I loved the first volume in this series and really liked the second for its originality and ability to relay facts in the story. Set in 1904 at the northernmost island of Japan, this story focuses on a little native girl, Asirpa, who helps a Japanese man named Saichi find gold. If only it were that simple. In volume three Asirpa must rescue Saichi from prison and new threats emerge seeking the gold.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Captured by renegade soldiers from the 7th Division, Sugimoto’s life now rests in the hands of Asirpa and “Escape King” Shiraishi, who must work together to save him. Meanwhile, Sugimoto’s list of enemies continues to grow. Hijikata, the former leader of the legendary Shinsengumi, intensifies his own search for the hidden Ainu gold, and another adversary teams up with an expert hunter–who knows the wilderness of Hokkaido at least as well as Asirpa–to track Sugimoto down!
Why does this matter?
It’s hard to find good historical fiction in comics and manga so cherish this one. Satoru Noda has infused this story with interesting facts about living in the wild, food eaten at the time, and other cultural information. It enriches the story with some validity and realism that adds a unique flavor you can’t find anywhere else.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Saichi’s escape is clever and adds a thriller aspect to the manga.
This volume is basically three sequences starting with Saichi’s escape to wrap up the last volumes cliffhanger, the introduction of a new psychopathic villain named Hijikata, and the development of the bear hunter Tetsuzo. This structure allows Noda to open the issue with intense action, slow things down with exposition about Hijikata’s desire to find the gold however many dead it takes, and finally reveal more about Tetsuzo who bares one of the last pieces of the map tattooed to his body. The pace is good, revealing new information about surviving in the wild while developing the various characters.
Hijikata adds a western flair to the story as he harbors not only a sword but a flip action shotgun. As he whirls around killing folks with ease he flips the rifle ala the Terminator in Terminator 2 to reload and kill some more. He’s a grizzled looking older man who is pure evil and a force that will assuredly give Asirpa and Saichi trouble.
Truth be told Tetsuzo and his lust for the hunt takes up the majority of the book. This character is similar to Kraven the Hunter from Spider-Man as he gets excited over tracking and killing animals. So excited he literally gets a hard-on (he tells us this!) when he knows he’s close to a kill. After killing hundreds of bears he now wants to kill one of the last wolves of its kind who happens to be Asirpa’s trusty friend. Noda follows this character through the woods, expertly adding tidbits on how to track as well as some poetic notions on killing animals in the wild. By the end you realize Tetsuzo is an animal himself and not to be handled lightly, effectively giving the cliffhanger even more weight.
As far as the good guys, Saichi’s desire to avoid killing becomes more prominent. In the opening (see below) we’re reminded he was a stone cold killer, but Noda makes it a point that the war has changed him and even killing a deer is tricky business for him. He may have the reputation, but it’s going to be interesting to see him have to make hard choices when the villians push him in later volumes. Meanwhile, his relationship with Asirpa continues to be one of good friendship and Noda does a good job making their bond genuine.
It can’t be perfect can it?
It can get a little boring reading about the characters eating. Eating needles for energy is a fun fact but it grows tiresome when all the characters are doing is talking about eating, what they’ll eat, or what they like to eat. I understand eating is survival, but the focus is so much on food–like chewing into a raw liver freshly cut out of a deer–it’s like food is the main story.
Is It Good?
This is another good installment of the story fleshing out the villains so as to put a character between our heroes and the gold rather than the elements. The story continues to reveal interesting factoids on surviving in the wild and does a good job building the bond between characters.