Granted, the whole section with Sugimoto and Tanigaki's team meeting up has a lighter feeling to it, but there's a generally serious shroud that comes over the episode because of its truly dark second half. It's hard not to see this week's story in terms of where it goes with Tsurumi's group and especially Ogata—who's out for no one but himself.

First, we do get a bit of silliness from Koito. He's the latest character implied to have a crush on Tsurumi, constantly seeing him surrounded by flowers and blushing when he touches the soldier's bare chest. It brings up a larger question I have about the bond that Tsurumi has with "his men." With most it's platonic, but he seems to have some magical power to inspire them and bring them to his side. Why? While Tsurumi is certainly fun to watch, most of that appeal comes from how crazy and arrogant he is. His charisma as a leader, the stuff that makes others want to follow him so ardently, doesn't translate to viewers as easily as it should. I really wish Golden Kamuy would do more to help us see what makes him so magnetic, but I also wouldn't change a thing about how fun Tsurumi is as a villain. So I'm stumped here.

In any case, Ogata's clearly on no one's side but his own. I wonder if Golden Kamuy is planning for a series of "backstory" episodes after dedicating last week's so fully to Tanigaki's story. But while Tanigaki's past mostly made us feel sorry for him, Ogata's largely reveals the sheer depths of his twisted nature. Sure, we feel bad that he was abandoned by his dad, but not any more than we might for Voldemort getting abandoned by his parents in Harry Potter. In fact, there are a lot of similarities between the two characters: Ogata wonders if something is "twisted" in him by being born from a loveless couple. His mother was insanely fixated on bringing her baby daddy back, so Ogata eventually poisons her out of a mix of frustration and maybe mercy. (Is he capable of mercy?) Mostly he wants to see if her funeral will finally bring his dad back, but it doesn't.

Less sympathetic is his encounter with the half-brother that his father had with his legal wife. The boy is nothing but nice to Ogata, excited to finally have a brother—but Ogata still kills him on the battlefield. He doesn't even do it out of any strong feelings toward his brother, just to see if his dad will react by loving him more. He doesn't. His father seems like garbage, but not nearly as much as his twisted son—it's hard to even say if he'd be different if he had been loved. I mean, plenty of people grow up with neglectful parents and don't become bloodthirsty sociopaths. Even as he finally gets revenge on his deadbeat dad, killing him and covering it up as a suicide, Ogata remains difficult to find sympathetic.

This episode sets Ogata up as Golden Kamuy's wild card. His completely amoral nature makes it hard to believe that he truly "believes" in any camp, or any motivation beyond his stated reasons for wanting to take down Tsurumi. Sugimoto and company better watch their backs with this deeply twisted man on their team. I'm curious to see where Golden Kamuy plans to take its most disturbed character—and that's a hard-won title in a story like this!

Rating: B+

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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