Golden Kamuy, Vol. 1

By Satoru Noda. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Young Jump. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by Eiji Yasuda.

Among my many thoughts on finishing the first volume of Golden Kamuy, the strongest one was “the author must be from Hokkaido”. And sure enough, that seems to be the case. Indeed, his other major manga series seems to be a sports manga devoted to the love of ice hockey. The show-covered woods are practically a major character in the series, adn they’re conveyed well, both in their beauty and in their ability to be deadly. And of course, they’re only one of the things that can kill you in this rather violent title. From the hero on the cover page, to various escaped convicts, to vicious bears and wolves, this is a series with the potential for a lot of gore. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be about that. Rather, it’s about a young man and the Ainu girl he meets trying to avenge her father and find some hidden gold.

The story takes place after the Russo-Japanese War, but not that far after, so I’m guessing 1906 or 1907. Our hero is a veteran who says he was discharged from the army for killing a fellow soldier, though honestly the way he frames the story makes it sound like he could be making that up. He’s prospecting for gold in the wilds of Hokkaido, only to find, like most prospectors, that easy money schemes don’t actually work in real life. The supposed reason he’s looking for gold is because the wife of a (now dead) war buddy of his needs eye surgery, and the gold will pay for it, but I suspect the real reason is that Sugimoto is one of those soldiers who can’t really survive well without a life of adventure in some way. And survive is what he does – he’s somewhat famous for being alive after several injuries that would have killed most men. He’s also a lot of fun, being written much like a standard “dumb but likeable jock” type from a sports manga, only older and filled with battle experience.

Asirpa is the other star of this manga, a teenage Ainu girl whose father was brutally murdered by the man who theoretically knows where this hidden gold is – in fact, it’s Ainu gold, as the man who is now a convict killed six men and stole the gold from them. Sugimoto frames their journey as her getting revenge for her father, but it’s notable that she doesn’t seem to frame it that way herself, being content to silently going along with him. As first I thought she was going to be one of those emotionless Ayanami Rei types, but she turns out to simply be naturally reserved, and also very competent at living and surviving in the woods. She’s an excellent foil to Sugimoto. The rest of the cast consists mostly of ex-soldiers who are also here to search for hidden gold, ex-prisoners who have a coded “here is the gold” tattoo on their backs, though it doesn’t quite work the way they’d like it to, and of course the appearance of a clearly despicable villain at the cliffhanger of this vo0lume.

Golden Kamuy is a bit of a bunny movie with less comedy, as Sugimoto and Asirpa contrast with each other but work well together. If you don’t mind a lot of death and blood, this is a solid action story, and a good addition to the Signature lineup for Viz.

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