August 31st, 2012
Today’s profile: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (12 volumes available, vols. 1 and 2 reviewed)
Author: Eiji Otsuka (writer) and Housui Yamazaki (art)
Publisher: Dark Horse
Age rating: N/A, but suggested for mature audiences 18+
It feels as if The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service -- the subject of this month's Manga Movable Feast, hosted by Philip over at Eeeper's Choice Podcast -- has had one foot in the grave for a veeeeerry long time.
You can't really blame fans for being a bit nervous about Kurosagi's English-translated future. Here in the U.S., the only thing regular about Dark Horse's publishing schedule has been its irregularity. If the publishing date records kept by Right Stuf and Amazon are any indication, fans so far have had to endure a seven-month wait (between volumes 1 and 2), a nine-month wait (between volumes 9 and 10) and, perhaps the one that really made their hearts stop beating and made them wonder whether the series had any kind of future or would just be quietly canceled, a wait of a year and seven months (volumes 11 and 12). Assuming things stay on track, it'll be another eight months between volumes 12 and 13, currently due out in November.
As for finding a complete run in print? Good luck finding volume 5, which seems to have disappeared from the ranks of affordable volumes at every online retailer. (Fortunately, Dark Horse has added Kurosagi to the ranks of its digital comic offerings, so you'll just have to endure staring at a screen for a long time in exchange for getting every volume for just $5.99 each.)
It would seem that Kurosagi is one of those series infected with a common manga malaise: the Great Series That Hardly Anyone Knows Exists And/Or Follows. When Borders was in its death spiral last year, I noticed that volumes from the series were among the last to go. (I should know; I was usually the one who'd pick them up.) It's easy to see why it's gone unnoticed: Just look at that cover image above. Stylish? Certainly. Does it say much about the story contained within? Who knows, considering the "Psychic," main character Kuro Karatsu, is the only one facing forward. (Turns out it's a running gag; the other covers in the series, featuring a similar layout with three members of the delivery service on the front and the other three on the back, all have Karatsu facing forward and the others doing something, well, different.) Shielded from "manga cows," that breed of fan who clogs the manga aisle and turns any bookstore into their own lending library, much to the chagrin of people who actually want to buy stuff? Oh yes, definitely; the volumes are shrink-wrapped because of all the violence and nudity.
So it takes a fair amount of effort to ferret out the story ... and what a story it is. What we have here is a "super team" of Buddhist students for hire, summoned to help souls trapped in corpses attain the eternal peace they desire, whether by clients or the dead themselves. (Seeing as how they're college students, they're also eternally scrounging around for enough money to keep the lights on.) We meet Karatsu, a guy who has the ability to hear the voices of the dead, just as he's meeting the other main players: Makoto Numata, a dowser who can find corpses using his special pendulum; Keiko Makino, a rather young-looking gal who's a licensed embalmer; Yuji Yata, a guy who has the ability to channel other beings but mostly channels a foulmouthed alien who manifests himself in the form of a hand puppet; and Ao Sasaki, the brains, businesswoman and buxom beauty behind the creation of the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.
Fair warning: Anyone grossed out by gore and/or in-your-face nudity would best steer away from this series. Six pages into the first chapter of the first volume, there's a close-up of a hanging corpse, flies buzzing around its head. Many breasts get bared, many body parts go flying and much blood goes flowing from that point forward.
But it's rarely gratuitous; in fact, it serves to enhance the sheer shock value of the tales contained within. Consider, for example, the story of that first corpse, who committed suicide after he was kept apart from his girlfriend, a budding pop idol, and now wishes to reunite with her. Let's just say that the young lady committed suicide herself and throw in the phrase "patriarchal necrophilia," and leave it to your imagination to fill in the gaps. (Just note, though, that you probably could never come up with the twists and turns that Eiji Otsuka devises on your own.) There's also an elderly corpse who wishes to return to a place called Dendera, a stylist who cuts far more than hair, and an actuary who has the uncanny ability to predict the chances of someone dying. The team handles all of these situations with a splash of humor and a few meditations on what gives life (and death) its meaning.
But while the first volume with its various stories is certainly good in its own right, the story really hits its stride with volume 2, a seven-chapter arc that starts with a criminal's hanging and ends up with -- take a deep breath here -- a girl who can raise the dead, a doctor gone rogue, a man with a mysterious marking on his fingernail, conspiracies piled upon conspiracies, Yata quitting the delivery service to take on a side job, a company that gives bereaved victims the opportunity to take revenge upon the dead, a merger proposal between the delivery service and this company, the tragedy of Sasaki's past and a bloodthirsty zombie cat.
That's right, a bloodthirsty zombie cat.
Trust me: When you can type the words "bloodthirsty zombie cat" as part of the description of a particular volume, and that's not even the most messed-up thing to show up in that volume ... you know you have to check it out. And then you'll be hooked on the series. It's to die for. Really.