3 out of 5
Satoru Noda maintained an impressive pace and tonal balance for a good long while in Golden Kamuy, juggling action and comedy and character drama with a compelling and evolvingly complex ongoing storyline, pushing and pulling the tale between a chase and a race. Even as the cast grew to encompass three competing groups – Hijikata’s, Tsurimi’s, Sugimoto’s – and tons of quirky tattooed inmates, it felt focused, and motivated. A mid to late story gambit involving Asirpa’s kidnapping was a smart way to extend things a bit beyond their “natural” life, while also deepening our understanding of her relationship with Sugimoto. However, since reconvening the two, I feel like Noda has struggled with figuring out how to frame the story. It’s rarely felt as streamlined since, without “arcs” and moreso scattershot combos of the various factions and random (and somewhat inconsequential) inmate hunts.
That feeling still remains in volume 25’s chapters, but we also get touches of the old magic, as all three groups convene in Sapporo for two more inmates. Tsurimi will always be an adversary, but Hijikata’s team has occupied a wavering position, and that’s where Noda works his charms, jumping back and forth between camaraderie and animosity, and using the conflict to further explore gold-hunting motivations, and the increasingly emotional Sugimoto / Asirpa bond. There’s some fantastic action; some laugh out loud comedy; and moments of solid reflection. One of the inmates – a Jack the Ripped imitator – also lends the latter chapters a legit arc, and is one of the more interesting targets of late.
I think not coincidental is that the art also sharpens during these chapters; the book opens with over-use of photo-statted backgrounds (without the refinement usually applied to these – they’re very flat), and somewhat rushed seeming character work. Life happens, manga schedules are tough, and this can be a detail-heavy book, so I don’t mean to suggest that I demand the utmost quality at all times, but it’s nonetheless a discrepancy that seems to align with the good versus the better chapters.