Are you ready for an adventure! How about the story about an “unkillable” former soldier and the native girl he teams up with in order to find a fortune in stolen gold where the map to it has been tattooed on the skin of prisoners? If that’s the case, then go out and buy a copy of “Golden Kamuy” now because it has everything you’re looking for.
Saichi Sugimoto got the nickname “Immortal Sugimoto” while he was fighting in the Russo-Japanese war, but some bad luck after that now has him panning for gold in Hokkaido. It’s out in the snowy wilds there that he’s told about the story of the stolen gold and the prisoners and finds himself teaming up with a young Ainu girl named Asirpa to take on an angry brown bear that has a taste for human flesh. As it turns out, Asirpa has a personal connection to this stolen gold and this leads both of them back to (relative) civilization as they try to track down these prisoners, and find out that they’re not the only ones looking for them.
“Immortal Sugimoto” makes for a great protagonist here as his, uh… good fortune in surviving many near-death injuries mixes well with the cleverness and ruthlessness he displays in trying to survive on this new quest. His lively nature is also complemented well by Asirpa’s mostly all-business mindset. Mangaka Satoru Noda also hits the ground running with his narrative, wasting no time in setting up the story and plunging his protagonists into one life-threatening situation after another.
It makes for a good start to this series even if there are a few issues to be noted. The first is the convenience with which Sugimoto and Asirpa come across these tattooed prisoners. While the nature of their tattoos makes for a good story, you get the feeling that Noda wants this stuff out of the way so he can get to the real business of finding the gold. Noda also has a wealth of information about Hokkaido circa 1904 that helps his take on the setting appear convincing. The problem is that he loves to frequently show off this knowledge in caption boxes throughout the volume. I’ll admit that it’s impressive to see that he knows his stuff, but it really becomes distracting after these boxes keep popping up to inform nearly every single plot development.
This is only the first volume, so I’m willing to hold out hope that Noda will reign in these tendencies as the series goes on. The energetic start he gets off to here does make them fairly negligible at this point, however. So if you’re looking for an entertaining period adventure to add to your manga reading list then this first volume of “Golden Kamuy” comes highly recommended.
(In case anyone was wondering, my recommendation that everyone go out and buy a copy of this volume now isn’t a reference to the idea that this series will be cancelled if it doesn’t sell well. Unlike Dark Horse, Viz will let its more successful manga projects subsidize its lower-selling ones. In other words, all that Shonen Jump money is the real reason we keep seeing new volumes of series like “Real,” “Ooku,” and “Master Keaton.” I’m mentioning this because with “Golden Kamuy” Viz is putting out an older-skewing series from a new creator that takes place in an unfamiliar time period that doesn’t have any obvious fanservice trappings and is currently without an anime adaptation. If you can think of a less commercial premise for a manga in the U.S. market then I’d certainly like to hear it. So if “Golden Kamuy” does sound interesting to you, go pick up this volume. I’m sure Saitama and Koro-sensei would thank you for easing their respective burdens in supporting its release.)