Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
“Don’t you think a Buddhist making the sign of the cross is bad form?”
Written by Otsuka Eiji
Art by Yamazaki Housui
8 Volumes – On Going
It would appear as if being an average student at a university for budding Buddhists is not a good thing. All the good jobs for in-house monks are taken by people with better qualifications, and there’s not much demand for Buddhist clerks. (Do you want karma with that?) That’s how Kuro Karatsu ended up agreeing to join a prayer group out into the woods, for lack of anything to do. What he didn’t realize is that like himself, all of the other people in the group have their own special abilities. Makino is a master embalmer (something fairly unique to Japan, where cremation is still pretty hot). Numata’s dowsing powers are better at finding dead bodies than water. Yata can channel aliens (with attitude to boot) through his hand-puppet and Sasaki is a master hacker, as well as the self-styled leader of the pack. And Kuro? He can speak to the dead when their souls are still trapped inside the corpse, unable to move onto the next life. Thus, the five get drawn into the job of finding lost souls and helping them transcend to the next plane of existence… or something.
Black comedy is an incredibly hard genre to pull off. Lay it on too thick and it becomes a dirge, lay it on too thin and a farce results. Luckily, Otsuka gets it right more often than not in this strange series. Despite the supernatural theme of the stories, it essentially boils down to a detective series, as the team combines their powers, to solve the mystery behind the lost souls and help them reach final peace.
Although some of the set-ups are dazzlingly original (the actuary who can calculate not only how many will die, but also the who, how and when; the funeral home offering a ‘special’ service to the families of crime victims; and then there’s the episode with the snails, that’s put me off escargot for life!) others seem to get lost within themselves, becoming overly wordy and meander clumsily to an end.
(Left: Kuro faces facts…)
The story-lines behind each chapter could be said to be basically formulaic (find a body; hear its story; solve the mystery), yet I found the plot devices to be both varied and original enough to prevent the stories from becoming stale. The mangaka seems to draw on urban legends, myths, and antiquated customs amongst other sources for their basis and whilst some of them are downright creepy, there’s a prevailing air that it’s not quite taking itself seriously. True, this does play neatly into the whole black comedy that this series is, but it also creates a bit of a jarring note when the supernatural elements get cranked up a bit too high.
Despite its humourous undertones (with comic relief provided by the foul-mouthed sock puppet) this isn’t a manga to be taken lightly (I believe it comes with an 18+ age restriction in the US release), as it does feature nudity, violence and more dead and decomposing bodies than you can shake a big stick at. That said, both in terms of the story, as well as the artwork; it’s not overly graphic, but it’s presented almost in a clinical, matter-of-fact style. After all, you’d expect a body to be naked on the autopsy table.
If I have one criticism it lies in the lack of character development. Of all the characters, delightfully strange that they are, it’s really only Kuro who benefits from any kind of development as we explore exactly what is guiding him when he deals with the dead. Often the cast as a whole seem to fade into the background as the plot becomes more complex and it sometimes feels as if they become bit players in their own story. Conversely, however, when they do get the balance right and we see the group become stronger than the sum of its parts, the execution (a little dark humour of my own there…) could almost be called brilliant.
Overall, it’s an entertaining, albeit macabre read, and certainly not for the squeamish. Interesting to see that apparently a US company has bought the rights to produce a live-action version. CSI Afterlife, anybody?
[Reviewer: Gerwyn Petty]