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

VA-11 HALL-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action

– Time to mix drinks and change lives –

pic1

VA-11 HALL-A (PC [reviewed], Mac)
Developer: Sukeban Games
Publisher: Ysbryd Games
Released: 
June 21, 2016 (PC), “2016” (PS Vita, iOS)
Price: £10.99 (PC)

Billed as a “waifu bartending” game, I was expecting elements of a dating sim to be more prevalent in VA-11 HALL-A. Then, after playing for a while longer I became immersed in this neon-drenched cyberpunk world, and witnessed some kind of coup taking place in Glitch City. I thought perhaps I was in for a more action-packed adventure instead. In the end, I got neither.

opening credits

PLOT

In VA-11 HALL-A you play as Jill, a bartender at the aforementioned bar, guiding the story in a thematically appropriate way: mixing drinks for different customers, all with their own interesting stories and relationships. Certain drinks allow you to add as much or as little alcohol as you like, meaning you can get certain patrons very drunk and uncover extra dialogue – great for replays! Jill is also an easy character to empathise with; between her shifts at the bar, she sits in her tiny apartment, under a kotatsu, spending her time online, slowly filling up her tiny apartment with various memorabilia and posters of the idol *Kira* Miki. You’ll also find that Jill spends entire shifts distracted if she doesn’t buy a thing she wants, affecting your ability to get orders right and how much you get paid. Gamers and anime fans can relate.

Given what cyberpunk as a genre usually implies, and the ominous chords that play on the title screen, you couldn’t be blamed for assuming you were in for a dramatic or dark gaming experience. Instead, VA-11 HALL-A is a slice-of-life simply using a cyberpunk environment as a backdrop to tell the stories of the curious and interesting characters you’d expect to inhabit a dystopian cyberpunk city.

DIALOGUE

catgirl

Given that VA-11 HALL-A is a visual novel, you’ll be doing a lot of clicking and a lot of reading. This might seem a tad tedious to gamers who don’t usually indulge in this genre, but the dialogue in VA-11 HALL-A really is a treat. You can tell this game was a labour of love for the creators at Sukeban Games, and thanks to the fantastic storytelling VA-11 HALL-A is a highly engaging experience. The dialogue a joy to read and immerse yourself in; it’s crass, humorous and charming. It brings to the forefront themes that any regular user of the internet in this day and age would find familiar and relate to. Also, I love how fellow bartender Gillian is frequently referred to as a “fuckboy”.

 

SOUND

fave playlist

My preferred playlist for mixing drinks ~

This review wouldn’t be complete without talking about one of my favourite parts of playing this game: the music. The neon-drenched, 80s/electronic, J-pop inspired score bridged the difference in making VA-11 HALL-A a good game and a great game. The requirement of having to fill the jukebox with tracks from the OST at the start of each shift was a great touch I really appreciated. I’d go as far as telling you to play the game based off of the soundtrack alone; Michael “Garoad” Kelly has done a fantastic job in creating a score that caters to not only the somber atmosphere of the bar, but also an eclectic range of tracks that cover the more upbeat scenes and emotionally charged exchanges between characters. But even without playing the game I’d recommend listening to the soundtrack on Soundcloud or Spotify. You can also purchase the soundtrack on Kelly’s bandcamp, either for free or a donated amount to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

REPLAYABILITY

Va-11-Hall-A-rent

On my first go, playing through VA-11 HALL-A took me just under 10 hours, on my current playthrough I’m on a mission to get as many customers drunk as possible. The option to get customers more inebriated than required opens up new conversation options and plot paths. On the flipside, if you get an order wrong you’ll end up with a displeased customer who may simply choose not to pay and you lose some of your wages. If this happens enough times you’ll find that Jill is short on cash when rent is due and facing eviction from her apartment. Both instances open up new possible endings and achievements. A huge plus of starting a NG+ is that it allows you to keep all your money so you can fill up Jill’s apartment with as much crap as you can afford and you also get hints for each ending at the start.

mixing_drinks_va11halla

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ll make this simple, if you like:

  • Vibrant pixelated anime aesthetics
  • An atmospheric soundtrack
  • Interesting, unique characters
  • Raw, funny and thought-provoking dialogue

…then play VA-11 HALL-A.

The dialogue is a core element of the game and you won’t find an action-packed adventure here. Having said that, I would still recommend VA-11 HALL-A to a gamer unaccustomed to visual novels, as I believe there’s a game in every genre for everyone. If what I’ve written here has piqued your interest enough, definitely don’t hesitate to try it out for yourself.

 

 

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