4 out of 5
Some new characters are introduced, a past explored, and a surprisingly random, but fun, cameo. More Kamuy greatness.
Wended throughout volume 20 is Sugimoto’s crew – now reunited with Asirpa! – dealing with the aftermath of Ogata. This gives us a natural way to explore some of the local culture, as the team wanders about for help, and then acts as a smart narrative bridge to bring us to our next conflict – trying to secret the wounded Ogata into a Russian hospital. This kicks off a string of chapters that look into Koito’s past, and again, Noda does wondrous things here, patiently fleshing out a character who seemed easily summarizable before as the crazy dude with the accent. There’re fascinating connections to the present day in this flashback, but some of it is also a little confusing visually; it’s sometimes not clear to me if I’m just not picking up on Noda’s intentions with imagery, or if the artist is purposefully leaving something mysterious that will be explained in a later chapter (or, very possibly, there are manga-specific tropes being applied with which I’m not yet familiar), but it undercuts the tension in a couple of these chapters, puzzling over whether or not what we’re being shown is relevant now, or later.
The other aside in the book – catching up Nikaido and Usami at a bathhouse – totally caught me off guard for how grabbing it was, and opens up another avenue of interest for the title to explore. Most of the Tsurimi-adjacent chapters come across as check-ins; their leader is enigmatic and worthy of spending time with, but with his role established, he’s sort of been in the background, and his cronies don’t gain much depth until they’re in closer proximity to Sugimoto. Nikaido and Usami are still sort of at that level, but we meet two new Tsurimi associates – Major Kikuta and Private Ariko – and the new wrinkle is the under-the-surface animosity between these two pairs of characters, as they each hunt down some rumors of a nearby tattooed prisoner. It gives more dimension to this side of the story – that Tsurimi’s crew has its own problems, and isn’t just the uniform set of “bad guys.”
A good swirl of bits and pieces and ongoing story elements.