Golden Kamuy Volume 1
My favorite type of manga is shojo romance, but the extent to which I enjoyed Golden Kamuy volume 1 shows how valuable it can be to break out of one’s usual reading patterns. This historical action-adventure by Satoru Noda was a thrilling introduction to a pair of intriguing characters.
Sugimoto, a hard-bitten veteran of the Russo-Japanese War (1905), is trying to pan for gold in order to help his comrade’s widow. He was a hero, with a reputation that he can’t be killed, but that doesn’t make him money. Then a drunk tells him a legend of a hidden horde of gold, with clues to its location held in a set of prisoners’ tattoos.
Between the opening war scenes and a fight with a bear, the series can be bloody, but in spite of the gore, I was impressed by the dramatic staging of the battles and the vitality of the storytelling. Plus, the scenery, as the pair navigate the unbuilt frontier, is gorgeous.
It did take me a bit to get used to the protagonist talking to himself, narrating his choices and actions, but it helps the reader be sure of what’s going on. That doesn’t last long once Asirpa, an Ainu girl with poison arrows, shows up. She’s (unsurprisingly) my favorite part of the book, from her practical yet well-decorated costume to her quiet determination and her knowledge of the wilderness of Hokkaido. It’s only due to her that they survive to start their treasure quest.
The time the first volume spends on natural predators serves as a fascinating comparison with the human villains we’ll see more of as the series progresses. Both are bestial, caring only about their own survival, which makes us root for Asirpa and Sugimoto even more. Golden Kamuy is still ongoing in Japan, with 10 volumes out so far. Viz will be publishing it here quarterly. (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)