By Dustin Cabeal
There’s gold in them thar hills… as they say. Golden Kamuy is a period story set after the Russo-Japanese War. I’m not big on period fiction unless it’s an era I particularly enjoy and so I wasn’t leaping up and down like a mad prospector for Golden Kamuy. It did entertain me as I read through its pages.
The story follows a man called Saichi “Immortal” Sugimoto. He’s famous in military circles because he survived every possible near death during the war. He has a face and body full of scars to show for it and not much else. The story begins with him prospecting in a town that’s been rushed to death, but there he runs into an old man that tells him a story about why the town no longer has gold. Saichi writes it off as an old drunken tale until the man tries to kill him the next day, it doesn’t work out in the man’s favor, and he ends up fleeing. Saichi is suddenly very interested in his story of gold, murder and tattooed prisoners that hold the key to the location. Too bad the old man gets eaten by a bear that didn’t eat enough food before hibernation. Saichi is saved by a native girl named Asirpa. He eventually tells her the story, though he’s still having a hard time believing it himself. Asirpa believes him instantly though because her father was one of the men murdered for the gold. They team up, which is strange, but how else is Saichi going to survive the bear that’s coming for the dead guy’s body?
Like most manga, there’s one hyper-researched detail to the story. In the case of Golden Kamuy, it’s trapping and hunting. If you have no interest in reading details about how to trap a squirrel and then possibly using the same technique to capture a man… then this might not be the book for you. The hyper-researched trapping didn’t bother me, but it was too well researched which rang through on how it was presented. To put it plainly, it spoils the story when you have to learn step by step the process in which you know they will use later, but that’s the breaks.
The character motivation is a bit weak. Especially for Saichi who’s motive is just standard issued love, but lo and behold she’s sick, and he needs cash to save her; thank goodness, he has time to capture 30 criminals and race the army and gang leader to the gold location. I’ve got 5/1 that she dies at some point in the story, possibly at the hands of the man that killed Asirpa’s father which will motivate both of them to keep going.
The art is by far the best thing about the series. Which feels pointless to tell you since unlike American comics, you don’t get to make manga on the professional level unless you’re polished and well coached. Even though the main two characters were a bit too stylized, the rest of the characters really do come across as era-appropriate people. I’m sure the criminals will continue to get more and more stylized, but the first three the story encounters are mostly plain. The details on the animals are particularly striking. The bears featured in the first part of the story are hyper detailed and realistic looking.
At the end of the day, there’s a cool plotline for the characters to follow, but they’re not deep characters yet, and their motivation is pretty shallow at the moment. It makes for an average manga which by no means is a bad thing. I would still read the series, but no, it’s not one that I would run to and clamor for nor is it one that I would skip. Sometimes you need just an average series to read that does everything just well enough but doesn’t dip either way on the spectrum. It’s a palette cleaner as cruel as that may sound, but we all need them, and it doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy the story and appreciate the fantastic art. The thing is, everyone’s palette is different, so this might strike your fancy, whereas you use something like Haikyu!! for your cleaner.
Story and Art: Satoru Noda
Publisher: Viz/Viz Signature