Golden Kamuy – Mid Season Anime Review
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)
Mid Season (6 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Golden Kamuy’s perhaps greatest claim to fame in the eyes of Anime fans is being known for disappointing 3D bears, but that’s actually the least of Kamuy’s problems. While the bears are a visual blight, Golden Kamuy is rounded out by art that never reaches heights beyond ‘merely acceptable.’ The series on occasion looks okay but neither impresses nor offends. But all too frequently visuals dips well below the acceptable bar, presenting the series with art that screams production trouble. Even then though, the problem runs much deeper. Not only is the visual quality of the work all too often sub-par, but the framing and direction of the action kills much of the oomph Golden Kamuy held in manga form, failing to translate some of the series most dynamic moments into fluid motion.
Linny: If you can look past the messy animation issues, Golden Kamuy’s story is one of brutality and survival that should appeal to fans of such gritty tales. Our heroes battle to survive against competitors, enemies and nature itself on their quest to retrieve a treasure and seek revenge. Speaking of nature, Golden Kamuy has a streak of environmentalism running through thanks to its depiction of the Ainu tribe and their beliefs and practices in regards to the land and animals. This also means that the viewer gets to learn about the Ainu tribe and their way of life. It’s such a shame that this story with so many facets to it loses so much appeal thanks to its sub-par animation quality and this makes me all the more confident that the manga is the better way to experience Golden Kamuy.
Tom: It’s true that beneath all these technical and directorial failings sits a story that’s still generally engaging. Tsugimoto is a likable lead, and Asirpa a wonderfully strong female character. While the series does perhaps all too frequently veer into foodie fan service pandering, the underlying character work for Tsugimoto and Asirpa remains a powerful facet. Unfortunately even that has its limits, as the series cuts a lot of content in order to cram in as much of the manga as possible. Viewers are missing so much introspection, character work, flashbacks, and asides that help to flesh him and other characters out. What’s here is still good, but feels decidedly thin by comparison to the manga, making the anime more of a cliff notes version.
Linny: Despite manga content left on the cutting room floor, the chemistry and interaction between Asirpa and Sugimoto shines through, and is a constant source of laughs that helps to lighten an otherwise grim story. The show gives Asirpa some of the most outrageous reaction faces in a clear attempt to inject more comedy. Further cementing their status as both the leads and comic relief is the addition of a third member, an escaped petty convict named Yoshitake Shiraishi whose actions are almost always silly and goofy. Because of the extremely violent nature of the show, there are equally over the top villains scattered throughout, each working for their own reasons and against each other. We get characters such as First Lieutenant Tsurumi who wears a metal plate on his forehead after losing a piece of his skull in battle and Tetsuzou Nihei, a hunter who keeps screaming out about boners, and so on and so forth. These antagonistic characters further boosts the dog eat dog vibe of Golden Kamuy and raise the survivalist and brutal nature of its story.
Tom: With so many cuts, trimming the series down to say, the highlights, the narrative moves quite quickly, for better or worse. Six episodes in and the series has adapted nearly 30 chapters, at a pace of almost five chapters an episode. While the show does actually do a good job of not giving the game away on just how much was cut, the difference in quality is night and day when jumping from the manga to the anime. It’s not just the art, it’s the entire presentation as so much that makes the manga stand out is left on the cutting room floor, turning this Golden Kamuy into an enjoyable, but otherwise forgettable romp. In all honesty, I say skip the anime and go straight for the manga. The anime will likely outpace the English release at the rate it’s adapting, but you’ll have far and away a better experience sticking to the original.
Linny: Golden Kamuy was a series we were looking forward to intensely thanks to our pre-familiarity and fondness for the manga. Unfortunately the anime has been a disappointing experience. I must second Tom’s advice to skip the anime and go straight for the manga if the brutal nature of the story is appealing to you and makes you want to delve deeper, as the art and content of the manga really is miles ahead of what the anime offers. You’re not only getting much better visuals but also extra content that helps you better understand Sugimoto’s past and personal drive. All in all, it’s unfortunate but Golden Kamuy in anime form is likely to be a hard pass from anyone who has even the slightest expectation for smooth animation.