Golden Kamuy‘s Hokkaido Treasure Hunt
by Punch Rockgroin
On rare occasion, I will buy a manga based on its cover. Golden Kamuy ended up being an exception simply based on the fact said cover had what I assumed (correctly) was the main character wielding some type of well-detailed bolt action rifle. Reading the description on the back cover stated the story follows a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war. Being this is a time period rarely covered in fiction, historical or otherwise, I picked it up without much hesitation. Best of all, I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent story with great art and GTO-worthy facial reactions.
It’s 1905, and the Russo-Japanese War has been over for a few months. Saichi Sugimoto is on the island of Hokkaido looking for gold. Saichi isn’t looking to get rich for himself; rather he’s keeping his promise to his buddy to send his buddy’s wife to America for surgery to save her eyesight. While panning for gold, a drunk tells him a tale of hidden Ainu gold that could get him all the money he needs and then some. Saichi doesn’t believe the man…until the drunk tries to kill Saichi for having told him too much. With this in mind, Saichi goes on the hunt for the lost riches. Of course, he’s not the only one aware of the gold. A rogue element of the Imperial Japanese Army, a ghost from the Meiji Restoration, and all manner of scum seek the same riches, and Sugimoto will have to prove that he has earned his nickname of “Immortal”.
As fate would have it, he is not alone in his endeavour. A young Ainu hunter named Asirpa helps him survive the wilds of Hokkaido, while he helps her get closer to the man who killed her father. It turns out that Asirpa is linked to the gold through her father, who was killed while defending it. Keeping this in mind, they agree to help each other achieve their goals.
Being this is a seinen, the story and action is aimed at a more mature audience. While the story so far (I have only read the 2 volumes put out by Viz) is yet to take any twists, the violence is definitely intended for mature audiences. The gore is generally pretty realistic, with broken limbs and gunshot wounds being shown with some detail. It can make for a rather intense read, however such scenes are usually limited to one or two frames.
I was drawn in by the time period, as the years after the Russo-Japanese war are not terribly important to Westerners. However, the manga drew me in further by discussing some aspects of Ainu culture through Asirpa and her tribe. It also has light use of the Ainu language, supervised by an Ainu linguist (Yu Nakagawa). The author made it a little easier to feel like the reader isn’t so out of the loop by having the reader learn along with Saichi, who does not know much about Ainu culture or language, other than that they exist and are mostly found on Hokkaido.
These moments where Asirpa is teaching Saichi about her culture helps build their camaraderie throughout the story, and also helps make their interactions more charming. Other than providing some education, these parts also provide a break from the main story line and might allow the reader some time to breath, at least after witnessing a man get his face torn off by a bear’s swipe.
There are only two volumes currently available for purchase in North America, with 11 available in Japan. The next English volume is set for release in December 2017, and seems to be on a cycle of release every 3 months. Of course, if you don’t feel like waiting that long between releases you can always read translations online. Even so, the first two volumes have shown a good mix of story, action, learnin’, and humour, and is keeping good pace. I have thoroughly enjoyed my read through these volumes, and will be getting the next volume once it’s released in December. So far, this impulse buy has paid off.
Fuck Yeah Look It Up!
Golden Kamuy manga (English, Volumes 1 and 2)
Written and illustrated by Satoru Noda, assisted by Yu Nakagawa
Published by Shueisha, Licenced by Viz Media