Thursday, March 18, 2010

Manga Review: Red Hot Chili Samurai Volume 1

Dang, has it really been a week since I've made a post? It's amazing how much time flies when you're not having fun! The story of this past week is work, work, and more work. While I do have several other reviews in the works, much of my spare time lately has been spent watching anime and reading manga (such as the massive pile of books that just arrived from Tokyopop). The first title I've cracked into in their latest lineup is Red Hot Chili Samurai.

Created by Yoshitsugu Katagiri, Red Hot Chili Samurai actually has nothing to do with the "Red Hot Chili Peppers", contrary to what the hot red chili comparison would have you believe. This first volume was originally released in Japan in 2007, and becomes available here in the States March 30, 2010.

The first thing I want to say about Red Hot Chili Samurai is that the book just doesn't pop in any way. Sure it's whimsical and the world it takes place in is fairly interesting, but the characters are rather generic and hardly developed at all in this opening installment. You'll feel no connection with the hero or his sidekicks, and some things just aren't explained well enough to draw you in. This isn't a grievous strike against the manga, but rather an example of its lack of a hook. You won't feel endeared to it with this volume and you won't wait with bated breath for the second installment.

So what is the book all about? Well, it centers around the exploits of a young chili pepper loving samurai named Sento Kokaku, who is also referred to as Hanshu. What's a Hanshu? Well, it's not really explained, but basically what I gathered from reading this volume is that his bearing of a black crane tattoo is a status symbol that identifies him as the son of the Hanshu. You know, whatever the Hanshu happens to be.

Anyways, Kokaku works for his father and pretty much just goes around helping people out. He's joined by a silent ninja, named Shou, who supplies information and two more active members: Ento and Ran. Together they form a group that gets involved in things that just don't seem right. For instance there's a brothel where some bad stuff is going on, a kid finds himself getting picked on, and there's a gambling den that's cheating its customers. In each instance it's basically up to Kokaku to jump into things feet first, beat the snot out of everyone, and call it a day.

The only really interesting bit in this installment is the introduction of a rival of sorts called Shikki, the Turtle. Shikki basically comes along and contrasts Kokaku's heroic ideology. Where Kokaku doesn't necessarily kill people indiscriminately, Shikki does and he's not afraid to bare the sharp part of his blade. They clash at first and square off, but eventually they come to an understanding of sorts. It's an interesting relationship that shows potential for future installments.

The stories here are broken up into chapters, as are most manga, and for the most part each chapter is exclusive. There's no overarching storyline that carries through, and this unfortunately detracts from the development of its characters. Sure Ran and Ento get some decent interactions with Kokaku, and Shou is a great source of comic relief, but beyond that you don't really see much of the background characters. Kokaku gets the most development here, though the only thing we really learn about him is how he grew to love peppers so much and how he developed his hero code. It's unfortunately very light and in some instances it does not make much sense.

Red Hot Chili Samurai's first volume is not a complete failure. It's entertaining to read, there's a great deal of humor, and the action is pretty good as well. Katagiri's artwork is fantastic and throughout the book there are solid designs from the background to the characters. The sense of movement and emotion is fantastic and the translation of this manga is smooth as well. Despite the many positives the series has going for it a lack of development and standalone storylines don't necessarily help things out here. Hopefully that will change in the coming volumes, but for now consider this one lightly recommended.

Maki Rating:

Review material provided by Tokyopop. Red Hot Chili Samurai is rated OT (Older Teen 16+) for Mild Voilence, Mild Gore, and Tobacco Reference/Use.

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