Series Premiere: Golden Kamuy Ep. 1 Review

The Spring season is just a week old, and several series are coming hard out of the gate (a few of which we plan on reviewing right here on Third Impact Anime!), but Golden Kamuy was absolutely the one I was most excited for. I already reviewed the first manga volume a few months back, giving it a hearty recommendation, and the same internet fanbase that turned me onto the series to begin with glowed with anticipation. The episode aired earlier this morning, so let’s see if it was worth the wait.

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As a recap of the plot, Golden Kamuy takes place in early 20th century Hokkaido, centered around Sugimoto, a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War. Learning that a prisoner has hidden a large sum of stolen gold, and that the map to this hoard is tattooed on the skins of several of the man’s escaped fellows, Sugimoto decides to track them down. Well, I should say he begins to make this decision, as he is quickly attacked by not one, but two, bears. In the ensuing chase, he meets a young Ainu girl, Asirpa, who uses her survival knowledge to assist in defeating these ursine opponents. He invites her to join him in tracking down the gold, and she readily agrees, revealing that the gold was originally stolen from her tribe many years ago.

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As far as initial set-up is concerned, Golden Kamuy does this satisfactorily. Many scenes from the manga were copied outright, which gives me mixed feelings. The manga is stellar, so I cannot blame them for doing so, but I was hoping for a little more than “Now with Animated Fight Scenes!” as a selling point. In fact, I felt like many of these scenes lost the impact they had in stationary format. The hang of the bear’s plucked gall bladder, the twang of Asirpa’s bow—little touches that my imagination filled in better the screen did.

1_4.PNGAnd I think that’s what really makes the Golden Kamuy anime disappointing to me—for all the talk of great the manga is, the animation quality is just not there. The backgrounds are absolutely excellent and just as evocative as the manga, but nothing else quite reaches. The coloring is flat and too simple. The characters’ faces just seem a little poorly drawn (this coming from someone who usually hates accusations of “QUALITY!” when it comes to rushed or under-budgeted production), and those bears, those bears, man. Everything in the episode is traditionally animated, except for the campfires and animals. In the first scene, the campfire stands out a little, but really foreshadows the episode’s larget sin, the 3D CG bears.

I absolutely wanted to give this animation technique a fair shake. Land of the Lustrous proved 3D CG anime can be pleasing to the eye, even in the face of Berserk and countless other smaller examples. But mixing a traditional 2D style with these graphics is like oil on water, the kind of oil that is stiffly animated and ruined by the uncanny valley. There was one shot of a closeup of a bear’s fur that I thought was great, but every other time the bear was on screen and moved, it was like watching some rickety animatronic at Chuck E. Cheese—perhaps fitting for children’s amusement, not one of the most anticipated anime of the year!

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I hate everything in this frame.

In other aspects, Golden Kamuy does well. The character and costume designs are just as charming as the source material, the characterizations were on point, as was the voice acting. We haven’t seen Asirpa teaching Sugimoto her culinary techniques, arguably one of the highlights of the series, so I’ll reserve judgement until a few more episodes in. The music was also a delightful touch—nothing overbearing, but it certainly matched the setting and added to the atmosphere. The OP and ED were missing from the first episode, so we’ll have to wait until next week to judge them.

Overall, the Golden Kamuy anime is still worth a watch, especially if you’ve skipped out on the manga. The quality of the original bleeds through in its excellent characters and story, an the theme of nature’s harshness is present in the anime. However, Golden Kamuy certainly deserves a better adaptation that what we’ve been presented—the CG animals stand out in an awful way, and the overall animation leaves much to be desired. If nothing else, I hope it encourages more people to check out the manga and continue it there, if the anime continues at its current pace.

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Golden Kamuy is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Monday.

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