We begin our tale in the distant past. As a samurai warrior walks along a coast littered with the dead. Each of the bodies he passes are human, but only just. Their faces are like cherubs, and their earlobes are elongated. The samurai counts the bodies and realises that one is missing. We move to the present, and we are on the same stretch of coast. There is a road here now, one that leads to a small town, and we learn the coast forms part of an island. Time hasn’t changed much.
Hayasaka and Oikawa are friends but Hayasaka looks at the young man Oikawa is becoming and realises she wants more. Unfortunately time is not on her side when Oikawa tells her he intends to move to the mainland for college. A distraught Hayasaka draws into herself and, on a lonely stretch of coast, she finds a shrivelled effigy of what she thinks might be a god of prosperity. She takes the effigy home with her, too slow to realise the mistake she is making until the effigy springs to life and the people on the island begin to change.
Golden Gold is a slow burn of a manga that does not rely on the cutesy trappings of many manga that follow similar themes. Though there is an element of love interest in Golden Gold, the love is an unrequited one, one that is laden with bitterness and more than a little fear. It’s a tale laced with images of a broken future for the characters as the story starts. It is a foregone conclusion that Hayasaka will remain on the island, and it’s obvious that Oikawa is likely to leave. But Hayasaka’s fears of all this are put on hold when the effigy comes to life and the people of the island cannot see it for what it is.
Not a lot is explained in the first issue of Golden Gold. We are shown our cast of characters, and the island culture is somewhat explained. We are introduced to each character’s main concerns, most of which have to do with the island being isolated and cut off from mainstream culture, and the benefits that come with it. When the effigy begins to move it does not do a whole lot. It takes up residence in the local hotel, which is owned by Hayasaka’s family, and most see it as a little old man. It eats and it sleeps, and otherwise does little except follow the odd character around on their daily chores.
There is an unmistakable eeriness to these scenes. The effigy gives the impression it is surveying people’s lives, or perhaps laying down the groundwork for something to come. Though it does nothing aggressive, it does nothing at all in fact, it is obvious it is doing something to the population of the island. We just don’t know what. We see the symptoms of what is happening, but we get the firm impression we don’t have all the facts, and we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions.
Golden Gold is an absorbing read, it’s unsettling and its characters feel well rounded. It’s one of the more realistic manga I have read recently. There are no “fan service” moments, and no gore or weirdness a reader might associate with the genre. It’s a straight tale with few, if any, gimmicks. The only strangeness, so far, is the effigy itself, and everything around it acts as it would in the normal world.
While I am no aficionado of manga, I do read a good amount of it, so I consider my views to be from someone outside of the community who usually consumes such entertainment. From this perspective Golden Gold would be a good place for someone unfamiliar with manga to begin. Its story is straightforward and requires absolutely no prior understanding of the culture of either manga, or the country in which the story is set. Not only that but it’s a good read. It entertains, the characters are personable, and though not a great deal happens it’s a quick and easy read that lays the road for something that genuinely interests the reader. I’ll certainly be interested in where this all leads our characters, and will look out for volume two in the series.