by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 24 of
Golden Kamuy (TV 2) ?
Now that's how you do a season finale. While Golden Kamuy's first cour felt like it went out with a whimper—a clear indicator of more to come—this one exploded with a bang. It not only resolved the Abashiri arc, but managed to answer some longstanding questions and pose a few new ones. Plus, we met and then lost one of the most important characters in the show. So where do we go from here?
Episode 24 starts by addressing last week's cliffhanger, with Sugimoto finally meeting Nopperabo face-to-face. After Sugimoto shows him proof of knowing Asirpa, Nopperabo confirms that he is indeed Wilk, Asirpa's father—but still won't tell Sugimoto anything about the gold until he sees his daughter in the flesh. In the meantime, he reveals his plans for her, and why he so desperately wants her to be the one to find the gold. Nopperabo wants Asirpa to lead the Ainu in a fight for independence against the Japanese government—as Sugimoto puts it, to make her "the Ainu Jeanne d'Arc." This horrifies Sugimoto, who asks Nopperabo why he wants his daughter to be a killer. Just as Nopperabo is about to reveal who really killed those seven Ainu (because of course it wasn't him), along with the rest of his plan, Ogata shoots him in the head from afar, killing him. Sugimoto also gets shot, but of course the immortal warrior recovers. Nopperabo is not so lucky.
It's a shock, and incredibly frustrating, to have our key to the plot killed off so abruptly. The whole story revolved around Asirpa meeting Wilk and telling the group where to find the gold. Now Asirpa's emotional reunion is cut short before she can even talk to her dad, and the gold remains hidden. Now we have a new question to puzzle over: just who exactly killed those Ainu? My money is on either Kiroranke or Ogata, given their involvements in Nopperabo's death. Yes, it turns out Inkarmat was right all along: Kiroranke is bad news. And Wilk didn't really kill all those people. She also seemed to have succeeded in her prophecy more than I thought, since I doubt she could see Wilk's face from all the way up there—scarred beyond recognition or otherwise.
Meanwhile, we get a showdown between Hijikata and Inudou that results in the latter's death, requested by Inudou after his loss. It's not much of a surprise that Hijikata would win their duel, given his superior swordsman abilities, but it's weird to see Inudou dispatched so quickly after having been built up as a major villain of this arc. Then again, this episode does mark the end of the Abashiri battle, so I guess he's outlived his usefulness to the plot. It's a fitting end given his sadistic obsession with Hijikata, albeit one that makes more sense knowing how the Shinsengumi killed Inudou's brother. This part works better if you know a bit about the history behind Hijikata's worldview; The Meiji Restoration in 1868 was the result of a group of daimyō (local samurai lords) deciding it was time to replace the Tokugawa shogunate with a return to imperial rule. (The reasons for this are complex, but in short they ranged from resentment of the shogun's power to a desire for a stronger central government that could better stand against European imperialism.) However, the daimyō had been bound to the shogun in this feudal system, making their rise against him a betrayal in the eyes of a Tokugawa loyalist like Hijikata. That's why he saw creating the Republic of Ezo as an expression of loyalty to the "true" government, rather than betrayal of the Meiji "usurpers." Putting all this aside, Inudou's death means Hijikata has access to his info on the prisoners that was used to "lure" him, helping him even the odds with the 7th Division.
Meanwhile, The 7th Division has seemingly won the battle, picking up Hijikata's group's skins and possibly a powerful temporary ally in Sugimoto. With the reveal of Kiroranke and Ogata's betrayal, but also Asirpa being in their clutches, the moral alignment of the Golden Kamuy characters has shifted beneath their feet. Now Sugimoto and Tanigaki—bound by his promise to return Asirpa to her family—have nowhere to turn but to crazy Tsurumi to get Asirpa back. Maybe it's because of Tsurumi's excitement at being "brain damage buddies" with Sugimoto thanks to his new head wound, but his group of scoundrels accepts this pretty readily. I'm guessing the clout they'd get in the gold race with Asirpa under their wing also has something to do with it.
Then Kiroranke reveals that he ordered Ogata to kill Nopperabo because of his anger at him ruining their "plan." The two had worked together with a group of Russian Ainu partisans on a planned armed insurrection. Now Kiroranke is taking Asirpa to Karafuto—the Japanese name for Sakhalin Island—to join with them and continue. The southern part of Sakhalin/Karafuto was a Japanese colony from 1905 to the Japanese World War II surrender in 1945, when the Soviets took over the rest of the island. I'm guessing Kiroranke's plan involves the Sakhalin and Hokkaido Ainu uniting to take all this land back for themselves, away from both imperial powers. At some point though, Nopperabo's plans changed; from how Kiroranke puts it, they were originally going to tell their former compatriots in Eastern Russia ("our old comrades") about the Ainu gold. Instead, Nopperabo likely decided that it belonged to Asirpa and the Hokkaido Ainu alone, which led to their rift and Nopperabo's eventual murder.
So to sum all this up, the 7th Division is currently ahead in the race for the gold, but both Hijikata's group and now Kiroranke's splinter group have different aces up their sleeves. In the case of the latter, that ace is Asirpa, separated from the guys who care about her (mainly, Sugimoto and Tanigaki) to be a pawn in Kiroranke's political games. Inkarmat was right about him all along, but she also might be dying. Inudou and Nopperabo are for-sure dead, and Nopperabo was definitely Wilk yet claims he didn't kill the seven Ainu after all. All signs point to Kiroranke as the real culprit.
It's a lot to take in, but of this means that Golden Kamuy is all set up for another season, it'll be in truly uncharted territory. It's a "clean break," a fresh start to a new section of the story. Even more remarkable is how this episode stepped up its technical game. Everything from the visuals to the musical score feels fresher this week. The animation still isn't anything to write home about, but it's clear they put more effort into this season finale than usual. More than any before, this episode feels most like it justifies the anime's existence alongside the manga. Hopefully this story's new gear can continue this upward motion in production quality. Despite its relative visual improvements, the show is still hurting for some consistency.
I loved the scene near the end where Sugimoto asks Admiral Koito why he's willing to put his son in danger on their Karafuto mission. Koito replies that as part of the generation that caused the Russo-Japanese War, he feels an obligation not to spare his son what he put so many other families through by sending their sons to die. He sees it as a way of his generation paying for their sins, and maybe hoping the next generation can fix things. More interestingly, Koito thinks Nopperabo sees things the same way, and that's why he raised Asirpa to take on his crusade. He wasn't "using" her per se, but rather strengthening her so she can fix the mistakes of her parents. That's a good note to go out on, and I hope it means we'll get more of Golden Kamuy so we can see Asirpa succeed. The show has really hit its stride in this second cour, showing off its tonal range and deeper themes. Surely but steadily, I think this story can grow into something truly great.
Golden Kamuy is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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