Golden Kamuy – Anime Preview
Synopsis: The story takes place in the mighty Northern field of Hokkaido, the time is in the turbulent late Meiji Era. A post war soldier Sugimoto, aka, “Immortal Sugimoto” was in need of large sums of money for a particular purpose…. What awaited Sugimoto, who stepped into Hokkaido’s Gold Rush with dreams of making a fortune, was a tattoo map leading to a hidden treasure based on hints inscribed on the bodies of convicts in Abashiri Prison?! The magnificent nature of Hokkaido vs vicious convicts and the meeting with a pure Ainu girl, Ashiripa!! A survival battle for a hidden treasure hunt begins! (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
1st Episode Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Linny and I are huge fans of Golden Kamuy, the manga featuring solid art, wonderful characters and a 180 degree depiction of anime and manga’s most recent obsession with food. It also features one of the few manga/anime depictions of the Ainu people, the indigenous population of Hokkaido. There’s a lot to love, and the anime tries its best to translate the best of the manga into an animated production. Unfortunately Golden Kamuy’s anime doesn’t always nail its efforts. Namely, CGI is used to depict the powerful bears Sugimoto and his new companion, Asirpa (although Crunchyroll’s synopsis spells it different from the actual subtitles), do battle with. The CGI works in only a scant few shots, otherwise looking stilted and out of place against the more traditional 2D animation. It makes scenes that should feel incredible, harrowing and impactful dull and cringe-fully comedic. Thankfully Asirpa’s wolf, a more mainstay animal throughout the story, has CGI that’s far more fitting with the show’s overall look, utilizing an entirely different kind of 3D model, more cel-shaded than realistic, that feels more natural.
Linny: Moving past the bears Golden Kamuy’s art has been heavily simplified from the manga, forgoing more prominent details in favor of a more animation friendly art style. It’s a shame that Golden Kamuy is so plain and disappointing visually because the story told is so vivid and grand, deserving so much better. It’s kind of understandable as this is a young studio, responsible for Kokkoku last season, and may not have had the resources or manpower to make things come together in the most perfect of ways. Golden Kamuy’s manga also features content that would be difficult to animate faithfully for a variety of reasons such as graphic violence or extensive detail. While the manga has a LOT of violence and gore, the anime tones it down by employing less disturbing imagery such as a black gaping hole to depict a man’s gutted stomach and lots of red splotches to denote blood splatter than depicting the actual act of violence as it is happening.
Tom: Visual compromises aside, Golden Kamuy’s narrative maybe moves a tad too fast, never quite giving weight to certain sequences that held more meaning and intensity in the manga. There’s places where framing feels too standard or wide, divorcing the audience from the weight of the situation, like at the climax when Sugimoto wrestles with a vicious bear. These narrative and pacing issues are minor however, and only detract enough to turn this first episode from a great introduction into merely a good one. By and large the characters, as depicted in the first two chapters, come across as strong as ever. Tsugimoto himself is a lively lead, with solid justification for his need for gold, making him a likable fellow with noble intentions despite his violent background. Asirpa’s personality doesn’t yet get the exploration it eventually will, though this was a deficiency in the manga to begin with. She’s someone who begins to shine as we delve deeper into Kamuy’s world.
Linny: A minor issue I have with both the anime’s localization as presented on Crunchyroll and innate choices when adapting the manga, which is filled with notes and details about the time period, is how the anime does not bother to explain certain antiquated Japanese and Ainu terms, outdated words which are featured heavily throughout Golden Kamuy’s narrative. While the lack of definitions and explanations doesn’t make the story unintelligible, they do prove to be a bit distracting and I can only hope a greater effort will be made to make the series more approachable for the uninitiated. As someone who is a huge fan of the manga, my final consensus for this preview is that Golden Kamuy is perhaps best enjoyed in manga form in order to get the full scope of violence and the otherwise beautiful artwork. However, for those pressed on time or cash or perhaps just prefer anime over manga, the anime does enough to get the story across and entertain those seeking a brutal, violent anime about treasure hunting that involves tracking down criminals and surviving the untamed wilderness.
Tom: As a manga, Golden Kamuy isn’t afraid to get brutal, but the anime reigns this in enough, mostly due to censorship laws for Japanese TV, making this a tame enough adaptation that even more squeamish viewers can enjoy. It still contains all the best aspects of Kamuy’s narrative and characters, while maybe never quite capturing the art that makes the manga so excellent. If you want the best version of the story, that’s still the manga, but otherwise Golden Kamuy is an admirable take so far on one of Japan’s more recent and more excellent series.