When Golden Kamuy barreled into the spring season with a giant CGI bear, people balked at this adaptation's choices. This week, Nick and Steve weigh the pros and cons of this troubled production and its golden source material.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.
You can read our weekly coverage of Golden Kamuy here!
Hey Steve, did you know they're making an anime this season about Me and Micchy?
Look, you don't have to exaggerate for the sake of comedy. We all know Micchy is nowhere near that tall.
Micchy also doesn't have nearly the level of Face game.
I 100% believe she could take on a giant bear tho. No doubt in my mind on that one.
But yes, we're finally covering Golden Kamuy, or as the promo videos pronounced it:
It's the way the title is meant to be pronounced. You don't use lowercase letters for a story that begins with a dude singlehandedly murdering an entire battalion, after being near-fatally shot. And then he punches a bear for good measure.
Sugimoto is very lucky that he's immortal.
We'll get to that bear in a minute, but we should probably run down the premise before we go too far. Because for me the most striking thing about Golden Kamuy
is how totally different it is from what I expected based on the elevator pitch. So, there once was a man
named Gold Roger
with no face who stole a hoard of gold from the Ainu people and hid it somewhere that nobody but him could find. But after he was imprisoned, he put tattoos on dozens of his fellow inmates in a scrambled code that, when reassembled, would reveal the location of the
fuckton of gold.
Fast-forward a bit, the inmates escape, and the story about the gold and tattoos gets out. Most notably, it reaches the ears of a man named Immortal Sugimoto, who's just returned from the Russo-Japanese War. He needs the money, so he ends up enlisting the help of an Ainu girl named Asirpa. Naturally, they're not the only ones after the gold, so it's a race to find out who can put together all of the clues first. Oh, and because of the scrambling, the tattoos only make sense if you skin the prisoners who have them.
It's more or less your classic Western Movie setup, just steeped in the Japanese wilderness rather than the American Frontier. Going into it, I was expecting something with a lot more posturing. Like the show kicks off with us seeing Sugimoto earn the name Immortal in as brutal a fashion as you'd expect.
Spoilers: he is not helping this man put his contacts in.
Yeah, Golden Kamuy never shies away from letting its characters kick ass or get their ass thoroughly kicked. I mean, the whole "Immortal Sugimoto" bit is basically an excuse for the author to put him through the ringer time and time again. And it's really good at that stuff! But what sets Golden Kamuy apart is that it's not just a badass action story. It's also a piece of historical fiction about Hokkaido at the turn of the 20th century, steeped in lessons about Ainu culture, facts about wildlife, recipes for delicious food, and literal shitposting.
i mean. he's not wrong.
But for real, after the first episode I was expecting your typical bloody manhunt affair, with maybe some factoids about the time period or Ainu culture sprinkled in for flavor. I wasn't expecting a found family bonding roadtrip, complete with lengthy food scenes.
I'd say a good 60% of Golden Kamuy
so far has been either the pursuit, preparation, or eating of food, and it's honestly ridiculously charming.
It's true! The food travelogue parts are given about equal weight to the fight scenes. And while I've never found myself hungry for squirrel meat, Asirpa's cooking has a way of making my mouth water.
And to his credit, Sugimoto is always willing to try something new.
Or at least, afraid enough of Asirpa to not reject her frequent offerings of animal brains.
That's the other thing that surprised me about GK! Maybe it's the Westerns comparison that colored my expectations, but I was fully prepared for some kind of eye-rolling Wacky Indigenous People shtick between Sugimoto and Asirpa. But so far the show's been respectful and considerate about how it portrays both Asirpa and her culture.
Now, I'm not an expert on Ainu culture, so I can't verify anything that the show presents. But this is a manga that has a page at the end of every volume dedicated to listing the sources the author used, so I trust that he's done his research. But more important to the context of the story, Sugimoto and Asirpa's relationship starts off on equal footing, and that never changes. Sugimoto might be a veteran soldier, and Asirpa might be a teenage hunter, but the two of them develop an immediate mutual respect that I really appreciate. Sugimoto never patronizes Asirpa, or thinks of her as a mysterious Other. In this most recent arc, he does decide to go off on his own in order to "protect" her, but of course he immediately gets caught by the enemy and now has to be saved by Asirpa instead.
And by "saved", I mean she's going to beat his dumb ass with a large stick.
It's a really delicate balance to keep. Both characters experience culture clash at times, but Sugimoto always engages respectfully when he's invited to. One of my favorite moments is in episode 4 when Asirpa's uncle calls out to him, and Sugimoto's first instinct is that he must have a bone to pick with him. It turns out that he's just warning him about a hunting trap, but it's a moment that reminds us these are two people from cultures that are still at odds; even if that's not the case on an individual level, it colors their interactions.
Yeah. When they go into the city, some of the townsfolk blatantly disrespect Asirpa, so there's definitely an expected level of bigotry present. But Sugimoto never humors that, and it's just a nice thing to see. Their friendship could easily have come from a place of deceit or convenience, but the two of them have good hearts, and their strong bond is one of the best things about Golden Kamuy.
It's a rock-solid center for the series, and just seeing these two hang out is pretty charming. But there's also that plot about the gold and the prisoners that keeps getting in the way of all the squirrel-brain-eating, and for me at least, this is where Kamuy falters.
Like c'mon, our first major villain is a dude who's literally got chunks of his brain missing.
I actually love this dude and his missing frontal lobe. It's just
over-the-top enough that I can accept it as part of the story, while still enjoying glorious moments like this.
His motivation is interesting at least! He's a soldier who returned from the war only to find the government and country at large had little sympathy for what he or his comrades went through, so now he wants to use the hidden gold to start his own coup. It's a neat mirror to Sugimoto's reason for seeking the gold, while also offering more insight into the time period.
Okay dude, we get it, you use teeth.
You gotta hand it to him, he has a nice set of choppers.
And in general, I'm pretty forgiving of hyperviolence when it's done in unique ways. Maniacal biting dude who has to wear a weird head plate because he has no skull there = pretty good imo. Unfortunately, some of the grislier moments have to be adjusted for broadcast television, so this delicate tapestry of violence is somewhat lost in the adaptation. For example, one of the most striking moments in the manga for me was a large single panel where a mama bear ripped a dude's ENTIRE face off in ONE blow. The anime cuts away from this, so you don't actually see it happen.
(although you do at least see the gnarly aftermath)
Honestly, I'm okay with that. While I can enjoy some campy hyperviolence, I think it suits GK to keep the moments of gore short and sweet. Too indulgent and it starts to clash with the sillier bits, y'know?
Totally fair! But I think that's also some of Golden Kamuy's appeal. It spans this large tonal spectrum but still manages to feel cohesive. It commits to the violence as hard as it commits to the silliness and the cooking lessons. There's nothing else quite like it.
I guess I can get behind that. After all, what's a Western without the Good
and the Ugly
that fucking bear
It's not good, and it's doubly a shame because the art in the manga is so good. But there are now a billion anime being made every season, and until the industry gets its shit together, we're going to get Paddington's weird uncle playing the role of Giant Bear #1.
It's a Bad Bear, no getting around it. But at the same time, it's not enough to ruin the experience for me. Like I couldn't be a Macross
fan in this day and age if I let tacky or obtrusive CG get in the way of enjoying stuff. I can certainly overlook some PS3 Cabela's Big Game Hunter shit for the sake of getting something as unique as GK.
For sure. Aesthetically, the anime is an understandable step down from the manga, but the core strength of its story and characters still persevere. And if i'm being honest, the bear isn't even close to my biggest disappointment. Much more unforgivable is that the anime has sanitized some of Sugimoto and company's amazing faces.
There's no comparison between these.
Though thankfully, they have been getting better.
That's fair. Being unfamiliar with the manga, I'm plenty satisfied with what the anime's been delivering so far. There's something to be said for seeing all this with sound. I love the way Chikahiro Kobayashi
delivers his lines all flubbed after Sugimoto's uh...dango incident.
LOL, I loved that. And I didn't even pick up the manga until after the first episode aired, but I'm really glad I did! it's totally worth checking out if you're enjoying the anime. Satoru Noda
is ridiculously talented.
Plus you'll get even more shots of large naked buff men with scars and tattoos, so there's no reason not to!
Ah, that reminds me of Sugimoto's second tip for immortality.
Always Protect Your Ass