There are plenty of manga series that start off slow and pick up with the second volume. The first volume may be little more for a pilot, introducing the characters and laying out the tone and pacing without diving too much into the ongoing story. “Red Hot Chili Samurai” is not one of those manga.
The first volume was well-drawn but plagued with issues of convoluted story-telling, lack of clear plot, and lame gimmicks taken from other series. Author Katagiri didn’t seem to have much more than the idea of mixing the basic plot of the popular TV samurai drama “Mito Komen” with the cast of Samurai Champloo, and throwing in a chili-eating gag because as he says “there were so many characters eating sweets I figured a chili-eating character might be a good change of pace.”
All of these same problems are still here in volume two. The story barely continues over from the first volume other than having the same characters. The chili-eating Kokaku Sento is having ethical issues with his teammate Ento over whether or not they should be killing. Ento thinks that carrying a sword means having to kill, whereas Kokaku relies on his crane-tattoo to put the fear of the lord into his assailants without having to kill them. From there the itinerant hatamoto Shikki-sama comes back into Kokaku’s life, tracking down the son of a lord who has fled to live the simple life of a fisherman. At some point in time, Kokaku rides around on a motorcycle, created by the boy genius Tsumugi, everyone goes hunting for a cat and a potential assassin whose face looks like an ukiyo-e print, and Kokaku and Shikki get into a dance competition.
I have gotten more used to Katagiri’s angular faces and spiky hair, and the art on “Red Hot Chili Samurai” is improved. Katagiri draws a mean fight scene, with his characters exploding at each other rather than just facing off. He also has a way with kimonos and period ware which add to the over all style.
The problem is that although he is a good artist, Katagiri lacks storytelling skills. His panels are a convoluted maze, and there are floating dialog balloons attached to no one in particular so it is hard to keep track of who is talking to whom. Some attempt at character development is made, but it quickly fades to business as ususal. Kokaku goes through a minor crisis of confidence swiftly to be replaced by a full-page spread of him slipping his kimono off his shoulder to expose his tattoo and dropping his tagline “because I am the hero.”
It is series like this that make me wish there were more writer/author combinations in Japanese comics. Katagiri has all the drawing skills necessary to pull of a fun action-orientated adventure, but he can’t seem to be able to plot out a story or to write more than “cool scenes” that get everyone into combat as soon as possible.
Maybe things will pick up with the third volume, but so far the odds don’t look good.