Golden Kamuy Vol. 14 from Viz Media collects chapters 131 through 140 of Satoru Noda’s historical manga, presenting the entirety of Lieutenant Tsurumi’s raid on Abashiri prison in one neat paperback. Amongst the gunfire and gore, Sugimoto and Asirpa’s crew race to get Asirpa face to face with her father at last as loyalties shift and revelations come to light. From cover to cover, the action doesn’t stop as all the major players converge on a fateful, bloodstained night.
I didn’t mean to read this volume in its entirety in one sitting, but it’s one that refuses to be put down. From crowded slaughter to tense, one-on-one duels, Noda delivers a ceaseless barrage of action that offers only enough breathing room to get the reader to the next conflict. There is still some humor in these chapters, but rather than the gags around silhouetted penises in the previous volume, a lot of the humor in this volume comes from outrageous shots of limbs exploding or Tsurumi’s ecstasy from the kickback of a machine gun. Beyond that, this is a volume much more interested in action and drama over laughs, but I appreciate the consistency from both the characters and Noda himself when it comes to letting outrageous violence inspire a guffaw or two.
The element of surprise is a major factor in what maintains the fast pace of this volume. You think one of Sugimoto’s tactics will go one way when a surprise bullet forces him to choose another. With all the major characters in one space, certain reunions are expected, but others take surprising precedence. There’s even a double twist near the end that complicates the moral implications of certain characters’ motivations as the themes of the series make themselves more loudly heard than before.
The breakneck pace of all the gore and surprise all culminates in the clearest declaration that Golden Kamuy is ultimately a manga about loyalty to a cause over loyalty to a person. Whether it’s Hijikata’s age-old resistance of imperial rule or Noppera-bo’s desperate attempt at staving off the Ainu’s extinction, it’s become clear that individual lives bear no weight at all against that of a bone-deep loyalty to a larger cause. The same is true for both a single named character facing betrayal or a parade of nameless prisoners being mowed down by a machine gun; all are disposable for the sake of one’s ideals. These ideals turn characters against each other and cause them to sacrifice loved ones for the sake of turning the tides of history in their favor and these ideas come to a head in a major way in this volume. By the end, I felt exhausted for these characters, both those fighting for the ideals they feel are right and those caught up in these players machinations.
Noda and his art team also continue to excel in every way, but I’ve particularly noticed some stunning face work in this volume and the last. Noda’s work with conveying emotion has been masterful from the start, especially when it comes to rendering eyes, which become a key element in this volume. As usual, all the gore is equal parts gorgeous and nauseating. Flesh peels away and tears like stretched out cookie dough and blood pools in inky globs flecked with small brushstrokes of white for shimmer. The panelling continues to be dynamic and there are many instances of full-page or two-page spreads featuring breathtaking portraits and landscapes.
Overall, Golden Kamuy Vol. 14 is one of the strongest in the series. Readers looking for Ainu hunting and survival practices will find close to none in this volume, but the relentless action and plethora of revelations provide more than enough entertainment to make up for that omission. The entertainment value is through the roof and bringing the themes of the series to the forefront adds a lot of weight to a series full of beefcake and faces being torn off.