I have reviewed nearly every volume of Golden Kamuy and have watched it slowly evolve over the years. It began as a solid historical fiction with great adventure and even greater survival skill tips thrown in, and it has evolved into something quite weird and unique. Strange characters who wear human skin, escape artists who are more clever than one might expect, and bank robbers who get sexually aroused from murdering have popped up over the last 11 volumes. In the latest volume, the first quarter of the collection focuses on a man who likes to have sex with animals. He also happens to wear a tattoo that is part of a map to a secret stash of gold, which forces the main characters to find him before he’s eaten by an animal, or worse. This is just one of a few weird happenings in this 12th volume.
If you can get around the uncomfortable awkwardness of following a man hellbent on having sex with a bear, you’ll probably dig the first half of this manga. It’s played for laughs for the most part, although the narrative does humanize him from time to time. That said characters certainly are weirded out by him. Admittedly, it’s a creative setup to get the main characters Asirpa and Sugimoto focused on saving a terrible person for fear of the tattoo on his back being torn to shreds. The last volume also built up to this which gives the first quarter of the book some satisfactory moments of action. It ends in a shocking way that’s gross, but here we are reading a book about a guy who sneaks up on wild animals to fulfill himself.
The middle portion of this book focuses on cooking, which is an element the series has always done very well. Turtle is hunted and cooked, as is a giant flatfish. If you’re at all interested in survival skills, hunting, and all that goes with it, you’ll love the detail this series gets into. As if getting weird was required, the narrative turns on a dime when a bunch of the men get stuck in a shack that has a boiling pot of otter. Apparently otter is an aphrodisiac that gets all the men hot for each other. Soon they resort to sumo wrestling to avoid actually having sex. There’s a hint or two that a few of these guys like men, again played up for laughs, which seems inappropriate in today’s culture. It’s a strange turn that once again proves manga like this does it different than American comics. One could argue sexual frustration is a major theme being explored in the latest stories, but it’s hard to take these scenes seriously when they’re depicted in childish ways.
The last third of the book builds up to a solid cliffhanger that puts everyone in danger. The main threat is defined well and the characters end up in a location that should play into another lesson in the environment and location at the time. There’s, of course, some weirdness thrown in, as all the men are naked in a hot spring when the bad guys strike. They didn’t need to be in this situation, but maybe the creator wanted to continue to throw us with surprises you couldn’t comprehend happening. When a character shouts, “What a schlong” and then corrects himself, you have to shake your head.
This is a good 12th volume that is clearly leaning into the weirdness of the characters, as if the creator has realized the educational survival elements can’t sustain the audience. It’s unfortunate a lot of the weirdness tends to depict homosexuality as strange and wrong, however.