Golden Kamuy vol. 26 – Satoru Noda

4 out of 5

Ever since reuniting with Asirpa, Golden Kamuy has felt like its been in something of a holding pattern while Noda figures out the endgame. Not so much the final conclusion – what happens to the gold, and Sugimoto’s and Asirpa’s fates, as I’m sure that’s been mapped out – but how / when the tattooed convict hunt is completed, and who will turn on who by game’s end. That holding pattern has been stuffed with turns a’plenty, and a by-now typical cast of tattooed oddballs, but it’s also been without much impact, the character building haven taken its greater swings by now, and mostly leaving us with what feel like side stories. Occasionally, something will emerge that hits home, and that’s been consistent enough to keep things promising; and then some of the villains have just been too hilarious to brush off, even if they only last for a chapter or a few.

The Jack the Ripper bit seemed promising, but it, too, was put on hold to put characters / pieces into place, and by the time we got back to it, I wasn’t quite sure of the reason behind it. Noda again saved it by being especially hilariously ridiculous, but as we’re concluding that arc here in this tankobon’s first half, I’m still struck by not really getting the point. Just to have some historical tie-ins, perhaps? The showdown with Jack feels incredibly scattershot, and Noda hops around and around between every single character so that scenes don’t have much chance to build.

But: having everyone zero in on Jack in a “battleground” or sorts – a Sapporo Beer factory – lends the sequence a fun focus, even if the geography gets confusing, with people popping up on various floors; it’s Noda working at fever pitch, vacillating between excellent, bloody action and comedy beats, and sudden swoops of change in fortune: characters literally show up to save the day in triumph, only to ruin the day by the next panel.

And interestingly, once the Jack part of the story is essentially resolved, it’s like things suddenly switch gears: a classic Golden Kamuy sensibility takes over. Character showdowns feel important; these twists feel like they have consequence. Indeed, the hunt for the skins comes to an end here, and while we still have quite a few chapters to go, it’s just like getting past that story hump relieves storytelling burdens, and it all comes flowing forth with more urgency, but also seamlessness. Even those “temporary” flashbacks – things that matter only for the few pages on which they appear – feel weightier than before.

True, this could all be reverted back to a holding pattern next chapter, but this tankobon was a very welcome return-to-form, starting to take shape with the factory battle and just getting more and more compelling as it goes on.