Golden Kamuy: seinen, historical, based on the manga by Satoru Noda. 2 seasons and 26 episodes so far, with a third one already having a trailer.
Sugimoto, a scarred veteran of the Russo-Japanese war, is panning for gold in Hokkaido. By chance, he learns about a treasure made of Ainu gold, hidden by a mysterious character, No Face. There’s only one problem: the different bits of the treasure map are tattooed on the skin of escaped prisoners who have scattered all over the island; what’s more, several parties are after the gold, rogue soldiers, escaped prisoners, Shinsengumi survivors, psychopaths, Russian partisans… Sugimoto allies himself with Asirpa, a young Ainu girl, to track down the gold (and taste all sort of local food). Adventure ensues!
- It’s the ultimate adventure romp. There’s everything in it. A treasure! Uneasy alliances between groups of adventurers! Gun fights! Sword fights! Narrow escapes! Surviving in a hostile nature! CGI bear attacks! All out battles! It is really exhilarating and very entertaining.
- The characters : there’s a whole rogue gallery in there, with well drawn personalities and larger than life characters. Sugimoto, the protagonist is far from being one dimensional, more on that later; Asirpa, the other protagonist, is absolutely terrific, and the developing friendship between these two characters is heartwarming and really interesting. Secondary characters are good too. The main antagonist, Lt Tsurumi, is the perfect villain, and the way he seduces his men into following him is rather fascinating. Among the other parties looking for the gold, a special mention for Hijikata (the historical one, the author having imagined he survived Hakodate) who is presented like some sort of avenging specter from a past era, and is also one of the most swashbuckling characters; one should mention also Ogata, whose personality gets more and more developed as the series goes, and who is more and more terrifying. I won’t mention all of the characters, since there are many, but they all manage to be interesting in their own way.
- The setting. It is set in an era that’s rather rarely explored by anime, which makes it quite interesting. All the tidbits about Ainu culture are fascinating, and, I imagine, rather well researched, since the manga volumes always include at least one page of bibliography on the matter. The natural setting is also extremely important: the Hokkaido background is beautifully drawn and there are lots of hunting and survival tips that are a lot of fun and quite interesting.
- The food. And, last but not least, there’s the food. In the manga as in the anime, the characters spend half their time hunting for food and eating. The food is beautifully depicted, even though some things appear downright inedible. I am NOT eating raw squirrel brain, never mind what Asirpa thinks. Sometimes, and the manga and anime joke about this, it seems that the protagonists are chasing after seasonal food rather than after hidden treasure. But it will make you hungry.
- Why did I put down food as my last point in the reasons to watch this show? Because it allows me to introduce my real last point. The food anime aspect of the show isn’t gratuitous. Food is used to introduce resonant themes that pervade the anime, and, for example, it plays a central part in what to my minds are the two most heartbreaking moments in the whole series, Tanigaki’s backstory, and Sugimoto reflecting on the effect the war had on him. In both cases, the familiar taste of something is used as a way to go back to oneself, as forgiveness in the case of Tanigaki, as an impossible escape from PTSD and having had oneself destroyed by war in the case of Sugimoto. This last theme, war and the lasting scars it leaves on people, is central to the anime, but never on the nose. The show goes seamlessly from a rip-roaring adventure to some light slapstick to heart-wrenching character moments.
- The slapstick I mentioned earlier isn’t always the most distinguished, and the humour sometimes veers into the bizarre in a way that I believe can put some people off.
- Also, there’s CGI bear. Some would say that CGI bear is a staple of the show. Indeed, when I announced my intention to do a write-up of the show, I was told CGI bear should feature prominently. But CGI bear looks bad, there’s no two way around it. Fortunately, CGI bear appears less and less as the series proceeds.
Weeb level: 1/10. It’s an historical adventure romp. The author sometimes plays with manga and anime conventions, but it is accessible to anyone.
Fanservice: 4/10. There are rather ludicrous instances of fanservice in this. They are, however, played tongue in cheek and for laughs.
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll