by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Golden Kamuy ?
This episode of Golden Kamuy can roughly be divided into two stories. One is about Sugimoto and Asirpa's encounter with Henmi Kazuo, figuring out his true identity and how to kill him off without losing the necessary tattoo. The second involves internal struggles within the most imposing of the gold factions so far, the 7th Division.
The first is by far the more exciting of the two stories, although that's not saying much, since there's tons of excitement to go around this week. In the last episode, Sugimoto was left in a pretty dire situation, seemingly alone with Henmi in a large house. It would have been easy for Henmi to get the drop on him—or so we think. Asirpa is there too, and she discovers his secret when she runs across the strangled body under a trap door. She races to warn Sugimoto, who seems altogether too trusting of this guy. Anything to get away from the 7th Division, right? Maybe not, when you're traveling with a serial murderer. At least the 7th Division see Sugimoto as useful and won't kill him right away (or at least, they'll try not to).
This could have dragged out over an entire episode, and there is a part of me that wanted it to. Sugimoto and Henmi have an interesting dynamic, and he seems all too capable of a murderer to be dispatched this quickly, despite his wishes to the contrary. On the other hand, as entertaining as Henmi's flushed cheeks and glowing nether regions can be, (what is it with this show and boners?) they also play a little too easily into a hoary old tropes. It's easy to read Henmi's desire for Sugimoto as sexual, which plays into tired and hurtful portrayals of gay characters as sexual deviants. Henmi's apparent sexual arousal is directly tied into his desire to kill Sugimoto, making him appear "villainously gay" rather than "gay and happens to also be a villain". I loved the weird hymn-like music and the soft dreamy visuals that give his brushes with death a kind of romanticism, but I'm not sure I like the baser elements of what's supposed to make them comedic.
All the same, it seems to do him an injustice that he goes out so quickly. "Arcs" in general seem to happen so quickly in this story. Sugimoto and Asirpa figure out Henmi's deal quickly and dispatch him in less than a day, while escaping other villains in the 7th Division. I know that Sugimoto is "immortal," but he's struggled against far less cunning characters than Henmi. Golden Kamuy has to step up the stakes at some point, especially when its format requires going against a series of different menacing villains with massive kill counts. It makes it harder to take these characters seriously if our heroes always do away with them so easily.
At least Henmi gets an amazing death scene—almost swallowed by an orca! Luckily, the orca likes to play with its kill before eating it. (If you have a cat, you recognize this kind of behavior. Predators do this to weaken the kill so it's less likely to harm them when they actually eat it.) This gives Sugimoto an opportunity to sweep in and grab Henmi before he can lose that tattoo. It denies Henmi of the epic death he wants, but Nihei got that fate, and we can't keep repeating ourselves. I almost don't mind this kind of repetition when it results in such an epic (and epically-scored) moment. Golden Kamuy really knows how to have fun with animals as a part of its natural environment.
The second half of the episode focuses more on internal issues within our different factions vying for the gold. While this concept is less inherently compelling, it plays out in a nail-biting way with interesting implications this week. The 7th Division has been portrayed up to this point as the most formidable of Sugimoto and Asirpa's opponents, but are they really? What does it mean for them when there's internal squabbling, with defectors who don't support Tsurumi's goals and want to take over the group? Whether they're successful or not, we all know that a house divided cannot stand. This has the potential to blow up one of the show's major adversarial forces in a big way. (It could mean even more enemies for our heroes if they break up into smaller teams that are all still interested in finding the gold.) That's the kind of drama I wish that Golden Kamuy would indulge in more. It's less exciting in the short-term; there's a lot of tension to the scene with Private Ogata, Corporal Tamai, and Tanigaki in the Ainu hut, but it can't beat the craziness of watching a guy get tossed around by an orca. Luckily, it has the potential for a more satisfying payoff down the line.
We also learn more about our antagonists' hidden depths. There's a great scene at the beginning with Tsurumi at a piano playing Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata, or at least its tense opening phrases. His cultured upbringing puts him at odds with most of the other characters and may play a role in some 7th Division members' discontent with him—as well as complicate the question of what his goals really are. (Can a guy from a wealthy background really be trusted with the goals he described for his coup?) Hijikata also shows up purely to mess with Sugimoto and inquire about Asirpa's identity. This isn't the most momentous episode of Golden Kamuy, but it does a great job putting the pieces in place for a big play later.
Golden Kamuy is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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