24th Manga Division Social Impact Award
In the late Meiji period, men battle across Hokkaido, Karafuto (Sakhalin), and Russia to uncover a trove of gold hidden by the indigenous Ainu. Seeking the gold to heal a friend’s sight, a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War nicknamed the Immortal SUGIMOTO meets a young Ainu girl, Asirpa, whose father knows where the gold is stashed. There begins the pair’s journey to solve the mystery of the hidden gold, but they have rivals in the quest: the 7th Division led by First Lieutenant TSURUMI and HIJIKATA Toshizo, who was supposed to have died in the Boshin War. GOLDEN KAMUY is said to be inspired by stories of the artist’s great-grandfather having been deployed as ex-legionary in the Russo-Japanese War and fought at 203-Meter Hill. Not limited to historical escapades, the story interweaves details of its settings through SUGIMOTO and Asirpa’s heartfelt connection—the magnificent and treacherous northern wilderness, Ainu culture and customs, and regional cuisine. The characters are unique, and the story well-paced with timely gags and high entertainment value.
While trying to depict truth in fiction, the artist folds in empathy through comedic gags. Though the story revolves around cruelty and tragedy, these gags enable disparate hearts to beat as one in laughter, creating a sense of unity. The protagonist, SUGIMOTO, is hardly one for jokes, but laced in his life-and-death encounters with fellow cutthroats and the little Ainu girl are moments of comic relief. On this knife’s edge, the work challenges itself to portray Ainu culture, deepening the reader’s understanding and heightening emotions. This engenders fondness and spurs us to action, to grow curious of other ethnicities and cultures and to direct economic activity. There is an ideal correlation. This is enabled by the skills of artist and his supervisor NAKAGAWA Hiroshi, who have shown us how manga can meaningfully contribute as a culture. (SHIMAMOTO Kazuhiko)