Mild at best
With that hot cover and awesome title, the anticipation was high for “Red Hot Chili Samurai.” (Japanese title “Kokaku Torimonocho” or “Kokaku’s Samurai Detective Story”) I am a fan of food that tips the top of the Scofield scale myself, but unfortunately this comic has more of the piquancy of a pimento than a raging Scotch Bonnet.
In the author’s note in the back, Yoshiisugu Katagiri admits that “Red Hot Chili Samurai” started off as a gimmick and little else. He was contacted by a new magazine called “Beans Ace” about doing a series, and quickly came up with a period samurai piece similar to the long-running and popular “Mito Komen” television series. If you aren’t familiar with that show, it follows a basic pattern of retired Vice-shogunTokugawa Mitsukuni and his two samurai companions roaming Japan in disguise looking for injustice. They usually get into fights with some local ruffian, which finishes with Mitsukuni revealing the seal of the Shogun that shows them as official protectors of justice.
Yoshitsugu used that basic story-pattern for his series, and in order to give his character a unique identifiable characteristic had him eat hot chili peppers. The only reason for this is that Yoshitsugu noticed a preponderance of sweets-eating heroes, like L from L, Change the World, and figured a spicy-food eating hero might be a change of pace.
It is obvious from the start that there was no real story-plan for “Red Hot Chili Samurai” other than the opening gimmick. The episodes were released as a couple of one-shot stories for the magazine, with the chance of a continuing feature being based on popularity. The stories follow the same basic patter of Mito Komen, with Kokaku Sento and his companions Inaba Ento, Mimasaka Ran and Shou infiltrating some den of vice then start slashing away from the inside. When the battle is over, Kokaku slides his kimono off his shoulder to reveal his crane-mark tattoo revealing that he is the heir of Hanshu and thus a hero. Rinse and repeat.
The biggest problem with “Red Hot Chili Samurai” is the lack of any cohesiveness in the story. Yoshiitsuga is clearly just making it up as he goes along, without any clear objective or story for his characters. He pulls influences from wherever he can, as is clear in the Samurai Champloo -like pairing of a rough wild fighter (Kokaku) with a bespeckled and studious warrior (Ento) and a spunky and cute girl (Ran). Later, two other cast members are added in the form of Shikki, an aristocratic and uptight military man who is the opposite of Kokaku, and Tsumugi, a child inventor who adds further randomness to the series by creating Polaroid cameras and radio-controlled cars in Edo period Japan.
The artwork is nice, although nothing to rival that brilliant cover. I did find the storytelling too choppy, and the book jumps from panel to panel without much transition or focus on story continuity. All of the faces are all harsh angles and spiky hair, although Yoshiitsugu does have a way with patterns, especially on the kimonos.
This first issue is not a total lost and there is some potential here. When Kokaku goes undercover as a prostitute it is pretty funny, although there is no explanation why he chose that particular route of infiltration other than it makes for good comedy. Towards the end of the book, a storyline seems to be coming together, and it might just be that the author has hit his stride with the characters and that volume two will be an improvement.