In the Hokkaido wilderness, bears aren't the only thing to watch out for.
Title: Golden Kamuy
Publisher: Shueisha (JP), Viz Media (US)
Creator: Satoru Noda
Translator: Eiji Yasuda
Original Release Date: June 20th, 2017
A review copy was provided by Viz Media.
In the early 20th century there are still many wild places in Japan for a man to lose himself in if he wants to. Saichi “Immortal” Sugimoto, a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War, fully intends to stay out in the backwaters of Hokkaido until he’s found enough gold to live off of and had time to sort out his demons. But an old-timer with a loose tongue let’s Sugimoto in on a secret; you won’t find much panning for gold in the bitterly cold streams of Japan’s far north, but there is a huge stash of stolen gold somewhere out there. With no real map to speak of, only the tattooed backs of convicts to lead the way, Sugimoto is eager to take this adventure and hope for an enormous payout.
Golden Kamuy is a smoothly paced, wonderfully drawn, and gripping story after only one volume. It is fully deserving of it’s “mature” rating and readers should be warned that this is a gory story in places. The gore has a purpose however; Sugimoto earned his nickname “Immortal” through experience on the battlefield and the tattooed, now escaped, convicts were in a very secure prison for a reason. With this set-up the violence may be easier for some folks to handle than other bloody series, although vegetarians and vegans may still be turned off by the many hunting scenes!
The hunting scenes are one of several places in this volume where both the story and Satoru Noda demonstrate a deep interest in Ainu traditions. For those unaware, the Ainu people of Japan occupy a similar status to the Native Americans/First People of North America; they are the earlier inhabitants of Japan (Japan’s dominant ethnic group is the Yamaoto People/Wajin), have been pushed out to a occupy a smaller space than they historically had, and do not often appear in works of fiction. Asirpa, who believes her father was one of the Ainu killed for their gold, is Ainu and Sugimoto has absolutely no trouble deferring to her for all matters of survival in the Hokkaido back country. These interactions speak volumes about Sugimoto’s character; one would assume he was a madman given his nickname and many scars, but he’s very sympathetic. Honestly the story hasn’t had a truly nasty character yet, everyone is portrayed as someone with many different things going on in their lives and not fully unredeemable (although that may change whenever Sugimoto and Asirpa meet the mastermind behind the gold robbery).
In addition to its brains, Golden Kamuy has good looks too! The action sequences flow smoothly, the characters vary in appearance, and the food looks delicious. Any wide shots of the scenery are gorgeous and it’s impressive that Noda has such a wide range of drawing talents. Altogether this book makes for an engrossing first volume and hopefully the rest of the series will follow suit.