Golden Kamuy and How Violence Shapes My Values

A soldier holding his detached face. Toothpicks shoved through one cheek and out the other. Numerous soldiers shot and killed at point-blank range. Golden Kamuy has no shortage of violent scenes in almost each and every episode. As with Game of Thrones, that’s part of the appeal of the show (though it’s also a darn good series even without the shock and awe). But I noticed this—the violence in Golden Kamuy, as shocking as it is (and I would describe it as “shocking” rather than “graphic”), doesn’t impact me as I thought it would. I’ve always been sensitive to violence, and while Golden Kamuy does follow that line and affect me somewhat, it’s more with a stir than a full shake.

When I reflected on all this, I reminisced on some of the most graphically violent anime I’ve sat through:

  • Elfen Lied
  • Basilisk
  • Ninja Scroll
  • Parasyte
  • Gantz

And the same with live-action films:

  • Kill Bill
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Braveheart
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Robocop

All those works had much more immediate and powerful impacts on me than Golden Kamuy does. For sure, the level of violence in most of those examples is much stronger than this series (watching Saving Private Ryan in a theater, for instance, was a powerful and painful experience), but Golden Kamuy still has its moments. The toothpick scene is a pretty unsettling one and its matched by others.

No worries—I’ll spare you any graphic scenes of violence from the show.

But what does that all mean? I wonder…have I become desensitized to violence?

I think I have, at least in terms of media. And that could be a bad thing. The worry that many have is that when we consume so much violent media, we aren’t as concerned about real violence, like what happened down the road from in Santa Fe, Texas last week. The worst case is that many will celebrate and glorify violence, becoming desensitized in a different way, and commit atrocious acts upon others.

I don’t know about all that (I do always think about my obsession with Grand Theft Auto and an immediate temptation to drive wildly on the road), but I do know how violence in media affects me—often negatively. But my conclusion is that even so, Golden Kamuy is worth watching.

Years ago, I watched Elfen Lied, and its violence—the way it wanted its audience to revel in gore—had a profound impact on me. While watching the series, I dwelled on violent things and I couldn’t get certain emotions or feelings out of my mind. Also, Elfen Lied sucks. There was no quality in it that I felt redeemed the anime enough for me to finish the series.

But Golden Kamuy, at least so far, is different. There is some glorification of violence—there always is—but it portrays a violent, harsh world; it doesn’t promote it. And the relationship developing between characters, particularly between Sugimoto and Asirpa, is meaningful. The culture and historical context is also interesting and thought-provoking—I can’t think of an anime quite like this one. It’s been a marvel.

And that, ultimately, is why I’ll continue to anticipate each episode. I refuse to apply a stringent morality for series that fall in that huge spectrum of shows that can judged in any number of ways. Golden Kamuy checks off the “violent box,” but so, too, does it the “strong relationships,” “cultural understanding,” and “exciting story” ones. And those positives are as important as the negatives. I want stories that are meaningful, that challenge me, and that usually reinforce what I believe to be true.

And sometimes that means watching shows that I might traditionally not—even ones where bears tear off soldiers’ faces.

Golden Kamuy can be streamed on Crunchyroll. The featured illustration is by ヒラサト (reprinted w/permission).

15 thoughts on “Golden Kamuy and How Violence Shapes My Values

    1. It’s pretty graphic. The book series on which its based is amazing, however—I do think our children and their children will be reading that in college literature classrooms as modern American classics.

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  1. This brings up an interesting division re: the “purpose” of violence or of certain themes that came up in my life recently. Basically, I utterly adore the anime series Made In Abyss. It’s brilliantly made and adapted, and paints a picture of a sharply, brutally realistic and interesting universe. There are a couple of very big problems with Made In Abyss, though:

    (1). There is an implicit strangeness in the way some of the very young characters are portrayed, and the manga makes it rather more explicit what’s going on: our mangaka is a “lolicon.” It never quite reaches the level of deliberate or creepy, but it’s clear and that immediately will turn some viewers off. (2). The White Whistles are (most of them) almost universally violent, sociopathic (and I say that with a surprising lack of judgment) disturbing people who appear diabolical to Christian eyes. They range in morality from “chaotic neutral” to “straight up terrifyingly evil, on a scale I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.”

    So both of these factors caused my sister to stop watching when she got as far as Ozen (even though I maintain that Ozen is awesome and reminds me vividly of someone I know). What it goes to show is that with respect to violence, your mileage may vary, and your tolerance may vary when it comes to a show’s more interesting themes and ideas.

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    1. Thanks for sharing! I’m not too familiar with Made in Abyss, having made the decision to drop the show early in its run (one I regret after hearing almost universal accolades for it). The Ozen sound like a fascinating group of characters—another reason I should return to it!

      But yeah, your mileage may vary! And I would add that’s true even within a specific person in that we’re ready for certain scenes and series at specific times in our lives, certainly as we grow through and out of childhood, but I think the “place we’re at” also determines what message we’re going to see in media and how we’re able to engage it.

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      1. Ozen the Unmovable is actually a single character- a woman who’s reached a rank known as “White Whistle” in the society of delvers in Made in Abyss. The White Whistles are the most skilled delvers in history. But what’s important to note is that while they are all brilliant, delving into the nightmare world of the Abyss has twisted most of the White Whistles we’ve seen into monsters of sorts. Ozen is probably the least crazy White Whistle, even compared to the main character’s Mom. (She isn’t portrayed as a monster, but it’s the kind of show where you could totally see it going that way.)

        Anyway, if you’re into well-told stories and exotic worldbuilding, Made in the Abyss has both in spades. The atmosphere of the show is second to none once it really gets going.

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  2. I haven’t watched Golden Kamuy, but I have watched my fair share of gory/graphic shows, including many of those you yourself mentioned. Recently, while watching Inuyashiki (whose creator was also behind Gantz), I got to thinking about whether I should really be watching such violent, gory stuff. Even though Inuyashiki, and some of those other shows, contained positive messages, I couldn’t help but think – doesn’t the bible encourage us to be careful what our eyes look at, to guard our hearts and minds, and to dwell only on what is lovely and pure? I was wondering what your thoughts were, as a man of faith and an anime lover. Do your beliefs influence what shows you watch?

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    1. Oh yes, my faith certainly influences what I watch and just as importantly, how I watch what I watch. I’ve written about it before (here’s a recent article), but basically I hope that all of us, religious or otherwise, are being mindful of what we’re consuming. It influences what we think and how we act. Christians are specifically instructed to be mindful of what we’re consuming, so I encourage believers who are also otaku to consider what their “line” is, to have a good sense of what they should watch and what they shouldn’t, so that when they come across media that influences them to sin, they’ll be in the mindset to make the decision to switch off the TV set or close their browser window.

      That said, the line is different for everyone and not only that, we can easily fall into legalism and judgment when it comes to anime. A quick Google search about the topic finds plenty of sites deriding anime with a xenophobic and overly conservative slant in the name of Christ—these writers and bloggers are giving credence and power to their own morality and stripping the power of Christ to redeem. I think they’d rather have us watch faith-based films, which I think in so many instances are far worse for us as Christians than a typical anime series—they don’t glorify God through being high quality and creative, they don’t teach us anything we can’t or shouldn’t be learning from the Bible, and they, too, are made by sinners. They’re not perfect works. All media has an inherently sinful side to it, whether its “Christian” or otherwise. Faith-based films are baby milk; anime series give us the ability to think critically about what a series is telling us and to apply our faith to it and see if we can find out something new, something that encourages us to live out our faith more strongly.

      And that’s what we try to do here—we try to dig deeper and encourage our readers to do the same, and see how anime can get us to take a look at how we live our lives and maybe how we should be living them instead.

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      1. Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response! I hope that I didn’t come across as judgemental or anything, I was honestly just interested to hear what you had to say on the topic. I’ve been an anime fan for nearly a decade now, but a Christian only half that time, and I’m only just starting to consider my viewing habits and whether or not they need to change. I think it’d do me some good to spend some time praying and reflecting on what my ‘line’, as you put it, ought to be!

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        1. No, not at all! It was a thoughtful question and I wanted to give a thoughtful response (which I often don’t on the comments here 😅)

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  3. I can be sensitive to violence sometimes. I not a huge fan of that gene. Though, I did watch a few episodes of Cowboy Bebop with my family, but they weren’t too violent.

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  4. Violence is a touchy subject in art and especially in visual story telling because sometimes it seems overly gratuitious glorifying violence. Me personally the place of violence has in a story and how it’s executed matters. By nature I tend to think of the statement ” he who lives by the sword…” The idea of securing our lives by use of violence was what Christ warned Peter of. I tend to think of the Philip Yancey phrase “miracle of restraint” whenever Christ opted not to use power to punish evil doers. Point is that while I’m not against violence in media ( obviously the Bible has it’s share) . Visual media offers a different intensity than the written word. Also I find that there is a kind of anger andrenaline junky that comes from so much violence. It amazes me at my sense of Justice becomes disproportionate and I just want to cheer on main characters that beat people senseless who are evil. Indulging in violence, Mercy seems to evaporate. I have doubts about whether having watched movies like Old man Logan/ Wolverine is good for me, (and even I’m on the fence about Netflix s Daredevil.)

    I do however remember seeing an article about how Star Wars tried to shield young viewers from the ugliness of war. Rarely do you see a stomtrooper his helmet off, crawling through the dirt missing a sautered off leg from a blaster shot. In doing so it makes war easier to stomach. When your blasting some faceless robot looking soldier who rolls over and dies like a video game extra(no blood) and that proceeds to evaporate…… Denial is Not healthy either. So there’s two sides to the coin.

    Violence is a big part of our world because it’s broken. I’m just realizing how toxic the culture is about a kind of gratifying violence which we think can be used redemptively. We have to be discerning. I’m hesitant to finish watching Akira because a very visceral moment at the beginning where a man was killed by a hail of bullets. I don’t know how necessary it was but I’m sensitive to the prolonged stretching of that moment.

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