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.
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.
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.
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!