The “immortal” Sugimoto Saichi and young Ainu huntress Asirpa continue their journey through the harsh environments of Northern Japan, hot on the trail of a long-forgotten treasure.
The volume opens with a rather detailed cooking lesson on how to prepare, cook, and eat rabbits. Interwoven with Asirpa’s survival skills are snippets of culture and folklore – a continuing theme from the first volume that provides a fascinating look at Ainu culture. For those unfamiliar, the Ainu have a tumultuous history within Japan – subjected to slavery, prejudice and general mistreatment over many hundreds of years. Needless to say, the attention being given to the Ainu people in Golden Kamuy is uncommon to say the least.
Shortly after abandoning their first camp, Sugimoto and Asirpa are pursued by “7th division” soldiers investigating the brutal incapacitation of their comrade. The duo splits up, hoping to lose them and regroup afterwards. Unfortunately, Asirpa is located quickly by one of the more seasoned soldiers. Asirpa tries to play dumb, but is quickly found out when the soldier finds the skin-map that Sugimoto left with her before they split up. Just when things start looking bad for our young heroine, an unexpected hero comes bounding in.
Meanwhile, Sugimoto is also cornered by 3 soldiers who identify him as the “Immortal” warrior their fallen colleague had fought against. Before they get a chance to act, Sugimoto dives into a nearby burrow, leaving the remaining soldiers to fight against a pissed off brown bear. The bear fights valiantly, slaughtering the remaining soldiers – though they also take its life in the process.
Left in the wake of the bear’s death is an adorable bear cub that Sugimoto is interested in training as a pet. Asirpa vetoes the idea, instead offering to have her village raise and care for it for a time before “returning” it to nature (spoiler alert: they’re gonna kill it). This sparks some interesting conversation between Sugimoto and Asirpa as she shares more of her thoughts on the veneration that animals deserve, and why the privilege of raising a bear cub is such an important honor.
After retreating to safety, Sugimoto and Asirpa recover in her village. He meets the village elder and many of Asirpa’s friends, and we learn more of traditional Ainu customs, including how they hunt and survive in the harsh environment of Hokkaido.
After spending some time in the village, Asirpa’s grandmother, Huci, appears to grow close to Sugimoto. He gets the idea that she wants to protect Asirpa, and that his involvement with the treasure and soldiers will no doubt bring harm to her. With that, he leaves in the middle of the night without another word.
Of course, this pisses Asirpa off to no end. Having lost her father to the treasure and her mother to an illness when she was young, she doesn’t have much in the way of family. Eager to shape a “new future” for Ainu women, Asirpa sets out after Sugimoto at first light with the help of Retar, her monstrous wolf.
As Sugimoto makes his way into the nearest town, he quickly gets the attention of some unsavory characters: subordinates of the twisted Lieutenant Tsurumi. A sadist who is fascinated with the legend of “The Immortal” warrior Sugimoto, he attempts to enlist Sugimoto in his elite unit. Unsurprisingly, Tsurumi is soundly rejected, and subjects his captive to some tortures before leaving him for the evening to reconsider.
Asirpa is already hot on his trail – though takes a slight detour when she realizes that the sock she thought belonged to Sugimoto instead belonged to the “Escape Master” Shiraishi Yoshitake. Despite his attempts to escape yet again, Retar quickly sniffs out the slimeball and pulls him out of the snow with his jaw – scaring him straight into cooperating with Asirpa as they look for Sugimoto.
The volume closes with Sugimoto at the mercy of two of Tsurumi’s soldiers. They wonder aloud how much value he really has and are preparing to torture him further when he, essentially, activates beast mode and takes them both out from his chair in a frightening display – asserting his namesake in a terrifying fashion.
Everything about Golden Kamuy is fantastic in this volume. The compelling art style brings the harsh wilderness to life. The dialogue and humor helps to temper an otherwise gruesome series of events, all the while we’re being introduced to more villains and lore that make the legend of the lost treasure all the more engaging.
Overall, Golden Kamuy continues to impress with its in-depth explanations of survival tactics and Ainu culture. With a striking artistic style, and a fantastic dynamic between the two lead characters, volume 2 expands the world and threats of the world of Golden Kamuy and is certainly getting me excited for volume 3!
Interested in picking up the series? You can find it here!