Review: Golden Kamuy – Volume 1

Golden Kamuy, billed as a “Japanese-style western” is a manga written and illustrated by Satoru Noda.

Golden Kamuy has been running since 2014 but I only heard about it late last year due to the repeated praise by Minovsky Article on twitter, a reviewer and podcaster whose opinions I hold in high esteem. But even then I made no serious effort to move it further up on my ‘to-watch’ list until I heard news of the anime adaptation that’s due to air in April. Determined to see what the fuss was all about in anticipation of the anime, I copped the first volume and here are my thoughts.

PLOT

The story is centred around Saichi Sugimoto – a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War who was dishonourably discharged and has become a miner in Hokkaido to provide for the widow of his dead comrade. Upon hearing a dubious story of hidden Ainu gold (worth about 800,000,000 JPY or 5,500,00 GBP) stashed by a criminal group, he sets out to find the treasure and stumbles across some clues to its location. After being attacked by the 7th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army and other mysterious groups who want the gold for themselves, he decides to search for the gold along with an Ainu child, Asirpa, who rescues him from Hokkaido’s harsh northern wilderness.

The synopsis for this manga particularly intrigued me as, while I’m no stranger to historical action-adventure seinen, I’m more familiar with series that deal with samurai in the feudal-era. Golden Kamuy is a change of pace in that it’s set in the early 20th century directly after the Russo-Japanese War; a time in Japan and event that I’m not very knowledgeable on.

One of the more enjoyable elements of this volume is the attention paid to the Ainu culture. This is greatly depicted in Asirpa’s extensive knowledge of the wilderness, hunting and trapping, but also in the use of Ainu language littered throughout along with captions with fun trivia.

ART

Given the fact that Golden Kamuy is an action-adventure seinen manga, the blood and gore and violence is to be expected, however Noda’s staging of the battles and linework adds to the vitality of the storytelling and prevents the violence from becoming gratuitous. He has a good eye for movement and the parallel between the detail-packed wilderness scenes, and action scenes with thick bold lines is executed well. The first volume introduces a few human adversaries but most of the time is spent familiarising the reader with the setting. There are several instances where the page is just a gorgeous shot of the scenery as Sugimoto and Asirpa traverse the harsh Hokkaido frontier.

CHARACTERS

I was unsure on how fairly I could judge the characterisations of Sugimoto and Asirpa given that this is only an introductory volume, however this aspect was definitely the least impressive part of the volume. Asirpa’s resourceful nature, knowledge and calm determination makes her an initial favourite. However, in Sugimoto’s case, apart from the glimpses you get in the midst of battle where he seems to almost relish the violence, you don’t get any deeper reasoning for his ambitions other than for love’s sake – and we don’t get to know a lot about the woman in question at this stage and it comes across as a bit weak. We quickly gather that Sugimoto is a brash, vicious fighter, however, his interactions with Asirpa where he comes across as more gentle, are definitely interesting. She immediately earns his respect and he trusts her ability to safely guide them to their goal, which gives me a bit more confidence in how his character may develop.

TO WRAP UP

Volume 1 of Golden Kamuy was an engaging read from start to finish, and I had to consciously slow myself down as I realised I was approaching the end. It’s clear that a lot of research into the Ainu culture has gone into this series as depicted by Asirpa, provn by the extensive list of academic references at the back of the volume. How well, this is done however will be easier to see as the series goes on.

The pair of Sugimoto and Asirpa balance each other out and the action scenes are a treat, so far we have already witnessed: a bear fight, mixed martial arts, bolt-action rifles, poison arrows and a variety of adversaries. I have high hopes for the anime, which is somewhat of a rarity for me lately (lmao), and I pray it lives up to my expectations.


Have you checked out Golden Kamuy? Are you planning on watching the anime? Leave a comment below!

Tudz.

Advertisements

Devilman Crybaby: Final Impressions

ogp

Devilman is a manga series written and illustrated by Go Nagai from 1972 to 1973, which originally started as an adaptation of Nagai’s previous work, Demon Lord Dante.

Devilman Crybaby is the most recent adaptation of the original manga and is directed by acclaimed anime director Masaaki Yuasa and written by Ichiro Okouchi, best known for writing Code Geass.

In the series, Akira Fudo is informed by his best friend, Ryo Asuka, that an ancient race of demons has returned to take back the world from humans. Believing that the only way to defeat the demons is to incorporate their powers, Ryo suggests to Akira that he unite with a demon. Succeeding in doing so, Akira transforms into Devilman, possessing the powers of a demon but retaining the soul of a human. 

Because it’s been a handful of weeks since I finished watching Devilman Crybaby, I considered it too late to even draft a blog post on my final thoughts. My emotions left in a wreck after the final two episodes contributed to my initial procrastination, but then as the weeks passed and everything settled, my final evaluation/impressions of the show changed. I went from rating the show a 7/10 to perhaps a 5 or 6/10 at the most. And that’s worth writing about right? I wouldn’t want to go another 11 months without posting on this blog after all.

And if it wasn’t already obvious, *spoilers ahead*

ART DIRECTION

Devilman-Crybaby-01-31

To start this post off on a positive note, I think it’s best to open with what I enjoyed most about the show. It goes without saying that director Masaaki Yuasa’s reputation precedes him. His eclectic unconventional approach to art direction and animation has made him a force in the industry; it’s also the main reason I, and I’m sure many others who hadn’t experienced the older material, were compelled to give Devilman Crybaby a shot.

The rough lines and neon-drenched visuals compliment the electro/techno infused soundtrack and effectively portray the more hedonistic scenes that we see, for example, during the first Sabbath club scene. The muted colour palette that is present throughout, even adjacent to the more vibrant colourful tones, is highlighted more during the final episodes as the world plunges into chaos and the plot develops into something more bleak.

tumblr_p240fv41pG1ugu94do2_1280

Aside from Tekkonkinkreet, I haven’t experienced much of Yuasa’s work, but the impression Devilman Crybaby left on me has convinced me to check my MAL account and move Ping Pong and The Tatami Galaxy further up my to-watch list.

MUSIC

True to the blog’s name, this post would be incomplete if I didn’t talk about the music that accompanied this show. I could sum up all my thoughts with: Ken the 390 <3. But that would be the easy way out.

As mentioned in the previous section, the techno soundtrack present in the earlier episodes effectively portrays the mood and compliments the visuals, but as the plot progresses different styles are introduced. The appearance of the acapella rap group seemed out of place to me at first, but I was able to appreciate the choice to narrate the story so far at the beginning of some episodes through rap; I felt it was another way the show succeeded in bringing the story of Devilman into the modern day. The casting of Ken the 390 and Young Dais as Wamu and Kokun, who also happened to be two of my favourite side-characters, was an excellent decision. This also spurred my decision to plunge headfirst back into the world of J-rap and Hip-Hop.

Ken the 390’s skills in action

PLOT

6224338-capture

…Or to be more specific, the pacing of the story, was the biggest letdown of the show for me. Perhaps the story needed more episodes to be portrayed properly but compared to the first half of the show, the latter half appeared to move at breakneck speed. The apocalypse and explanation of Ryo’s origins and mission are just barely crammed into the final two episodes. Perhaps it’s the Shin Megami Tensei fan in me speaking, but the brief biblical and religious themes were a welcome addition, but could have been better served to be explored earlier on in the show, as opposed to in the few minutes of Ryo’s speech in the finale. It all felt rushed to the point where I experienced what could only be described as emotional whiplash. As soon as it was over, despite how much I enjoyed it, I felt compelled to read the original manga just to see if the anime did Go Nagai’s original story justice. Or if the pacing was just as poorly handled by Nagai as well.

DT6yEfiUQAEENu1

In terms of how the characters were written, it seemed the show uses many of the characters as vessels for emotions or even as symbols and representations of ideas rather than strictly giving them much depth. Akira himself seemed completely lacking in personality prior to being possessed by Amon, and even after the fact his “crybaby” persona and the fact that he was a demon who cared for humans, was about as profound as his character ever got. We don’t know anything about Ryo’s origins or motivations until it’s too late, and even then it isn’t handled too well. While I was sad and angry about what became of Miki and her family, I felt that the impact of the deaths could have hit so much harder if even just her character had been fleshed out further than “good-girl-childhood-love interest”.

Devilman-Crybaby-Season-1-Episode-5-Beautiful-Silene-Mikos-New-Form

The only exception to this was Miko, and to a lesser extent, Koda who kills his boyfriend while under the influence of a demon and is thrown into emotional turmoil afterwards. He initially expresses that he doesn’t care whether the demons or humans win the war, only to later betray Akira and side with the demons. Koda’s stance, even as a supporting character, provided an interesting perspective, but it was Miko who was by far the most interesting character. She, along with Koda and the rappers were brand new characters created just for the show, which makes me wonder if I’ll be more or less harsh on the characterisation after reading the manga. It was easier to empathise with Miko than Akira personally, as she gained demonic powers to surpass her rival and good friend Miki. However her powers came at the cost of her sacrificing her humanity and ended up as a target of humanity’s hatred once Ryo’s plans start to enter full swing. She was by far my favourite character due to how she actually had human flaws and made mistakes that she later paid for.

 

CONCLUSION

Devilman-Crybaby-Season-1-Episode-10-Crybaby-Season-Finale-Akira-and-Ryo

Everything being said, Devilman Crybaby was a great way to start off the winter anime season and was a breath of fresh air. Which is a lot coming from someone like me that struggles to give newer series a chance past the 3rd episode if I’m not impressed.

The pacing and story left a lot to be desired, but the visuals and soundtrack still make it an enjoyable watch. Devilman Crybaby didn’t blow me away, and I’ve already forgotten several episodes, but the hype and attention it gained makes me optimistic about the anime content that could be coming to Netflix in the future.

 

Mob Psycho 100: Final Impressions

coverimage

Mob Psycho 100 left a strong impression for 12 weeks in a row and the season finale did not disappoint.


There were a number of moments in Mob Psycho where my expectations were completely subverted, but the finale had to have the most notable example yet. As badly as I wanted (and expected) Mob to explode again and wipe out the remaining Claws, having Reigen being the star of the final battle was even more satisfying.

This final reflection of the show wouldn’t feel complete without talking about who turned out to be my favourite character.
I didn’t want to like Reigen at all in the beginning, but with each episode and as we got to see more facets of his character, he earned more of my respect. At first, like many others, I assumed he was just a scam artist; taking advantage of Mob’s gentle heart and esper abilities. But he takes his role as Mob’s mentor seriously and he implores Mob to never use his powers to harm others, for his own good.

It starts to be apparent that there was something more touching to Mob and Reigen’s relationship around episode 3, but the finale is where this is shown most acutely.
Mob forms numerous friendships over the course of the show, but Reigen is the only person to tell Mob that his powers don’t make him special. And despite his tremendous abilities, he must never use them to harm anyone, in fact, it’s his responsibility not to.

mentor

mob100

 

When his friends are losing the fight against the remaining Claw members and Mob is about to give into his emotions to save them, Reigen steps in and pulls him back from his murderous rage. After Mob channels his energy into his mentor, Reigen proceeds to overwhelm the Claws in what is one of my favourite scenes of the show.

powertransfer

powertransferkanji

As he bats away Ishiguro’s gravity balls like they’re soap bubbles, snaps Sakurai’s sword, and mocks Muraki’s shoulder pads, Reigen shatters their delusions and “drags them back to reality”. Perhaps it’s because he’s a conman himself that Reigen has such a good eye for BS; after stripping each Claw of their dignity, he makes it clear that they’re just kids who never grew up and that there powers aren’t a big deal: “You’re so addicted to your powers, you’ve developed tunnel vision”.

reigen-powered-upreigen-powered-up2

irony

Irony; thy name is Reigen.

Mob Psycho’s action scenes were visually stunning throughout, but the finale really pulled out all the stops. Yuzuru Tachikawa storyboarded and directed the episode and constantly bombarded us with striking shots. Miyo Sato’s paint-on-glass depiction of the transfer of Mob’s power to Reigen was more charming, and engaging than a mere info dump would’ve been.

miyosato3miyosato2miyosato

 

I wasn’t sure of what to expect from Mob Psycho 100 going into it  (especially after the wackiness and satire of OnePunch-Man), but what I got was a surprisingly deep and often symbolic story of an ordinary boy with extraordinary powers, and a genius interpretation of ONE’S creation. Well-written source material, paired with Tachikawa’s storytelling and directing made every episode loads of fun to watch at a time when new-season anime don’t tend to grab my attention for long.

Getting caught up on the manga is an absolute must now, but hopefully we’ll be getting a season 2 announcement soon!

endpostimage