Color of Rage

Written by Kazuo Koike
Art by Seisaku Kano
416 pages, black and white
Published by Dark Horse

Kazuo Koike is probably best known in North America for Lone Wolf and Cub, his 28-volume epic that was one of the early comics translated from Japanese to English, and which was finally reprinted and completed in translation in 2003. The problem is, while Koike and Goseki Kojima’s collaboration was great—as well as other works from the duo like Path of the Assassin and Samurai Executioner—there are an awful lot of other works written by Koike that just don’t measure up. And to that list, I’m afraid I have to add Color of Rage.

In 1782 Japan, two men survived a sinking whaling ship: “George”, a Japanese man, and King, an African-American man. Both slaves on the ship, this unlikely duo struggle not only to survive, but build a place in the world where they can live in peace. Unfortunately, peace is a long time coming for either of them.

When I started reading Color of Rage, the basic concept seemed strong enough—two escaped slaves on the run, looking for peace even as the world around them says otherwise. Unfortunately, the more I read, the less impressed I was. Color of Rage, collecting what appears to have been intended for two volumes initially, very quickly devolves in its first half into what I can only describe as, “Fear and wonder at the big black man.” I wish I was being facetious here, but that’s unfortunately not the case. In the first two chapters, King learns he has to wrap his face in bandages as to not scare the local Japanese to death. All right, fair enough, Edo-era Japan was isolationist and our characters aren’t in an urban setting. But by the third chapter, we have King being forced to strip and lift carts for a woman’s amusement, and in the fourth chapter King starts going crazy because he’s horny and needs a woman.

No, really. It was at that point that, dumbfounded, I flipped to the indicia to see when Color of Rage was first published in Japan. Surely it was written in a much earlier time, I decided. Maybe the ’50s or ’60s? As it turned out, the answer was 2004. I’m not saying that if Color of Rage was written 50 years ago that everything would be automatically all right, but at least it would have been slightly more comprehensible. Instead, I just shook my head through the rest of the madness. What makes up the second half of the book isn’t quite as mind-boggling when it comes to race, instead focusing on the characters being framed for murder and having to go on the run when King burns down the town of his accusers by way of revenge. The story ends without any real conclusion—perhaps it was cancelled in Japan, as there’s no indication here that there’s another volume to come—but I found myself unable to really care. There’s nothing to make me interested in these characters or their story, other than perhaps to see what cultural gaffes are in store next from Koike. And if that’s all you’re reading for, well, why waste your time?

Seisaku Kano’s art is all right; he seems better suited towards drawings of town and countryside than an actual comic that stars people. His people aren’t bad, but they do come across as more than a bit stiff and flat. He uses a lot of crosshatching and shading in his art as well, which I think is supposed to give it depth, but instead it just looks obscured and muddled. I was a little surprised to see in Kano’s bio that he is best known as a pin-up artist, but perhaps the lack of motion needed in those drawings—because that’s probably his biggest weakness—serves him well when all of your drawings are stationary.

Color of Rage is, ultimately, a huge disappointment. There’s a bonus story in the back (“Crybaby Ishimatsu”) that I felt sorry for by being included in this collection, although it’s ultimately unremarkable. This book is hardly a career high for anyone involved, save for book designer Tony Ong who did a nice job of presenting what is otherwise a disaster. From now on, if Koike’s story isn’t drawn by Kojima, I think I’m staying away until I hear otherwise.

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10 comments to Color of Rage

  • […] Add Greg McElhatton to the growing list of folks who were disappointed by Kazuo Koike’s Color of Rage; you can read all about it at Read About Comics. Julie has a mixed reaction to vol. 1 of Ultimate […]

  • Paul

    You are wrong about this book being published for the first time in 2004. I wish Dark Horse would include more information on things like these in their books, but the original was first published back in 1973.

  • Thanks for the additional information — I was going off of the indicia copyright, which traditionally includes the original publishing date.

  • I thought it had a pretty clear conclusion.

    And I think much of the point of the story was King’s being a black man in a country with no black people. Now that you know it came out 30+ years ago, do you still feel the same way about it? “Disaster”? Wow…it sounds like we read two different books.

  • I had the same reaction as you, Greg: I was also dumbfounded by Koike’s portrayal of King. Whether he wrote Color of Rage in 1973 or 2003 is irrelevant. I’m an American reader looking at this text in 2008, and the unsophisticated handling of racial issues pulled me out of the story over and over again.

  • Jim

    Don’t forget about Crying Freeman, drawn by Ikegami and written by Koike.

  • If the non-PC nature of the title didn’t agree wih all readers, that I understand, but Koike isn’t a civil rights leader. He’s an entertainer for mature readers, and I think he succeeds here.

  • Eric Kaufman

    haven’t read this one yet, but will give it a try.

    I was introduced to Kazuo Koike via lone wolf and cub; I dropped it after the first volume because I literally couldn’t make out what was going on from the pictures (stay with me here). several years later I started re-read it again online, and it seemed like a totally new comic.

    The problem is that the publisher (Dark Horse ?) Put LW&C out in a series of volumes that are literally the size of my hand–Great if you want to carry them around in your pocket, but the art, which is actually very good, just doesn’t come across well in that tiny format. Anyways, I went on to read Crying Freeman, Lady Snow-Blood, Samurai Executioner, and Path of the Assassin, and there is definitely a big range in quality from series to series. Probably because of my interest in history, I found Path of the Assassin by far the most enjoyable.

    The first Volume is a bit slow (I actually put it down for several months before getting back into it) but it really gets exciting as it goes on to tell an epic account of the first Shogun’s rise to power.

    I actually have Path of the Assasin to thank for launching my interest in Japanese history. As historical fiction goes, It’s top-notch. The characters are colorful and deep, and it gives you a pretty good picture of the themes, events and personalities involved. My only major disappointment was that it ends rather abruptly- as soon as Tokugawa really gains power.

    So for those who were turned of by the slow start of Path of the Assassin, give it a second look- it’s well worth it.

  • Eric Kaufman

    As a long-time fan of comics and graphic novels who became interested in manga relitively recently, I have to say that some pretty puzzling marketing decisions have made manga much less accessible to English-language readers than it could/should be. Here are what I consider to be some of the major issues:

    1. By far the biggest barrier for western readers encountering Manga for the first time is the inexplicable decision to publish works in a right-left format.

    I honestly don’t for one minute buy the argument that simply mirror-imaging the art has any impact on its integrity whatsoever.

    Consider that, when books are translated from one language to another, some of the author’s style, and many nuances of the maerial is inevitably lost in translation. Compared to simply flipping artwork so that people don’t have to read a book in a format that is essentially backwards seems pretty trivial.

    VIZ put out a few volumes of Osamu Tezuka’s “Black Jack” in a Western-friendly format several years ago, which I’ve compared with the newer, Japanese (Left-Right format) editions by Verticle, and there really isn’t any noticeable effect on the art as a result of it being flipped. I would be shocked if anyone could tell the difference if they hadn’t seen the original.

    I also can’t identify at all with this notion that publishing manga in a left-right format is somehow “sacreligeous”. Frankly, it’s hard to have that much reverence for stories about high-schoolers who suddenly discover they have magic powers and must save the world from vampires and evil videotapes.

    Unless you are obsessed with the immorality of mirror-imaged artwork, it really has really no impact on the actual reading experience. Having to read a comnic from right-left IS an issue for wesern readers, however. Certainly, you get used to it after a while, but it’s never really comfortable. There are some authors whose work is so good that I will buy it regardless of the format (Tezuka first and foremost).

    For someone just being introduced to manga, though, the backwards format is a big turnoff and I’m sure it has prevented many comic fans from really exploring the genre as much as they would have otherwise. It basically has limited the Manga market to teenyboppers and a small cult following of hardcore anime fans.

    2. Typically, manga published in English seem to be sold in small volumes which sell for $10-15 American. It’s hard to justify paying that much for a book i can read in a couple hours. I’m sure that is a big reason why so many manga fans
    end up reading their manga online, which has a major impact on profits for publishers who put out the mass-market paperback editions. When less people buy the paperback editions of books already in print, it makes publishers reluctant to go outside the “safe” realm of the kind of mangas that appeal to teeny-boppers. Which brings me to my last point…

    3. The vast majority of Manga published in English is aimed at adolescent girls. This is a shame, as this reflects only a small range of the manga available in Japan. There are certainly some good titles if you look hard enough, but how many adults are really going to spend much time searching through a shelf of books when the synopsis of the first 20 starts out “—- is an ordinary 14-year old girl at —- high school.” ?
    I’m willing to bet that trying to sell 150 page, backwards books has given publishers a skewed imnpression of the potential market for english translations of quality manga.

    That’s just my take.