Golden Kamuy is the kind of manga that is hard to dislike. It’s not only beautiful, it also contains a unique historical fiction story that is both cuttingly realistic and willing to take a few chances. It’s also a food porn series in disguise. Sure, it’s filled with interesting facts about living off the land in the early 20th century, but it’s also an exciting adventure series.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Sugimoto and Asirpa’s hunt for the tattooed treasure map has led them to a fishing village on the coast, where a deranged serial killer lies in wait. Lieutenant Tsurumi and his renegade soldiers are also hot on their trail, and if he catches up to them it’s guaranteed that there will be hell to pay. Toshizo Hijikata also closes in, while an old friend shows up with a secret about Asirpa that no one wants to believe–but it just might take them closer to the gold than ever before…
Why does this matter?
This isn’t a straight action-adventure; instead it’s filled with interesting facts that could keep you alive (especially during the time period). It’s also a manga that revels in the culture of the people, their ways of survival, and by extension its characters. They are realistically rendered in how much they love to eat and live as well as their attempt to find a massive amount of gold.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The last two volumes of this series were seriously worrying me due to their wonky pace and focus on the ancillary characters. This volume brings things into better focus with the main trio of characters (Sugimoto, Asirpa, and the “Escape King”) adding a new twist that makes Aspirpa’s story more personal in regards to Sugimoto’s world. The narrative gets back on track to find the gold, but also continues to flesh out the bonds between the characters nicely.
This volume opens with Asirpa and Sugimoto attempting to get some info out of one of the tattooed soldiers who holds a piece of the map to the gold on his back. The character is strange and at times erotically wishes for Sugimoto to kill him. It’s one of the weirdest story elements I’ve ever come across (he literally daydreams of ways Sugimoto could kill him) and ends up evolving into a wickedly good chase scene.
Midway through this volume, a big chunk of the book revolves around Tanigaki surviving the threat of a sniper associated with the characters chasing Sugimoto for the maps. These scenes are expertly paced and keep you on the edge of your seat as Tanigaki must first escape a hut they have pinned down with a sniper and then flee their tracking. The sequence plays out in surprising ways and takes a closer look at the life of a sniper.
The last chunk of the volume revolves around more of the food porn aspect of the series, focusing on Sugimoto and Asirpa catching some fish. As is customary with the series we learn all about the fish be it flavor, their multiple uses, and how big they could get in the early 20th century. This sequence plays out well because it’s not a distracting clump of factoids but rather actually leads to a major plot development that ends the book on a satisfying cliffhanger.
It can’t be perfect can it?
It’s subtle, but the weirdo who wants Sugimoto to kill him is somewhat uncomfortable to read. He’s sick (at one point he chops a guy’s head off) and yet literally gets an erection at one point due to the thought of being murdered. They blotch that out of course, but this is a subplot that may put some off. I’m not sure how important this character is to the story–maybe he’s simply a strange fetishist that Noda wanted to explore–but it doesn’t add much to the narrative. He serves as a weird character you won’t really ever understand and that ends up being a failing of the writing. He’s almost inhuman in how he acts and maybe the purpose was to show some people in this world are uncompromisingly strange and unsavable, but it ends up coming off as a joke for adults more than anything else.
Is it good?
This is the strongest volume since the very first. This volume’s pacing is on point, it never gets bogged down in facts, and it effectively sets up a new direction for the characters. This is one of the best manga currently on shelves.