It's a gloriously over-the-top manly anime of huge, dangerous and often insane men who can perpetrate outrageous levels of violence while being charmingly psychotic. This is the kind of show where the cast's quirks include human taxidermy, cannibalism and masturbating to their suicidal fantasies about being executed. "Quirk" is indeed the right word, by the way. Those are mere eccentricities, not enough to put you up among the show's really bad people. You can do those things and still be lovable.
That said, though, one of the show's two main characters is an eleven-year-old Ainu hunter girl who commands the men and is far more knowledgeable than them.
Half the show's charm is that it's shameless pulp with ultra-violent badasses. However it also has another side, which is detailed historical and cultural authenticity. The original manga is award-winning and is written with the assistance of an Ainu language linguist from Chiba University. The historical research is similarly meticulous. It's set in 1908 or so and stars a veteran of the Battle of 203 Hill in the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War, currently roaming around in Hokkaido, the land of the Ainu people. Japan isn't generally seen as a country with native ethnic minorities, but the Ainu are a non-Japanese people whose islands are currently governed by Japan and Russia. (Exactly who owns what is still unresolved.) There's almost no one left in Japan today with pure Ainu ancestry and their culture has been mostly forgotten, but this story is helping people remember it. We see their language, beliefs, traditions and more.
In other words, it's both (a) splattery testosterone-crazed fun and (b) thoughtful and educational. I enjoyed it, but I preferred Season 1 to Season 2.
Season 1 is mostly about Asirpa (small, fierce Ainu girl) and Immortal Sugimoto (bear-punching war veteran). It's Hokkaido in the winter, they're in the scary frozen mountains and Asirpa is all that's keeping them alive. She knows everything. She's spent her entire life about to die of exposure and eating the brains of cute things she's killed. (She likes brains. They're her favourite. Miso, on the other hand, she thinks must be poo.) Sugimoto is very, very tough, but he's also super-protective, a bit goofy, not that bright and soon dependent on Asirpa.
Ostensibly, they'll be on a quest to collect the tattoos of escaped prisoners and find some gold. (This is connected with Asirpa's missing father. The most efficient way of collecting tattoos, incidentally, is to kill and skin their owners. No one in the show has a problem with this.) In practice, though, a lot of Season 1 is about wilderness survival, Ainu cultural insights and killing pretty much anything with a heartbeat. If it's cute, it dies. There's lots of traditional Ainu cooking (although sometimes the ingredients are raw). Sugimoto eats lots of stuff I wouldn't.
This is charming. Sugimoto and Asirpa are great together, while the cultural and historical details feel respectful and well-informed. It's interesting. You've also got the finger-chomping likes of First Lieutenant Tokushirou Tsurumi (who's missing his frontal lobes), but that's fun too.
Gradually, though, the plot thickens. Badasses get together and make temporary alliances. (WARNING: DON'T TRUST THESE BASTARDS.) Our heroes stop being just Sugimoto and Asirpa, as they acquire questionable allies and get involved in more complicated events. This is fine, but perhaps a bit less engaging than the earlier episodes on the mountain in winter. I still enjoyed it. The show has a knack for creating badasses who you really want to see going up against each other. It'll do it at the drop of a hat. Someone we've never met before can walk into an episode and be immediately compelling, partly because they're bonkers and partly because they'll have the destructive potential of a runaway freight train.
The show has a few peculiarities.
1. It's capable of taking its uber-manliness in puerile, dodgy or pisstaking directions. It takes a childish joy in dicks, poo, sex, sleaze and perversion, albeit with very little actual sex. Asirpa calls one character "Penis-sensei" (for good reasons) and another "Scat King" (just to be rude). There's an episode where our impressively muscled heroes have a huge ultra-violent battle while completely nude (and sometimes creatively censored). The show has quite a lot of muscle-man-service, actually. In another episode, an aphrodisiac gives them a big gay pseudo-awakening for comedy. What's more, the manga's even more extreme. The anime omitted the scholar who rapes wildlife and trees.
2. The CGI bears look bad. (Apparently it's worse for manga fans, because the artwork there is superb.) The production team tried to justify it, but you'll notice that the bears improve in the third OVA.
3. It's not clear where the OVAs go, but release date would make the first one ep.12a and the other two eps.24a-24b.
This series can be explosively gross. The violence isn't holding back. It's also not very politically correct. (Ep.8 = let's eat whales! Uhhhh...) However it's got fun characters, lots of extreme Asirpa facial expressions and some outrageous comedy. I laughed aloud at Tsurumi's approval of Very Bad Things in ep.13. However it can also be emotionally strong when it wants to be, e.g. the revenge quest in ep.18. They've announced a third season and I'll definitely be watching it.
"That's why I castrated you."