What They Say:
When war veteran Sugimoto stumbles across part of a treasure map, things get deadly. The map is divided among several escaped convicts, and this battle-hardened soldier isn’t the only one who knows it.
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the English dub, though that gets a 5.1 bump. Both tracks are encoded in Dolby TrueHD which gives us a good lossless presentation. The series has a really good balance of action and dialogue pieces so that it feels like everyone comes away happy here. The action elements of the show definitely work the forward soundstage well with plenty of movement throughout and a good sense of metal on metal in a lot of scenes – or just thocking into wood or flesh. The dialogue works well in its own way with some good placement throughout and the occasional throws to the rears which gives it a little more life. There are a lot of variables here with some highs and lows and I like how the smaller and quieter scenes play out. There’s a good sense of placement and depth throughout on both tracks and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2018, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The series is spread out in a standard nine/three format that gives it plenty of room to work with. Animated by Geno Studio, Golden Kamuy has an interesting look about it when it comes to its character as it adapts the designs pretty accurately and that can be a little off-putting until you get used to it. But they’re detailed in their own way and come across well with some good movement fluidity where needed. The backgrounds aren’t minimal but they’re not overdone either as we deal with the time period in a really good way, especially with so much of it snowcovered, so that it feels authentic to the period but without going over the top with it. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, mostly in terms of character designs, but it’s well-adapted here and the encoding brings it to life really well with good color definition and no problems with macroblocking or noise during regular scenes or high-motion scenes.
The packaging for this limited edition release is pretty solid and we’ll hopefully be getting them for subsequent seasons as they aren’t designed to hold the other seasons. The heavy chipboard box uses the Japanese release artwork well with our two leads on the front with the golden foil aspect played up well. The mix with the black looks great and it has the right kind of serious but dynamic look to it. The back cover goes for the same kind of overall layout to it without the logo and just has a singular character approach that’s definitely imposing. Within the box we get a thick Blu-ray case that holds the four discs from the two formats on hinges that gives it all a bit of weight. The front of the case as a different shot of the two leads together but it’s definitely more muted without the foil and the red background. It’s done in a good wrapround way with more character artwork on the back while the reverse side does a two-panel spread with some early key visual character material.
Within the box, we get a really great square-bound art book that’s about 76-pages with lots of great material but also includes almost twenty pages of interview material and some background on the Ainu people themselves. The set also comes with a single art card that’s kept in its own envelope glued to the back of the box which we were really, really, careful to extract.
The menus for this release go back to the clips from the show format but it does it nicely with a layer of noise over it to give it an older feeling, almost like film but not quite. The various scenes of character interactions play out across it in a pretty good way though sometimes it’s a little indistinct. They’re good looking scenes but are kept mostly dark which when combined with the filter and darker background around it, it gives it a bit of a murky feeling. The logo along the top keeps to the same designs as the cover nicely while including the season number that’ll give it some consistency. The bottom strip goes for some thematic elements with the reds and design used as we get the basic selections for navigation that doubles as mostly the same thing for the pop-up menu during playback. Everything is quick and easy to move around in and it works well both as the main menu and as the pop-up menu.
The extras for this release are pretty fun beyond the basics. We get the usual pieces here with the clean opening and closing and I’m also glad that this release got an audio commentary as well. Add in some commercials and it’s pretty standard fare. But the other piece we get that really makes it worthwhile are the twelve shorts that were streamed during the broadcast as the “Golden Travelogue Theater” segments. It’s basically cute chibi pieces with simple animation but it lets the characters just be silly, a nice contrast from the more serious aspects of the show itself.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name by Satoru Noda, Golden Kamuy had its first season land in the spring of 2018 and followed up with a second later that year and as of this writing has a third coming plus several OVAs bound in the manga. The manga itself began in 2014 in Weekly Young Jump and has been moving along well with eighteen volumes produced so far. The show has done well with the manga sales increasing as well. With Geno Studio on board producing the animation, Hitoshi Nanba directed it and he’s got some interesting projects in his background, from the original Baki TV series to the more recent Gosick. It’s a land of contrasts but it works well with a series like this that’s a bit more askew in its style thanks to Noda’s character designs and the kind of grunt-like manliness to aspects of it.
The premise of the series is one that’s certainly interesting and I’ll admit that I enjoyed it on a basic level for two things. First, it takes place in the early 1900s, which gives us a very different Japan to work with and there’s a lot of interesting aspects that come from it. We get to deal with the Ainu a good bit, which has been covered in other series, and just the cultural aspects are different. The other is that the visual design of the show stands out, in what’s traditionally considered a manly way with more angular and blocky characters, resulting in something that definitely is a change from our usual slim school boys that populate many shows. Here, these feel like characters that are hardened, have survived dark times, and have been through the Russo-Japanese war that the series starts off by showing us. That’s all material that’s a very welcome change of pace.
Focusing on Sugimoto, he’s a veteran of that war who we see having gone through some dark times during it, including the loss of a good friend. He intends to follow through on the promise made to his friend about providing for her, which is why he’s working as a miner in the present, aloof and separate from everyone. The war portion at the start is well-presented and you get a good sense of loss as well as what Sugimoto is capable of, but you also get the right feeling with how he’s keeping his promise and doing it in a way that’s very much him. He doesn’t come across as simple or anything, maybe a bit average in some ways, but when we see him fighting it’s easy to understand why he gained the nickname of Immortal Sugimoto. He’s not immortal but he fights like he can’t be hurt and just goes all in and completely brutal.
He ends up getting an unexpected friend early on in the form of Asirpa, an Ainu girl who is an excellent hunter and saves him from a bear early on in the season. That makes it clear to him what kind of skills she’s got since he’s seen more than enough in his life. The two end up forming a pretty good bond from that experience but they also fall in with each other as partners with the main story that builds up. While initially treated as rumors, Sugimoto learns that the story of a big trove of Ainu gold hidden in the wilderness is true and that the map can be found from a group of convicts who have connective tattoos. It’s incredulous at first but by the end of the first season here, Sugimoto’s in possession of four of them with another group hunting the same thing has one as well. Asirpa and Sugimoto together work well along with Shiraishi, a tattooed convict that ends up being a lot more of a help than expect when things went really bad early on.
There are other groups hunting for the gold as well and the one that amused me the most was Hijikata’s group. Yes, that Hijikata, who had died over thirty years prior in reality. Here, this incarnation has him old and grey and pretty intense, making for a curious look compared to most other anime adaptations and interpretations of the character in his prime. His presence is one that clicks for name early on but I like what he brings to it as there’s a good sense of the various types hunting this gold. And that means odd alliances at times, odd fights when you’d expect a truce, and a lot of uncertainty that comes into play. The season works well in establishing the basics of the characters over it, though they’re not fully fleshed out characters like modern ones in a lot of ways, and you see the way that Sugimoto and Asirpa in particular bond. The outside influences of the other groups and the promise of the gold does show us more of who they are as well and that’s played just right.
With this running in a weekly magazine in its original manga and there being eighteen volumes already, there’s a lot of material to cover. And this first season is just starting to scratch that as we get the basic setup of what to expect and introductions to our leads and some of the other groups. It’s a little light in that sense but it does a really good job of establishing its world, which is critical to connecting us to this time and place. Especially with Sugimoto and what he’s survived. Funimation’s release will definitely delight as they put together a solid looking package for the limited edition, delivered well on the extras with all the shorts, and gave it a good dub that captures the tone just right. The nature of this season keeps me from full-on embracing it as it’s setup, but with two more seasons and some OVAs to come still, there’s a lot of room for growth here.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, 12 “Golden Travelogue Theater” animated shorts, original Japanese commercials, Episode Two commentary, textless opening and ending songs
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: April 2nd, 2019
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.