Golden Kamuy is an anime from just last year. It’s based off a Noda Satoru manga that’s been going since 2014 and the anime was handled by Geno studio. No relation to a certain marionette with a gun arm. So, I don’t know anything about either the writer or studio. Let’s dive right into the series. We’ll just be looking at series one today. I might look at the second another time.
The story is set shortly after the Russo-Japanese war. Our hero, “Immortal” Sugimoto fought in the war as a soldier and always managed to survive in spite of being put into many deadly situations. Since the war ended, he’s panning for gold to try to help an old friend’s widow. He’s listening to a drunken idiot who tells him the story of a bunch of escaped convicts with tattoos leading to a great treasure. At first, he doesn’t believe it but then the drunkard sobers up enough to really regret telling the story and Sugimoto discovers that he is, in fact, one of the tattooed convicts. Sugimoto quickly ends up pairing with a young Ainu hunter named Asirpa in order to find the treasure before the other groups hunting for it do.
The only glaring narrative problem with this series is that it can be overly slow at times. There are a lot of scenes with Asirpa just explaining hunting techniques or outdoors survival information to Sugimoto and they don’t do much for the major narrative. They’re just kind of dragged out, boring segments. You could cut out the bulk of these scenes and really lose nothing. It’s like Noda did a lot of research into the Ainu, how they lived and hunted and really wanted everyone to know.
To the series’ credit, the concept is a strong one. Having two major groups and a small one all looking for the same treasure with their own motivations to do so makes for a good, dynamic conflict. And even if the hunting scenes do go on too long, I do appreciate the details about Ainu life and culture. They give the series a strong grounding. The series also does a decent job of balancing the more serious aspects of the story with some more comedic elements. Although the joke of Asirpa thinking that miso is faeces does get old pretty quickly. The series also does end at a good point. There’s enough intrigue to get you interested in the second series and enough content that you don’t feel cheated.
The series does a good job of developing its major characters, Sugimoto & Asirpa. It also does a good job with certain side characters, most notably Tanigaki. I’ll also credit it with fleshing out the differing motivations for wanting the treasure pretty clearly. That being said, a lot of the convicts they encounter are pretty much nothing characters and there are some other side characters who don’t really have anything to them.
The artwork is nicely done. It’s got some good details. The backgrounds are well done. The various animals we see are drawn nicely. The action sequences are great. The only real issue I have with it is that it does suffer at times from “shounen design.” Basically, having characters who are supposed to look interesting and unique but look kind of stupid. The big examples are Tsurumi & Ushiyama. I know we’re supposed to find them both somewhat intimidating, but it’s hard to view them that way since they both look goofy.
Kobayashi Chikahiro, Shiraishi Haruka & Nakata Jouji deserve a lot of praise for their performances in this. While all the performances are pretty good, those three are fantastic in their roles. Suehiro Kenichiro’s soundtrack is nicely composed as well.
There’s a bit where a couple guys fall for a cross dressing man, but that’s about it. And when they find out he is a man one of them really freaks out and the other isn’t too happy when he comes to his senses.
Areas of Improvement:
- Skip the vast majority of the hunting scenes. We really don’t need to see a long explanation for how to hunt bear or a fox or a rabbit. If we wanted to know that, we’d be watching Huntin’ and Killin’ with Jimbo & Ned. If you need to put in some filler to stall for time, at least have the characters talk about something interesting or use the time to develop some characters. Long explanations about hunting techniques aren’t either.
- Let Asirpa realise that Sugimoto is not, in fact, practising coprophagia. The joke works at first but after a while it just gets old and you want it to end.
- Rework the designs for Tsurumi & Ushiyama. The idea behind Tsurumi’s design might work if you had his scalp torn open and his skull clearly visible in a more disturbing way rather than making it look like he’s wearing a white plate strapped to his forehead, but Ushiyama’s flashy square in his forehead will never not look stupid.
In the end, Golden Kamuy is a pretty solid series. There might be some things that don’t work very well, but at its core the series has a compelling concept, well written major characters, strong artwork and animation and good performances. Is it among the best anime ever made? No. Is it a good, entertaining series? Yes. My final rating is going to stand at a 7/10.