Golden Kamuy 001-002 – Manga Review
Golden Kamuy Synopsis: In the early twentieth century, Russo-Japanese War veteran Saichi “Immortal” Sugimoto scratches out a meager existence during the postwar gold rush in the wilderness of Hokkaido. When he stumbles across a map to a fortune in hidden Ainu gold, he sets off on a treacherous quest to find it. But Sugimoto is not the only interested party, and everyone who knows about the gold will kill to possess it! Faced with the harsh conditions of the northern wilderness, ruthless criminals and rogue Japanese soldiers, Sugimoto will need all his skills and luck—and the help of an Ainu girl named Asirpa—to survive. (Official Viz Media Synopsis)
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow)
Golden Kamuy isn’t your typical Shonen Jump offering. Heck it isn’t even considered Shonen. It’s actually a Seinen title aimed at older audiences and stands out among Shonen Jump’s Free Chapter offerings on their website. Like some of Shonen Jump’s other, free chapter, Seinen offerings (Tokyo Ghoul for example) Golden Kamuy isn’t for the squeamish. It features, in its first two chapters alone, no less than three accounts of people or creatures having their entrails devoured or gutted. It’s a series that is absolutely brutal with its art, but that entirely fits with the period in history Golden Kamuy is working with.
Golden Kamuy, as the synopsis talks about above, takes places shortly after the Russo-Japanese War, one of the early 20th century wars that saw soldiers and civilians alike meet with altogether horrific ends. It seems fitting then that the art so accurately capture the sheer brutality of this particular time in Japan’s history. It’s tone is much along the lines of other beloved, yet brutal, classics such as Vagabond, or Berserk. Golden Kamuy is maybe slightly more light-hearted than either of those titles, with a protagonist a bit more quick to smile and take pleasure in his ability to out maneuver death time and again. It’s not to say Golden Kamuy is a bundle of laughs, but so far its atmosphere feels less harrowing, less sharply brutal, than either of the titles I mentioned above.
The story focuses on two characters, Saichi Sugimoto and Asirpa, a local Ainu Girl. Saichi is an easy character to root for, displaying a noble motivation in his quest for riches. It’s made clear in the very first chapter that Saichi, despite his more jovial persona, suffers some severe trauma from his war-time experience, losing his best friend in battle. In an effort to honor his friend, Saichi attempts to fulfill Toraji’s last request: To ensure his widow get medical treatment for her failing eyes. It’s this altruistic drive that gives Saichi extreme likability, even when the manga doesn’t spend a lot of time developing his character in too many other directions.
Indeed, even Asirpa, the Ainu Girl on a quest for vengeance against her father’s killer, is similarly thin. It’s not to say either character lacks the ability for depth, but rather Golden Kamuy is so much more focused on establishing its plot, and tone, in these first two chapters than exploring its two leads to the fullest. But what the series does set out to do, it does so with near perfect execution.
Chapter 1 is all about the tone. It’s all about establishing the brutality of this post-war 1900s world and its cut-throat, do or die nature. In that Golden Kamuy’s succeeds with flying colors. While main characters are unlikely to die, or suffer unduly this early in the story, a sense of the world is crafted that makes it feel like death is just around the corner, should you stumble in the wrong direction. Chapter 2 then really hammers home the narrative direction of the series, where the plot will go, and how things may unfold. Again, in that regard, Golden Kamuy executes things perfectly, giving readers a strong sense of the kind of story to expect going forward: A brutal tale of the quest for riches, honor, and vengeance.
While characterization is perhaps a bit thin, it offers more than enough to root for both our heroes. Saichi’s quest to honor his deceased friend, and Asirpa’s desire to avenge her father are both compelling reasons to root for our two heroes, and give hope that as the series continues both will gradually become more and more fleshed out.
If you’re looking for a manga with the brutality of Berserk or Vagabond, excellent art, atmosphere, and two likable heroes from the get go, Golden Kamuy seems a wonderful title to pick up. I’m not only excited to continue the manga myself, but for the upcoming anime adaptation hitting just this Spring. Although I shall be very surprised if the graphic art isn’t, in some way, censored.
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts on Golden Kamuy in the comments section below!