4 out of 5
New players are introduced in the hunt for the tattooed prisoners and thus the gold: a group of soldiers led by the creepy, enigmatic, and sadistic Lieutenant Tsurumi, and a couple of men – a samurai and a hard-headed brawler – who, at least in the latter case, seem to be those tattooed prisoners. Satoru Noda’s penchant for immediately recognizable and defined characters is well-served by these new cast inclusions, and it’s interesting how they somehow exist beyond the page, even when fitting in to typical one-dimensional archetypes; I think this is a consequence of how Golden Kamuy is structured, in general: taking place in a very real, very detailed world. But it’s not just a matter of tossing details on the story pile to prove researching bona fides: the majority of volume 2 is taken up by Sugimoto and Asirpa consuming various foods, and hunting, and hanging out in her village, and Noda fills these moments with all that factual, footnote-y goodness, and it’s interesting, yes, but it also builds the story by building the characters. We feel the bond between Sugimoto and Asirpa being formed, and the whole tale is made more human by showing these beat-by-beat moments, which then – as I’m suggesting – carry over to help ground the more outlandish, over-the-top action and violence.
…Which explodes fantastically in the tankobon’s last couple chapters, when Sugimoto is cornered by Tsurumi’s crew. Tsurumi is also given an interesting motivation for the gold – of wanting to, essentially, fund a rebellion as revenge for being disposed of after the war – which, while a violent motivation, helps to make him an infinitely more interesting villain than your usual take over the world / get rich types.
The transition between these two story points – life in the Ainu village, and interacting with Tsurumi – feels a bit rushed and perhaps forced (although that latter bit could be a translation issue – making dialogue seem odd when it’s just hard to transpose the meaning of the original Japanese), but once we’re in it, woof, we’re in it..