4 out of 5
The usual stunning mix of laugh out loud comedy beats – Shiraishi is useless! – in depth and entertaining representations of Ainu / Hokkaido culture, and intense and bloody (and ridiculous) action, Golden Kamuy volume 4 continues the hunt for prisoner tattoos, primarily from Hijikata’s clan’s and Sugimoto’s points of view. Noda expands a bit more on everyone’s motivations, Tsurumi included, adding a sense of heft to the pursuit of the gold MacGuffin; no one is allowed to be a wholly good or bad person, even if some – like the 7th Division head – are certainly more, er, quirky than others. All of these individual elements are stunningly handled, both artistically and narrationally: Noda’s big, bold character designs should overtake a page, but he somehow fits an incredible amount of acting and scene-setting within those pages as well, and the writing is just so, so full of character that every named person in the large (and growing) cast feels three-dimensional, and worth our time.
Volume 4 does, on the one hand, highlight what had sort of been a growing disparity for me, though, which is in communicating the forward momentum of the gold / tattoo pursuits with the seeming laidback pacing of the story. Noda tries to lampshade this again, as he’d previously done when pointing out the encyclopedic way Asirpa explains everything, and it’s similarly funny, but doesn’t quite work as well “in story” as that did; it’s hard to sync up the sense that everyone is actively on the hunt for these things with the frequent breaks to explain cooking methods, and it’s also not clear why the 7th Division, Hijikata and gang, and Sugimoto and Asirpa aren’t all stumbling over one another. However, later in the book, we get a landscape shot of Hokkaido, which is huge, and it starts to make more sense: this is a race, sure, but it’s one that’s going to take time to execute, and during that time, lives still go on. I think / hope with that establishing shot that the interrelation of all the characters and the pacing going forward will fit together more clearly.