So I finished the stack of volumes of Path of the Assassin the library had saved for me, and now I have to wait for the last three – possibly last two, because for some reason the catalog does not list vol. 14, and therefore I cannot reserve it. In any case, while casting about in the stacks, I found another volume written by Koike that I also checked out as insurance against just such an event: The Color of Rage.
Color of Rage has a good hook: two men escape from a slave ship and wash ashore in Ed-era Japan. One of the men is Japanese, but the other is black, a slave from America, it seems, which puts the story near the very end of the Edo period, just before the American Civil War. The clues are not plentiful.
The Japanese man is named only “George”, and the American “King”. Having bonded on the ship, the two are determined to find a peaceful place to live where people are nice to each other, and such places are not plentiful in a country with a heavily stratified caste system. King does not speak Japanese, and has to wear a disguise to keep his dark skin from attracting attention. George is suspiciously knowledgeable about the ways of the yakuza, and tries to use that knowledge to at least get them back to his home village. Of course fate, and the two men’s sense of outrage at seeing peasants and the like being treated like slaves, means the trip won’t be easy.
The real problem is, the stories never truly gel, at least not in the way Koike’s other work does. Lone Wolf and Cub and Path of the Assassin are rife with historical detail and character interaction that lives and breathes; Color of Rage is fairly one-dimensional at best. We see a slight intimation of what it could be in George’s brief lectures to King of how the yakuza system works and how it will help them, but those are few. When King starts raging, saying “Rargh!” and punching trees – all but literally chewing the scenery – because “I WANT A WOMAN!”, one can only say, “Really? This is my character moment?”
So, alas, I’m pretty disappointed with Color of Rage. It ends on a very ambiguous note – hell, it doesn’t end so much as stop – so maybe the domestic readership agreed. I shrug and move on. I don’t and can’t like everything even my most favorite of writers have written, that’s only natural. It’s finding the stuff that you do like that makes reading new things worthwhile.
But really, Dark Horse, I have to ask – what was up with that cover? It’s gorgeous, but outside of the horrid stereotypical horniness off King, it has nothing to do with what’s inside.