Why, you ask, if I'd never read it, and long before the anime adaptation was ever aired? I just had a feeling. I saw the cover and a read a (flawed, as it turned out) blurb about it and just had a feeling it was a manga I'd love.
I was right.
Set in either late 1905 or early 1906 (it isn't made clear and the passage of time seems a little iffy), immediately after the end of the Russian-Japanese war, the series follows Saichi "Immortal" Sugimoto, a legendary apparently-unkillable soldier who distinguished himself over and over again in combat with the Russians - only to be dishonorably discharged after killing an officer. Instead of living off of a healthy pension in peace back in his native Tokyo, he's left broke and essentially stranded in Hokkaido.
But not without a plan.
Like California in 1849, Hokkaido had its own gold rush in the late 19th century and Sugimoto is determined to strike it rich, despite "tens of thousands of hands" having already combed the areas known to have been rich in gold. Predictably, he comes up empty-handed over and over again until he meets a strange old man with a strange story about Ainu (the people native to Hokkaido) gold stolen and hidden by a man now on death row, who has sworn never to reveal its location, except in the form of a map tattooed in pieces on the backs of twenty-four fellow convicts (who have all since escaped from prison).
Well, that's quite the set-up.
I won't tell you why Sugimoto needs money so badly and I won't spoil the opening that sets up the first storyline, because I'd really prefer you read this.
The story is action-packed, historically-rich (especially in details about Ainu culture; there is a both a bibliography cited in the back of the book and an Ainu cultural adviser credited) and strikes just the right balance between fast-paced and storied. The art is just slightly generic in a Shueisha sort of way (you'll know what I mean if you've read an issue or two of Weekly Shonen Jump or Weekly Young Jump), but not in a bad way - rather it feels comfortably familiar.
Only one volume has been released in English so far, and it looks like Viz is on schedule to release three a year, but with ten volumes published in Japan and the serialization still on-going, I look forward to reading this series for years.
I really love this series and highly recommend it.