Golden Kamuy
Episode 22

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 22 of
Golden Kamuy (TV 2) ?

It took weeks of wandering in the woods from town to town, but we're finally here. The gang has finally made it to Abashiri Prison! Unfortunately, by trying to break in, they jumpstarted a whole new arc and a world of trouble for themselves. It doesn't help that it seems like there's at least one traitor in their midst—possibly more than one.

It's easy to see while looking back at this episode how much Golden Kamuy has slotted into a familiar story structure. The characters get to wherever they need to be for the week, set things up, and then there's a moment of relative calm; everyone eats together, or Asirpa teaches them about Ainu culture, or both as is the case this week. Then there might be some character drama, often caused by introducing a new person. The action tends to get saved for the last third of the episode, often ending on a cliffhanger that pushes you to watch the next episode. Some episodes flout this formula, but usually there's an arc from relaxing and intimate to tense and substantive each week.

What makes Golden Kamuy so good is that even those "slow" moments at the beginning of episodes never drag. There's always enough humor and character development, not to mention fascinating educational tidbits on Ainu culture accompanied by cool music, to keep you invested. This week's version might be one of my favorites in a while, with everyone sitting down to eat this week's citatap. It's made out of salmon, which was apparently the original citatap ingredient. Salmon used to be the Ainu's primary food source, so the dish evolved as a way to make sure they use as much of the salmon as possible—to make sure no one starved. I like the way Asirpa takes charge of these moments, basically quizzing all the men assembled—especially Sugimoto. The way she asks him to name the food is very teacher-like. I've seen a lot of jokes from the Golden Kamuy fandom about how Asirpa has assembled a posse of weird dads, and that's certainly true, but part of what makes their dynamic so fun is that she also knows how to "mom" them—making them food and forcibly teaching them how to make it themselves in the future. All these dads would be nowhere without their clever and resourceful daughter, who knows the lay of the land and how to use it better than anyone. She takes care of them all just as much as they look after her.

Speaking of family, Cikapasi also feels like he's found a family of his own with Tanigaki and Inkarmat. It's obvious to everyone around that these two have a thing for each other, but that doesn't mean they're ready for the kind of commitment that their adoptive "son" wants from them. When he tries to make Tanigaki give Inkarmat his bowl in a form of Ainu proposal, he tells Cikapasi to give it back. In a private scene between the two, Tanigaki indicates that he would gladly propose to Inkarmat one day, after the both of them have fulfilled their missions. Aww.

In the meantime, we learn a little more about Inkarmat and her bond with Wilk. Tanigaki susses out that she secretly does believe that Nopperabo is Wilk, and she explains that despite her fortune-telling saying that she'll never see his face again, Tanigaki saving her from the river where she was "destined" to drown has made her believe she can fight fate. As for me, I'm still not sure why she can't find a middle ground here; knowing that Nopperabo's face is burned off, Inkarmat should surmise that reality still technically fits within the language of her prophecy. What's most interesting about this scene is she seems to all but admit that she still kind of carries a torch for Wilk—but also that her feelings are shifting toward Tanigaki and that's why she needs to see her childhood crush as he is now. She wants to come to terms with her past so she can move into the future with Tanigaki.

All this is very encouraging for the survival of our found family of weirdos. Unfortunately, there are some fractures in the family structure this week too, as the characters prepare to break into Abashiri. They're successful at finding Nopperabo's constantly-shifting cell—until the man screams, alerting the guards and revealing him to be an impostor. Someone set them up, and this episode makes it clear that it's Hijikata. That would make a lot of sense, as Hijikata has his own goals surrounding the Ainu gold that were inevitably going to come into conflict with Sugimoto's group down the line. I always wondered why they trusted him in the first place or didn't at least make the alliance more temporary. However, he might not be the only mole in the group. Inkarmat makes some suspicious comments to Tanigaki in an attempt to save him from going down with everyone else, which makes him wonder about her own allegiances. That also wouldn't be too surprising, given her own complicated history with Wilk and history with the 7th Division. Heck, her anger at Wilk marrying another woman could give her all the more reason not to reunite him with his daughter from that union.

Then the 7th Division rolls in to blow up the bridge, with Tsurumi acting like his usual ridiculous self by comparing them to orcas and announcing their intention to capture Asirpa and Nopperabo. If Inkarmat is indeed working with them, that would make her romance with Tanigaki much more complicated to say the least—he promised to return Asirpa to Huci at the end of all this, but the twisted Tsurumi and his gang of admirers aren't going to let that happen any time soon. They've certainly got their own devious plan for her, which makes me nervous. I'm fine with all the blood and guts and gore that come with this show, but don't touch Asirpa! Keep her safe! Granted, if the 7th Division is smart, they know her value and will leave her untouched as a hostage to force Sugimoto's group to do their bidding.

All these teams coming together promises a fun new arc for Golden Kamuy. While we've had established alliances, it appears those are all crumbling as everyone shifts closer to the final goal. Hijikata has to break with Sugimoto's group, and even the 7th Division and the prison wardens are now at cross-purposes. The 7th Division likely doesn't want to let Nopperabo go just so Tsurumi can take the gold for himself. The show still struggles to be as visually interesting as the manga, but it adds enough—from the music to the pacing of the execution—to give it an extra oomph and make it worth watching in its second season.

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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