In Hokkaido, the far northern lands of Japan, Sugimoto survived the Russo-Japanese war of the Meiji era. Nicknamed "Sugimoto the Immortal" during the war, he now seeks the riches promised by the gold rush in hopes of saving the widowed wife of his now deceased comrade from the war. During his hunt of gold, he finds hints of a hidden stash of gold by corrupt criminals. Partnering with an Ainu girl that saves his life from the harsh climates of the north, they venture into a survival adventure to race against the criminals that seek the hidden stash.
Watching Golden Kamuy made me realize how amazing a series is when it’s anchored so firmly to the concepts of war and survival. Even though it has an archaic feel, this anime convinced me that there’s hope for more great historical fiction tales. I say this honestly as someone who isn’t a big fan of historical fiction. On my first viewing, it was incredibly easily to dive into the show as we meet Sugimoto, a survivor of the Russo-Japanese war. It shouldn’t take long for fans to realize what they’re in stored for and I’m talking about a story that is much deeper than war
or survival itself.
Based on the adaptation of the same name, Golden Kamuy takes on shape from the creator’s mind to bring a war survivor adventure into anime medium. While the show takes place in the aftermath of a war, there’s still clear conflicts that are unsolved in their present world. The first episode indulges on how Sugimoto earned his nickname, Sugimoto the Immortal. His encounter with Asirpa, an Ainu girl who saves his life almost seems like fate. Despite their differences, it really shouldn’t take long for viewers to realize their eyecatchy character chemistry. Our main protagonists are on this adventure and their skills supplements each other. Sugimoto’s military skills as an ex-soldier is invaluable for fighting the enemies that they encounter. Meanwhile, Ainu is a survivalist and possesses many important skills such as hunting, cooking, and taming animals. The two become partners in search for treasure but many obstacles stand in their way. A show like this doesn’t need a complicated storyteller because how straightforward it can be.
Now you’re probably wondering if the series will feel more like a cat and mouse game with such a premise. The idea of hunters being hunted is a classic concept that have been used over and over. What Golden Kamuy does different is able to take great care of its characters. I’m actually flabbergasted at how much the show made me invest into learning more about Sugimoto and Asirpa. From a cultural standpoint, the show explores the Ainu people as an indigenous ethnic group. We learn about their lifestyle, family ancestry, traditions, language, and behavior. This translates to how well Asirpa's character can be accepted as we learn more about her. She preaches the lifestyle of Ainu and has great respect for nature. Through her experience, Asirpa has learned how to tame certain animals, hunt, and cook for herself and family. On the other hand, Sugimoto makes an oddball impression to me at first because how violent he seems. While he’s not a bloodthirsty man, Sugimoto can be very ruthless when confronting his enemies. War has really affected him and he became the present man as we know now. The brief PTSD moments that we witness in the series shows how guilty he feels about losing important people in his life. Thus, Sugimoto is always determined to survive and protect those he cares of. Thanks to his military experience as an ex-soldier, he does a damn good at job at that.
Led by Lieutenant Tsurumi, the 7th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army stands as a main obstacle of Sugimoto and Asirpa in their quest to find treasure. While not everyone in the division shares the same goal, they do treat the duo as a threat. It becomes a suspenseful plot as viewers will likely wonder how far they these characters go to accomplish their goals. Make no mistake. This anime doesn’t tease death and often portrays it in a realistic manner. Beyond just the PTSD moments we see from Sugimoto’s point of view, there are also times when characters question about killing others. A prominent example is how Tanigaki deals with the people he’s killed. Similar to Sugimoto, it’s clear that he feels guilty and that his sins will live with him forever. Like most war stories, death is a reality and what’s dead stays dead. War has broken characters and it’s not uncommon to realize how much people can change from the past to their present selves.
Even though everything I mentioned so far in the review suggests a moody show to get tissues for, it really isn’t. The series offers creative comedy mostly thanks to the character cast. If I’ve said it once, I’ve say it a hundred times. Never look away from Sugimoto and Asirpa when they interact with each other. The two often trades in small talk that blends between their different cultural beliefs. The jokes they throw at each other are hilarious and sells its comedic factors perfectly. Refreshing comedy isn’t easy to create but Golden Kamuy hits the right mark especially with the character reactions. I lost count how many times this show made me laugh positively to the character interactions and humorous dialogues. Characters such as Yoshitake Shirashi adds in even more comedy gags such as being a magnet head for animal bites. That is to say, Golden Kamuy is a serious show that deals with sensitive themes but also finds its way to have fun. To me, that’s important and valuable to sell itself.
I’m pretty sure most people aren’t familiar with Gene Studio. That’s because it’s a new studio that only recently began to produce projects such as Kokkoku and Gyakusatus Kikan. Early impressions of the show may have people pointing fingers at the atrocious CGI usage such as the poorly animated bear. Luckily, the visual quality manages to redeem itself as each episode begins to improve itself through its natural elegance. The landscapes of show looks gorgeous and larger than life. From snowy mountains to dense forests, it’s how nature should look like with its lush backgrounds. Even the food looks real that’s crafted right from the wilderness with survivalist skills. Character designs also offer distinctive features such as the military uniforms of the 7th Division. Sugimoto is a man that’s hard to overlook with his soldier uniform and masculinity. Asirpa may have a petite look but she’s noticeable for her blue and greenish eyes. Some characters even addresses this like a gem that’s hard to ignore. The Ainu coat she wears also shows her cultural style of clothing with the deerskin boats to protect her from the cold. She looks like a hunter that shouldn’t be underestimated. As a new studio, I would say that Gene Studio made an interesting impression. I’m not overwhelmed or disappointed by the production quality as it manages to capture the elements of the battle scenes and is faithful to the character designs. However, it does fall short occasionally on capturing the full vivid details of the manga.
The soundtrack and music overall creates the sensation of a survivalist show. The OP song contains electric beats and montages of characters in action. Meanwhile, the character voices really does sell their personalities. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at intimidating of a man Tsurumi really can be.
Golden Kamuy is a historical fiction that can be a bit deceptive once you really get a bite of the show. Director Hitoshi Nanba took the important concepts of the manga and gave this adaptation a breath of life. As someone who has read the manga, I definitely recommend giving it a try if you’re hungry for more. It previously won the 9th Manga Taishou award and rightfully earned so. As an anime series, Golden Kamuy is also a show that’s fortunate to receive a golden treatment.
Just because the setting isn't highschool doesn't make the anime automatically good.
Golden Kamuy is a combination of a National Geographic/History channel program about the Ainu and rush for gold.
Before the Spring2018 began, I had gone over the trailers of the shows to air this season.
Golden Kamuy presented a nice cast of voice actors I like, an era around 1900, guns, wolves and rush for gold.
Sounds like a pretty solid action anime.
Now, I can't deny that Golden Kamuy had some sweet action, but unfortunately, both the action and the story took a backseat to the "Ainu culture".
I don't know, after watching most of the show, people
came and said "The action wasn't the point of the show, but the point was to show the Ainu culture".
Well, I can say for sure that the trailer made it look a lot better than it is in reality. If they showed the "Ainu culture" mostly in the trailer instead of the action and thrill, I doubt it would've attracted as many people.
So, what exactly is shown that I found tedious and boring?
For the first half of the show (and even a bit later), ~7 minutes every episode were about the Ainu Cooking. Take Shokugeki no Souma, remove the Ecchi, remove the competition, remove the Shounen aspects.
We're left with 7 minutes out of ~20 every week of "Oh this broth is so good, the squirrel meat isn't heavy and the chopped bones make it crunchy" etc. etc. etc. Then also don't forget to put "Hinna Hinna" afterwards.
Then, the hunting, and of course explanation how everything works.
"This trap is a barrel with a few nails in it. The foxes come to lick the bottom of the barrel and then get stuck. We hit them with a stick to finish them off"
"It is said that fox pelt is bad luck, [...] you can sell fox pelt for 1 yen, and these animals' pelts for 1 yen too, and this for 3 yen..."
Sorry, but it was just not interesting.
The real plot of the gold rush, along with a few groups all trying to get the big gold prize is.... pretty damn good.
It features a few groups, some are military veterans from the Russo-Japanese war, some are even older but all of them... are interesting. And are voiced by great voice actors.
It's a shame that the real plot kicks in only around episode 10, and even then it still has the "filler" stuff like before.
For example all of episode 12 was about horse racing, and how the Ainu use fortune telling. We got only 3 minutes maximum of continuation for the clash between the groups after the gold.
The art didn't do justice as well. The controversial "CGI Bears" as well as the "CGI fire" and other CGI stuff just didn't fit well.
I understand the staff wanted to make it look special (If I remember correctly, what's what they said why they made CGI bears) but it just doesn't look good.
If I wanted to commend to Golden Kamuy, it would've been the OP/ED. MAN WITH A MISSION and THE SIXTH SENSE did absolutely an amazing job.
Overall, was Golden Kamuy good? So-so, it depends what you're expecting and what you want to watch. And also, a second season was announced so there's a chance it'll cover the failures or at least continue the story in S1, and not show us almost a full episode about kids playing with a stick.
At the time of this review, the series has been greenlit for Season 2 this Fall, and I could not be more than happy for a continuation of the series! But what all the hoopla, what is this series actually about?
Golden Kamuy (in Ainu language: Golden Gods) is more than just the typical action-adventure anime like so many others out there. It's fun, great and enjoyable for many reasons, to the point where it’s proof that we want at least a 2nd (to 3rd if possible) season to continue the series (if possible).
The story goes of the 20th century Russo-Japanese war, centered in the city
of harsh-northern-filled-wilderness Hokkaido, where we got to know and learn the most fearsome yet determinant of the series: the male MC Saichi “Immortal” Sugimoto, a veteran soldier who has fought in the war and miraculously survived after the deadly ordeal. It was there that he is promised to upkeep with his now-dead comrade (Toraji) from a dubious story of a large chunk of hidden Ainu gold (that’s worth about 800 mil yen), and the main goal to steal it and finance his widow (Umeko) for years to come.
The problem? It was stolen by a man called Nopperabo during transportation, and knowing his near-arrival death, so once captured and imprisoned, he carved out a map on 24 of the fellow imprisoned inmates on the location of the gold. And now, with that info, Immortal Sugimoto is set on the journey to find the gold.
Alas, not everything is well as there are other groups and individuals who are eyeing on the same gold as Sugimoto does: The Imperial Japanese Army’s 7th Division, led by Lieutenant Tsurumi for use on military dictatorship to run an independent Hokkaido that’s separated from Japan; a group formed by former samurai Toshizou Hijikata, who escaped alongside the tattooed 24 inmates to steal the gold to fund Hokkaido and its loss from the Russo-Japanese war, and some others who are just stealing for themselves.
In the wilderness, Sugimoto comes across the wild bears of the wilderness, and seeing that survival is in the eyes of the beholder, it looks as if he will be taken down by the bear. And so, enter Asirpa, an Ainu girl who knows the way of the Hokkaido wilderness, and her ulterior motive: to avenge her father’s death, because of his involvement of the transportation of Ainu gold that Nopperabo had successfully stolen in the first place (but not the main culprit who murdered her father). With that, with the intentions of Sugimoto and Asirpa, both set their journeys into a common place with different goals in mind.
Fun fact: Lo and behold, as much as a native Ainu she is, she does have a Japanese name (Asuko Kochoube) that reveals the plot even further, and one step closer to knowing the real murderer and her roots. Will this be explained, let's hope for Season 2 to explain what's left!
As much as the story setting and its storytelling is pretty much a perfect 1-to-1 adaptation from the manga source, I personally think that everything here is consistent, matches what the manga sprinkles on its historical context, and the icing on the cake is the native Ainu dialect (that’s exclusive to Hokkaido), supervised by the same guy who did the manga translation (Hiroshi Nakagawa), and it’s a great job learning and watching the show in its entirety.
The characters here are also what made the series more enjoyable to tackle and journey with. On the good side, we have Immortal Sugimoto, the courageous yet unstoppable man of valor, Asirpa the lone Ainu girl, but is just as fearless and is able to interpret her surroundings well, the Escape King Yoshitake Shiraishi, who's able to escape from just about any level of danger, which forms the good team to get the gold for justice.
However, the enemies are just as brutal, from the relentless Lieutenant Tsurumi, whom by his half-android-like face shows no qualms of authority, and his motto is to snatch the opportunity in whatever ways possible. Hijikata Toshizou is no brute either, whilst looking for the Ainu gold, he is manipulating behind the scenes in some forms and ways that like Tsurumi, is firm and no questions asked.
The art and animation by Geno Studio is once again, great, inspirational and a visual treat. Their previous work (Kokkoku) is a testament to this anime, and the once-founded studio to take over the defunct Manglobe is now becoming a reality to look out for quality content. With that said, it wouldn't be true if the series was all good. The elephant in the series is with the CGI-laden wild bears, and it's quite apparent that it didn’t mesh well with the background visuals, not to mention that it's outrageously visible. Everything else on the side is truly well done, a big shout out to the people handling the facial expressions of the characters (during the characters’ meal times, shouting “hinna hinna!”), it's just so uncanny and comical, it always gives off much laughter each and every time.
The music is phenomenal, and one of the best OSTs you could have this season. All reputable music artists in play with their new songs (MWAM’s “Winding Road” for the OP and THE SIXTH LIE’s “Hibana” for the ED), I still stand by my testimony from my prelim and say that in terms of musicality, it's one that’s worthy of listening to on it's own and evokes the emotions of the characters, and is the best representation of the series as a whole.
In the end, you might be wondering, is the anime better or as well adapted as its acclaimed manga counterpart? From an overall standpoint, the anime adaptation replicates as much from the manga as possible, but due to it being a 1-cour, the historical context is downplayed significantly, and not to mention that the anime adaptation sometimes doesn’t give off the same vibes as how well the manga did. Had this been a 2-cour (24-26 episodes), we would have appreciated much more, but I'll give props for what was presented here generally, and I would say that both are even as much as manga adaptation goes.
With that said, Golden Kamuy is definitely one of the better and premier shows of this season and it's comes recommended if you want a slice of history that’s not too heavy, and more so on the diversity of the culture behind it all.
Rarely do we get action-adventure stories with as much depth and intrigue as Golden Kamuy. Made all the more fascinating by it’s setting, a period of Japan’s history not often explored in anime. What sets it apart from other historical post-war stories is the focus given to the Ainu; a marginalized group of indigenous Japanese people that I’m willing to bet most of us hadn’t even heard of until this series.
While Golden Kamuy tells an action-packed treasure hunting story, it deftly weaves in an unflinching portrayal of Ainu culture. The in-depth detail that the culture is shown in is likely thanks to the Ainu
consultant on the production staff, ensuring the greatest accuracy possible. Moreover, this series never shies away from discussing the ugly way Japan treated the Ainu in the past either, in turn making the story more realistic and believable.
The story follows Saichi “The Immortal” Sugimoto, a gruff survivor of the Russo-Japanese war. Famous for violently slaughtering his foes to escape from dozens of life-threatening combat situations; as we see in many thrilling action sequences he’ll never be content with death, motivated by his unfinished business. Panning for gold during winter in Hokkaido’s wilderness is how he spends his time nowadays, desperate for money in order to keep a promise he made to his friend who died during the war. Lucky for him, he hears of a wild tale about a man who murdered a group of Ainu men, stole hundreds of pounds of gold, hid it in Hokkaido before his arrest, then tattooed a treasure map onto the bodies of his fellow prisoners.
In the opening episode, Sugimoto fights for a prisoner’s tattooed body with a bear who wants to make them both its next meal. Through a lucky encounter, he’s saved by a skilled Ainu hunter, a young girl named Asirpa. He confides the tale of hidden treasure in Asirpa, and together they begin their journey in search of it. As the story progresses it takes on a ‘prisoner of the week’ structure, but through constantly adding new characters the series avoids feeling formulaic. The prisoners have their own weird dispositions and stories of their own, gradually forming the greater narrative of what this treasure is all about. In spite of its premise, Golden Kamuy’s plot structure flows in a surprisingly natural way. Sometimes an episode may revolve around the duo escaping authorities who are after the treasure as well. A handful of sadistic villains add a constant sense of danger even when they’re not locked in combat with a prisoner. Then there’s the prisoner Shiraishi, a foolhardy escape artist, who joins the lead duo on their journey. This liberated form of writing makes every episode feel like you're getting something new, despite it occasionally causing the pacing to meander on certain parts rather than consistently developing the story.
At first, Sugimoto and Asirpa’s relationship is an uneasy alliance, he needs her help to find the gold and she needs his help to find the man who murdered her father. In spite of this beginning, they become friends and genuinely care about one another. Sugimoto sees firsthand how awfully people treat Ainu people by being around Asirpa, and he stands up for when he can because she accepts it being used to the racism. Fantastic commentary and discussion on the Ainu culture are deftly woven into their satisfying character arcs, never sounding preachy and somehow always presenting historical facts in an exciting way. Seeing them hunt with one another using Asirpa’s Ainu techniques is awesome; she teaches Sugimoto them as well and it brings plenty of chemistry but also strengthens their bond. The hunting methods she uses are always quite clever and lend themselves excellently to action scenes. Like Asirpa may teach Sugimoto and the viewer how to make squirrel traps to foreshadow its use later during a higher stakes combat scene. This is how you write an action scene! We’re presented clever ideas then they return later on to be used in creative ways, a satisfying outcome for any viewer keeping track of the Ainu lessons. Rewarding payoffs like this that make Golden Kamuy such an enjoyable experience.
The show well to avoid framing Sugimoto as better than Asirpa’s at the Ainu techniques that she taught him. Many stories land in this pitfall while trying to portray indigenous tribes, having the foreigner beat them at their own game not realizing how condescending that framing could be seen by the natives. Thankfully this does not happen in Golden Kamuy because it is intelligently and respectfully written.
Weighing down Golden Kamuy's adaptation the most is the mediocre visuals that fail to elevate the strong writing beyond the manga. It's clear the newly opened Geno Studio tried their best, but picking an action series to work on may have been out of there full capabilities. Backgrounds are messy and flat, character animation is passable but oversimplifies the manga’s great designs, and that hideous CGI bear looks like something out of a PS1 game. However, the opening "Winding Road" by Man With a Mission is fantastic, well edited and intensely performed, it's well suited to a survival series like this one. The ending theme "Hibana" is also one of the best of the season, great alternative rock that showcases detailed art from the manga.
Even with all of the high points Golden Kamuy has, I would consider the pitch-perfect tone to be its biggest strength. The show blends comedy with the gritty premise, the tone is balanced amazingly. Noboru Takagi, the guy who adapted Baccano also adapted this series’ already great source material, which is likely why the dialogue is so snappy and never feels slow or lacking. And this writing is only elevated by the fantastic voice acting; Asirpa’s seriousness played to comedic effect, Shiraishi’s goofy disregard for danger, Sugimoto’s fierceness in action sequences, it’s all excellent. The banter between Asirpa and Sugimoto is wonderfully lighthearted too, some of their expressions are hilariously over-exaggerated too. The action scenes are typically over-the-top with gore because of the wild personalities of all the characters, there is a scene with Sugimoto punching a bear! None of the violence feels like it's there for shock value either; they are in a survival situation, after all. Their lives are constantly in danger from enemies and them hunting for food is shown in visceral but realistic detail.
The tone is further balanced by the wonderful detail put into describing the food the group eats, using Ainu’s strangely delicious looking recipes to showcase their culture. While there’s a fair share of dramatic scenes, the show always maintains it’s wry charm thanks to the characters. Regardless of how absurdly dangerous their survival situation might be.
Regardless of Golden Kamuy’s production flaws, it’s writing is way too good to not recommend. I would also recommend seeking out the manga as well if you want to see the series art at a higher quality. With a second season coming in the Fall Season, we can only hope it is produced by someone other than Geno Studio. Nevertheless, Golden Kamuy is an insightful and worthwhile adventure that manages to thrill with compelling action and endear with its fantastic characters in equal parts.
In these opening weeks of the Spring 2018 anime season, Steins;Gate 0 starts off as the by far highest rated anime, although Megalo Box is the new heavy hitter if we look past sequels. This and more in the opening edition of The Seasonal Quarterly.