by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Golden Kamuy ?
This was a pretty action-packed episode of Golden Kamuy. Not that they aren't all like that, but this one was almost too much, not letting up on the gas for even a moment. It introduced lots of new names and characters, making it hard to keep up at times. Still, I appreciated how it seemed to turn a new page on this story.
We meet two new groups going for the gold, one familiar and one not. First, we learn more about Hijikata and his bald associate, Nagakura Shinpachi. They are indeed named after the infamous members of the Shinsengumi, but Hijikata at least would have died much earlier, before the events of Golden Kamuy. For a brief history, the Shinsengumi was formed in the last years of the Tokugawa shogunate to defend the shogun during important diplomatic meetings. They were an important defense force that was left adrift when the shogunate was dissolved during the Meiji Restoration. One group of them left for Hokkaido (then Ezo) to found the Ezo Republic, an independent government based on the United States' republican democracy, but the Japanese imperial army eventually defeated them.
Hijikata and Nagakura clearly have not given up their dreams of Hokkaido independence, as they talk about restoring their former glory on the train. Presumably, this is what they plan to do with the gold, so how will they clash with Sugimoto and Asirpa in the future? The Ezo Republic didn't necessarily have any better relations with the Ainu than imperial Japan; arguably, the Ezo government didn't really see itself as separate from the rest of Japan, since they professed loyalty to the emperor and saw their quest as a form of Japanese territorial expansion. Still, Asirpa and her people might have interesting thoughts about this proposal for "Ezo independence." Additionally, Hijikata and Nagakura's dissatisfaction with the current state of things might suggest they have their own goals, separate from those of the former rules of the Ezo Republic. In any case, this would would have to be a lot of gold to buy an army that could stand up to the imperial Japanese forces.
More mysterious are the characters we meet at the end of this episode, another ex-soldier with a famous bear-hunter, Nihei Tetsuzou. They seem to be trailing Sugimoto and Asirpa, but they're more interested in hunting bears at the moment, so they feel like less of an immediate threat compared to the ex-Shinsengumi's ambitions, despite their truly ominous introduction.
I'm excited to see these conflicts expanded further. The Hokkaido 7th Division is interesting, but Tsurumi's sadism was getting a bit one-note. Golden Kamuy has always felt like a Japanese version of a "western". (A "northern", maybe?) The whole "warring parties chasing after gold" story is a stock genre plot most famously employed in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the most iconic of the Italian "spaghetti westerns." That subgenre helped contribute hyper-violence and moral ambiguity to the western genre, which we see on display in a story like Golden Kamuy. As more and more parties join the melee, the danger only increases for our heroes. What makes Sugimoto and Asirpa different from the characters of late-period revisionist westerns is that they're pursuing a just cause—for now, at least. But that doesn't mean their opponents don't also have their own compelling cases to make. Tsurumi might be creepy and obviously evil, but his compatriots harbor understandable resentment over their post-war treatment, and Hijikata and Nagakura have a fascinating political goal tied to one of Japanese history's most famous power shifts.
It didn't take long to get Asirpa and Sugimoto back together, but I'm glad they're a duo again. Shiraishi tagging along punches up the comedy a little, especially after he helps make horse-based sukiyaki. I like that Asirpa finally gives in to trying miso, so she can discover that it doesn't really taste like poop. This allows for some great visual comedy, as Asirpa runs the gamut of silly faces. Sugimoto can't help but be overjoyed when it turns out Asirpa likes his "weird" food after all. Sugimoto also seems to be adjusting to Asirpa's own cuisine; he doesn't even react when she talks about how tasty deer brains are. I'm glad to see these two bridging their cultural divide.
Speaking of the visuals, they took a level up this week with the Ainu deer legend sequence. I always love when anime indulges a sudden art shift for a fantasy sequence, and this week's was truly impressive. I could forgive the show's animation struggles in its action sequences—which were lessened by setting them largely in dim light—if we got more moments like this one. It's a narrative device that I hope that Golden Kamuy uses more when Asirpa shares these stories.
Golden Kamuy has a lot going for it as its story continues to develop. It hasn't totally fixed its execution problems, but the positive aspects increasingly outweigh them. With sequences like Asirpa's deer legend, it's even starting to feel like its own thing as an adaptation—not just like a poor substitution for an excellent manga. I feel more confident that this show will keep getting better and better.
Golden Kamuy is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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