Golden Kamuy
Episode 6

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 6 of
Golden Kamuy ?

Golden Kamuy takes things comparatively slower this week, but that's not saying much for a show so defined by bloody battles. Still, the first half of this episode feels like a lot of waiting for new information and new adversaries. In the second half, we get some revelations that shake things up a little, but for the most part, this is a more thematically focused episode of Golden Kamuy, and that can feel like a breather for such a plot-driven show.

The theme of this episode is the cost of killing and what we owe to the dead. In particular, the characters question what they owe to those who they've killed personally. Tanigaki, the soldier following Tetsuzou around, has his own guilt bearing down on his shoulders. He comes from a tribe called the Matagi, from the northern part of Honshu, Japan's main island. The Matagi, like the Ainu, have their own rituals for how they deal with the dead. Tanigaki frets that he wasn't able to atone in the proper way for the people he killed in the war, and therefore he feels like he cannot go back home. He's a lost soul, unable to return to the army or home, so traveling with Tetsuzou gives him a sense of purpose. Killing the white wolf—Retar—could give him an opportunity to return to his village, due to the impressive worth of its pelt. I suspect there is more to Tanigaki's story than what we've heard so far, if he still feels like he can return home given enough money. But that's all we've got for now, and it ties in well to our theme about the morality of killing.

Tetsuzou, on the other hand, is the "bad" kind of killer. He seems to relish murder, talking about the high or arousal he gets when he kills. (He sure does like to shout "boner!" a lot.) That seems to drive his obsession with killing bears, and any money he gets from killing the white wolf may just be an added bonus. We later learn that he's one of the tattooed Abashiri convicts. Tetsuzou wound up in prison for ruthlessly killing three bandits. He talks about preserving some "older" ways of doing things and others not understanding them, but I suspect he really does just kill for the thrill of it. Tetsuzou loves hunting because he sees himself as the top predator and wants a challenge, and he seems to sense a kindred spirit in Tanigaki. We have no way of knowing if Tetsuzou is a good judge of character, but that's another reason I think there's more to Tanigaki than he's telling us.

On the other hand, we also learn more about Sugimoto's relationship with killing. He has some PTSD from the war, experiencing flashbacks to the people he killed there. We've seen glimpses of his past trauma throughout the anime, but this is the first time it's directly impacted what he was able to do now. His PTSD causes him to see another soldier's eyes in those of the buck he's about to kill, so he fails to shoot. This earns him a reprimand from Asirpa, and Sugimoto feels ashamed of himself. Even though Sugimoto has never struggled to kill before this, I don't think this comes out of left field, and it definitely deepens Sugimoto as a character. It also complicates his view of himself as "immortal", which seems to be what keeps him carrying on throughout all his struggles. Perhaps this is a defense mechanism against all his close brushes with death and the way it's destroyed those around him. In this rare moment of vulnerability, he seems to acknowledge his mortality, asking Asirpa to remember him when he dies.

So in this episode, Golden Kamuy sets up differing attitudes toward the act of killing. On the positive side, there are those who kill out of necessity, and on the negative side are those who kill because they enjoy it. There are also diverse reactions to killing as the deaths you caused impact you over time; there are those who feel guilty enough for this to affect their future actions and those who only keep killing to ride the high. This isn't complex stuff, but exploring this theme does help us better understand these characters. It makes Sugimoto more sympathetic beyond just being the designated protagonist who had a more noble reason to find the gold than others, and it makes Tetsuzou out to be more of a monster, whereas before his bear obsession just seemed wacky like the motives of the other villains around him. Tanigaki remains in a nebulous middle-ground; he's possibly good if what he tells us is true, but there are too many hints that he's hiding something darker. So we've re-established two heroes, one villain, and a wild card in this new arc. In a broader sense, I also think it's interesting how Golden Kamuy contrasts different ways of coping with death. The Ainu and Matagi rituals surrounding hunting are productive, while Sugimoto and maybe Tanigaki's trauma are destructive.

Even if this plot feels slower than the previous one, I'm enjoying Tetsuzou as an adversary. He may be even more of a twisted bastard than Tsurumi, but there's a goofiness to his animal fixation and catchphrases that makes him more entertaining to watch. If you're going to make your villains this broad, then I say go all the way. Sugimoto and Asirpa now have everyone against them, but this also allows for constantly shifting alignments and exciting turns on expectations. Heck, Shiraishi has one of the tattoos himself and he's become their ally. I love his role as a combo of comic relief and Mr. Exposition. Golden Kamuy continues to excel at both adding to its cast and deepening the ones we've slowly come to love.

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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