Hello new followers, random strangers from the internet, and older followers alike. Welcome to my little blog, Mechanical Anime Reviews! Maybe not as tiny as it used to be, but it’s still a small country on the worldwide internet. After the events of last month, OWLS returns to normal this month with it’s more usual style posts and tours with the prompt of Folklore. If you don’t know what OWLS is, I’ll get to that at the end of this post. This time around, OWLS decided to look at different cultures in anime and popular media. Fictional or not, it doesn’t matter.
Here are the specifics of this prompt:
This month’s OWLS topic was inspired by the name of Taylor Swift’s new album, Folklore. Yet rather than using her conceptual definition of what “Folklore” means, we are going to use its original meaning: we are going to explore the traditions and cultures of a specific group and community within pop cultural texts.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Any “yokai/supernatural” anime
About Golden Kamuy and Asirpa
So yes, I choose a pretty wackadoodle anime series for this month’s prompt. On paper it seems pretty normal. The show takes place after the Russo-Japan war of the early 1900’s and it’s plot is about different groups of people with their own motivations which includes the Japanese military, trying to beat other to a huge mound of Ainu gold. On paper, that’s somewhat normal and pretty fun. But this show just takes every opportunity to be unusual and brutual when it wants to be. It features the strangest characters possible in the weirdest scenarios imaginable and can suddenly turn into a cooking show out of nowhere. It’s pretty incredible in that sort of way.
Yet despite all of that, this show knows when and where to be weird and eccentric at possible. That’s what keeps the show together especially in terms of culture and characters. In my mind, the character who holds it all together is Asirpa. She’s the teenage Ainu Guide, but she is so much more than that. She’s a fun and well put together character with her set of strangeness and no one on her side would have survived the treacherous journey so far without her presence. She also refused the usual Ainu tattoo on her mouth as an act of teenage rebellion. She’s a really well realized character.
Golden Kamuy is a journey of a lot of people in strange and unusual ways. Like Sugimoto who wants some gold to help out a friend’s family from the war and the Japanese Military wants the gold for obvious reasons. Mainly though, this show is Asirpa’s story. The gold is her father’s gold meaning that it belongs to her. Same thing with the Ainu tattoos on the back of people that need to be found in order to create a map of where the gold is. For the amount of character interactions and journey that have happened, Asirpa and the Ainu stand strong!
A Not so Short aside about the Ainu in Anime
The Ainu are indigenous people living in Russian and Japan still to this day. I am not an expert at all, so you can look up their culture more online, but they’ve felt the same pressures and troubles as the Native Americans in the United States but for centuries longer. They’ve had their land taken, their culture attemptedly taken away from them, and yet they prevailed because their culture is still around. We just don’t hear a lot about them considering that we westerners don’t really know all aspects of Japanese Culture. It’s not all anime.
This isn’t the first time that the Ainu have had some presence in anime. I believe that Hiromi Arakawa based the Ishvalans and their plight they suffered in Full Metal Alchemist from the Ainu. Apparently there was an Ainu referenced in Silver Spoon, but I haven’t watched that show yet so can’t confirm that at all. I know that I will at some point maybe. But in general, I think with vague interests that Golden Kamuy is the only manga and show to actively involved the Ainu culture in anime as much as it does. Like, deeply in bed itself in the show with all its culture and references. The mangaka spent a lot of time researching the Ainu to make the manga more authentic.
All of which makes it to the anime itself in some ways. The tents and detailed clothing the Ainu wear made their way on screen even if the art and designs aren’t as good as the manga because it’s produced by a studio trying to find it’s footing. It’s still there and makes its way on screen. There is authentically spoken Ainu language in the anime itself. I think it’s hard for western ears like mine to pick up the differences and nuances, but the fact that it is in the anime is incredible. This of course also helps with making a larger cast in the show itself.
Asirpa isn’t the only person or attachment to Ainu Culture in Golden Kamuy. Oh no. There is an Ainu Settlement around Hokkaido, where the show is generally set around, where a lot of screen time is spent in meaningful ways. So these aren’t just people related to Asirpa for us to care about, you really get to know them as a culture. Some are good people like Asirpa and her family who lead the local Ainu village. There are half Ainu characters who seek their heritage roots to learn how to hunt and live and there are also some morally questionable characters who lie and cheat. It’s a very well-rounded cast for the Ainu and everyone else.
Culture and Sharing
The very title of Golden Kamuy has some relevance in Ainu Culture and the story as a whole. The word Kamuy (or Kamui for nitpickers) means god. The gold part is relevant towards the morality of the show and the characters in it. Will one become angry and become darker gold on this world or will a character choose to a good route and become golden. At least that is what I remember from the show itself so I might be completely crazy like usual. I mean that it could just mean the search of gold. I’ll leave that to the mangka and people behind the anime itself. Once again, not an expert.
I’ve already mentioned the culture and realistically recreated culture of the Ainu itself, but I haven’t mentioned a lot about food. Asirpsa teaches Sugimoto and everyone else that travels with her about Ainu food. One of her favorites is Citatap. A meal where everyone gets involved. Essentially, the meal revolves around cut up meat and every person involved gets their turn to cut up meat while also performing an Ainu chant. It’s very community based and is pretty cool.
The sharing of food is a small thing that continues throughout Golden Kamuy for its humor and it’s cultural relevance. As a trade for Asirpa sharing her food and culture, Sugimoto teach Asirpa about Miso Soup, Wasabi, and such. There is that joke about Asirpa being a little dismissive about Miso because it looks like poop to her, but it’s all in good fun. This cultural exchange is one of many hearts and souls of Golden Kamuy. Just as much as one as Sugimoto and Asirpa themselves. There is so much to unpack about Golden Kamuy that I just can’t but love and everything else.
Thank you for reading my post for the August OWLS Tour. I am the last person along the ride, but please read Jack’s post on Durarara and continue your journey down this OWLS tour from there onward. If you want to, please considering joining us.
For those of you who haven’t heard of what OWLS is may be asking me and other people what that is. Well, that’s an easy question to answer. OWLS, also known as Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect, is a group of otaku bloggers who promote the acceptance of all individuals. There will be no judgement of people based on gender, sexual orientation, religion, race, or disability here. All of this is about humanity for humanities sake and hopeful betterment. Each month, our members are given a topic to write about and each of us approaches that topic in our own way. If you want to know more, please click here to go to our OWLS Blog Page. Find us here and maybe you can join us! We are always looking for more people.