Golden Kamuy Vol. 8 is probably my favorite volume of the series yet. Noda Satoru continues his historical fiction story of former convicts and war veterans hunting for gold with the introduction of a wild new character. Is this latest volume worth hunting for?
With this volume Noda introduces Edogai Yasaku, a taxidermist who is…eccentric, to say the least. Noda takes those eccentricities and cranks them up to eleven, fully committing to his concept. Not only that but he plays with the reader’s expectations, showing his hand enough for you to guess where he’s going, but he either subverts or hyperbolizes whatever the reader expects. All the while Noda blends horror and comedy seamlessly, leaving the reader unsure whether they should laugh or scream. I love how Noda executes his character ideas without holding back and this is, more than any other character so far, an example of that.
Where he shows more restraint is in the pacing of the arc collected in this volume. The chapters become gradually more exciting, culminating in a series of action scenes staged on mine carts hurtling through a coal mine. I began the volume with my jar agape in shock and finished it on the edge of my seat. The way Noda depicts the action is very readable and he utilizes the minecarts in funny, exciting ways. In terms of narrative, this is a fearless and exciting volume.
Noda and his assistants bring as much detail and enthusiasm to rendering a series of special outfits on display in this volume as they do to several two-page spreads scattered throughout the chapters. I won’t go into spoilers about the aforementioned outfits, but the details which Noda chooses to accessorize or tailor these clothes were rendered in just enough detail to illicit a strong reaction from me. With regards to the two-page spreads, the level of detail on these pages is astounding. They take place outside with Noda and his crew delivering lush forests of herbs, brooks, and trees. These lovely natural pieces contrast sharply with the gore and metal of the pages which depict another flashback to the Russo-Japanese war. As usual, all the more quotidian aspects of the artwork continue to be rendered cleanly and consistently. The men are as gorgeous as ever and Tanigaki gets a lot of page time in this volume, which makes for plenty of time to admire his thick eyebrows. From natural backgrounds to striking character renderings, Noda and his assistants do, in fact, have the range.
At the risk of leaning into light spoiler territory, my biggest, if only, complaint regards the treatment of a queer or queer-coded character. This example is yet another in a series of queer characters who’s made monstrous through the plot and mistreated or disposed of soon after their introduction. What others this character even further than their queerness is also what makes them so entertaining and shows Noda’s willingness to commit to his ideas. This left me conflicted with regards to what to think of this character, especially when compared alongside the other mistreated queer characters in the series. I love the concept Noda introduces, but I wish this character didn’t feel as wasted as they do by the end of the arc when Noda relies on an overused and harmful trope.
Overall, even with the poorly treated character, Golden Kamuy Vol. 8 exhibits risky ideas, detailed artwork, and hilarious action, all of which pay off handsomely. This volume also sees an added tangle to the plot that elevates the conflict and makes me eager to read more. The wait for Vol. 9 is going to be a hard one.