Golden Kamuy has been an effective slow boil heist thriller. As it’s progressed characters have needed to be saved from prison, death, and all sorts of danger with an overarching plot of finding secret gold always present. It has kept a ragtag group of characters tight-knit and ready for anything whilst also informing readers of old customs in survival. It’s a mix of history and action with quirky characters too.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Shiraishi is a master escape artist, but he’s not very good at evading capture! After the 7th Division captures Shiraishi, Sugimoto and Hijikata join forces in an uneasy alliance to rescue him. With the help of Choan Kumagishi, one of the Abashiri convicts, they put a risky plan to free Shiraishi into action. Of course, Lieutenant Tsurumi isn’t about to let these old foes get the better of him, setting the stage for another dangerous confrontation.
Why does this matter?
Set in the Meiji Era between 1868 to 1912 this manga series has been enlightening in its ability to capture real-world survival tips as the plot twists and turns. It’s filled with surprises and isn’t afraid to make you laugh too.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This volume is filled with quite a few eccentric characters adding a bit of weirdness and sometimes humor too. That mixes things up and reminds us that this motley crew doesn’t make a ton of sense (some of them tried to kill each other in the past) but the world is a strange place. At one point we see a man wearing a red pepper suit, which in hindsight is kind of random and pointless, but it’s a reminder that the eccentricities are prevalent throughout. A new key character also adds a layer to the bad guys when we meet Lieutenant General Narizo Arisaka who is a gun manufacturer. If you thought Lieutenant Tsurumi was nuts wait until you see him chat up Arisaka about how beautiful it is when bodies explode on the battlefield.
This volume is a good example of how the last four chapters (the book collects ten) can save the story. I’ll get into the issues with the first two-thirds of the book, but these last few chapters ramp up the action and pay off all the buildup that came before it. Sugimoto Saichi and a few others are attempting to break the Escape King out from imprisonment and the clock is ticking since he’s most likely going to be murdered after escaping so much. This leads to a tense opening scene in the sequence that requires a criminal great at disguises to help break out the Escape King. Things turn for the worse, a chase is in order, and a hot air balloon is used to help escape. From beginning to end you’ll be on the edge of your seat.
The art continues to be great, especially with environments which I’m convinced are photographs drawn over. The details in crafting and survival techniques are so well-done I imagine a person could take this manga into the woods and live for a few weeks alone. The series creator Satoru Noda also has a knack for striking page turns, be it a surprise bit of nudity, a shocking mask, or a dramatic tilt of an angle.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The first two-thirds of this manga crawl with a pace that’s at times frustrating. The heroes are attempting to save the Escape King before he reaches a prison, but a somewhat convenient plot element (the Escape King thinks they’ll kill him once he’s freed) messes up their attempts. It makes all their attempts seem pointless and they grow tiresome.
There’s also a pointless subplot of a man kidnapping a woman and passing her off as a fortune teller. It leads to a bit of violence and maybe even a chuckle, but it’s very much a filler-type subplot.
Is it good?
It was difficult to get through the first half of this book, but when it picked up it became a thrill ride I couldn’t put down. Noda has an incredible premise on his hands and is a capable heist thriller manga writer. Now, if they can get a bit closer to that gold and stop wasting their time on pointless subplots then this manga could really shine.
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