Hi guys, I’m putting out a back to back anime thoughts on two recent anime I’ve watched. This one is about Golden Kamuy, an anime that takes place right after the Russo-Japanese war that took place back in 1904-1905 and involves gold, war trauma, toilet humor, and fan service (for the ladies~), so yes, it’s a bit all over the place but it is an interesting one! Read on, to find out more.
Golden Kamuy follows a former Russo-Japanese war veteran by the name of Saichi Sugimoto (also known as ‘Immortal Sugimoto’ for his durability in the war) who is in search of gold hidden by a man only known as Nopperabo. This Nopperabo fellow tattooed the location of the gold on the skin of 24 escaped convicts from the prison he’s being held in. Sugimoto is aided by an Ainu girl named Asirpa who believes she can seek revenge against this Nopperabo who holds the secret to her father’s death. The two are joined by the self-proclaimed ‘Escape King,’ Yoshitake Shiraishi (rather reluctantly at first) who is one of the escaped tattooed convicts, along with being wrapped up with friends and enemies alike.
It may not sound interesting at first. I surely don’t believe I would have been as interested as I was if I hadn’t happened to stumble on my brother watching the second episode and sticking around to watch it for curiosity’s sake.
I think the main selling point for me was the omnipresence of the Ainu culture being featured in this anime. I don’t think I’ve heard of an another anime that showcases the Ainu culture of Hokkaido (where the anime primarily takes place). I don’t know much about the Ainu, but I do know that they are a native society in Japan similar to the Native Americans in America. I believe as native cultures go, that they also are dying out which is a shame but a reality for most native/indigenous cultures in the world. Click the picture below if you want to read a short article about the Ainu.
I did get really curious as to the background of the mangaka aka the creator of Golden Kamuy since I wondered why he would pick such a topic to write about. Now, I know I got this info on Wikipedia but bare with me.
The mangaka, Satoshi Noda, was actually born in Hokkaido. His great-grandfather was actually a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war and eventually settled in Hokkaido afterwards. Saichi Sugimoto is apparently named after his grand old dad. It is also important to note that Noda admits to doing historical research for the manga but historical accuracy isn’t a priority and there is no strict policy binding him to that.
I mean, one big historical inaccuracy in the anime is of the very presence of Hijikata Toshizou, an important secondary character who is based on the real life Hijikata of the same name. Hijikata was the vice-commander of the Shinsengumi, a real life police force of the Meiji Era of Japan. It was very short-lived and Hijikata himself dies in Hakodate (in Hokkaido!) in 1869, so way before the turn of the century.
So, if you’re a stickler for history, then I would say either hold your tongue back for this anime or don’t watch it. Though it would be a shame if you didn’t because I would highly recommend it. I enjoyed it more so than I thought I would and find myself binging a handful of episodes per day before I finished the last and 36th episode of the series.
I really found myself liking both Asirpa and Sugimoto as characters and their relationship with each other as it grew from one being a partnership to a solid friendship. I know others who have watched or read Golden Kamuy may feel their relationship is more like father-daughter, and I wouldn’t disagree, but in my perspective, I feel their friendship is deeper.
As for the other characters, well, everyone is pretty weird but in a good way. Sort of…some characters were weird in the bad way (like this one taxidermist in the beginning of season 2 who I hoped wouldn’t make it by the end of the season and I got my wish really early on). Some episodes are dedicated to filling us in on the back story of some of these characters. There are some anime watchers who may not like that but personally, I didn’t mind. I’m always one for wanting to understand the character and motivations behind characters who are really interesting or bizarre to me. I really want to know why they are the way they are sometimes. Now, this does take us out of the main story at times when it happens, so just be warned in advance for that.
As mentioned before, the anime is 36 episodes long as each season of Golden Kamuy is 12 episodes. The last season just finished up back in December. Will there be a 4th season? I’m not sure, but I suspect there may be. At the very least, I really hope so as I’m fondly anticipating it. However, for right now, I’m occupying myself with reading the manga version which is turning out to be just as enjoyable as the anime, if not better.
I would say the main difference so far that I’ve found in the manga vs. the anime is Sugimoto’s motivation for finding the gold. Now, I’m not saying his reason is completely different, it’s not really, but the back story as to why is more explained in the manga (because of course it is).
Do you know Umeko? Umeko is the name of Sugimoto’s friend’s wife. Back during the war, Sugimoto and his friend were in the same regiment and fought alongside each other until his friend became mortally wounded and passed away. Before that, he made Sugimoto promise to look out for his wife because she is slowly becoming blind and would have a difficult time being a widow and a single mother considering no one would want her due to her ailment. Sugimoto promises and this is his main motivation for finding the gold (though that changes a bit to include Asirpa once his relationship deepens with the young Ainu girl).
This actually doesn’t sound that much different from the anime. However, in the manga, an extra layer of motivation is added to Sugimoto once we learn that he was in love with Ume before the war and still is during the events of the manga. Unfortunately, he never properly acted out on his love due to the fact that he deemed himself dangerous and bad news to be around considering his whole family was wiped out by tuberculosis.
Miraculously, he survived (he’s not called Immortal Sugimoto for nothing), but he still kept his distance from Umeko and even pushed his friend as a better husband to Ume. Even after the war, Sugimoto found himself unable to connect with her as lovers because the war had changed him. Umeko herself didn’t recognize him as she had already gone mostly blind and his scent (for she relied on smells at this point) was different. He left her and subsequently goes on to find the gold for her, the woman he loves.
None of this is found in the anime. Though it is understandable that they would have had to cut out a few things during production. Still, it would have been interesting to see this side of Sugimoto more, but it’s a nitpick that isn’t a devastating blow to my evaluation of the anime.
Honestly though, I find Sugimoto as a character rather sadder in the manga than the anime. Though, the anime does a good job as well translating the internal struggle of Sugimoto as a war-scarred individual just without the romantic subplot. In the anime, the reason he wants to find the gold comes across more as fulfilling the wish of a dying friend than helping the woman he loves.
There is also one part in the anime that I starkly remember really showed just how broken Sugimoto actually is though I suppose that is exacerbated by the fact a part of his brain (possibly the frontal lobe?) had to be taken out due to him getting shot in the head, but I won’t spoil that too much.
Overall, if you’re on the fence with Golden Kamuy, I would say just watch the first two episodes at least and see how you find it. It’s pretty humorous, engaging, and emotional at times. You will also learn a bit more about a native culture of Japan and may even be compelled to do your own research into Ainu culture. I know I will.
Also, I can’t believe I was about to leave this out, but the food as well that you’ll see in this anime may make your mouth water a bit. I mean, sure, a lot of it is wild animal brains, intestines, lungs and the sort, but somehow they (or really, Asirpa), makes it appealing.
Speaking of, I have a little glossary of important Ainu words you should learn as some are said pretty often in the anime/manga. It’s at the end of this post.
Anyways, that’s it for this quick ‘review.’ Stay tuned for more anime thoughts in the future – both good and bad.
Oh, and one more thing, the facial expression in this bloody anime or something else. I die nearly every time. I present a gallery of some, but not all, of the best ones:
Asirpa’s Important Ainu Vocabulary
Asirpa (pronounced ‘Ashirpa’): means “new year” or “future.” An Ainu woman for a new age. (Fun fact: All Ainu children have disgusting or gross sounding names until the age of 6 because it is said to ward off bad and evil spirits. Asirpa’s name used to be “Ekasiotonpuy” or “Grandfather’s butthole”).
Retar: (a white wolf that is very fond of Asirpa): Basically means “white.”
Kamuy: meaning “god.” Very important in Ainu culture.
Related terms: Kamuy mosir “land of the gods,” Wen Kamuy “evil god,” Horkew kamuy literally “howling god” but means “wolf,” Kimun kamuy “bear.”
Sisam: A non-Ainu Japanese person (so someone like Sugimoto and co.)
Chitatap: A dish made out of raw meat or fish. It sort of carries the meaning of “we mince together” which refers to the practice of mincing the meat together with those who you will share the meal with. VERY IMPORTANT TO SAY “chitatap” when mincing meat or carry the sin of not doing it to your grave.
Hinna: a phrase used to show appreciation for the food (almost like the Ainu version of “itadakimasu.” Usually said while having some good chitatap or osoma (miso).
Osoma: meaning “poop.” Asirpa thought miso and curry were both osoma for the longest time hence her reluctance to try either at first. (To be fair, I can see why she thought that. See above again if you forgot).
Aca: “father.” This is said a lot due to Asirpa constantly reminiscing over the short time she had with her father.
Huci: “grandmother.” You will hear this a lot since Asirpa’s grandmother is referred in this way throughout the anime/manga.
Kotan: “village.” (Another frequently used word, so remember it!)
There are plenty more words but I think those are the most important. Please, give this anime a try or if you prefer reading, then please read the manga. Both are pretty good~
And one last thing: