Reviewby Carlo Santos, Feb 15th 2009
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
Death has always been a fact of life for the college slackers known as the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Maybe that's why they have so much trouble trying to recruit living, breathing members into the club at the school campus festival. Fortunately, they find themselves in more familiar territory when they encounter a glitzy organization that arranges "marriages for the dead" ... and perhaps something more sinister. Later on, another crisis of family values emerges at a local hospital, where a baby-drop for abandoned children has become a depository for infant corpses. Is this plague of dead babies a particularly twisted form of protest, or is there a deeper supernatural force at work?
The definition of "traditional marriage" may be between a man and a woman, but did anyone ever stipulate whether the partners are supposed to be alive or not? And while we're at it, if it's wrong to end an unborn child's existence, how about if you just bring it to full term and then dump the results on a hospital's doorstep? (Ask the Nebraskans about this some time.) Yes, it's possible to read some political/cultural subtext into the latest Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, but even those who care little for ideological flame wars will find some solid entertainment here. Volume 8 marks a return to the series' very essence: mysterious ghost stories with appealing characters and flawless visuals. With the elements coming together like that, what's not to like?
The first chapter sends a pretty clear signal that we're not going to go into anything fancy like character flashbacks or extended story arcs or earth-shattering plot revelations. It's a one-off chapter, almost comedic in tone (watch the Kurosagi kids chase off every single club recruit by pointing out their supernatural inadequacies!), and the ending—if a little maudlin—wraps things up neatly. The next few chapters, which cover the saga of the dead-marriage agency, is another solid if unspectacular story; this time we've got yakuza dealings and a mildly amusing otaku side-character and a perfectly executed revenge finale. Even when working in standard "groovy mystery" mode, Eiji Otsuka proves that a great writer doesn't have to be frantically imaginative; all it takes is understanding the fundamentals and doing it well.
The dead-baby mystery—and yes, it seems that an occasional-gross-out series like this had to bring up dead babies eventually—is the most engaging and complex in this book, making use of everything that makes supernatural stories great. Readers can look forward to another intriguing character (in this case, a kind-hearted nurse who can vaguely sense the final wishes of the dead), clever use of traditional folklore while connecting to the modern day, and a couple of subplots like the emotional bond between the nurse and Kurosagi club leader Karatsu. This story arc even squeezes in some social commentary, noting that the very idea of a legal child-abandonment spot is enough to spark fierce community debate (and perhaps anonymous retaliation). But like all good writers, Otsuka is smart enough to avoid pushing his own views on the issue, and arrives at a textbook ghost-story finale: it's all to do with ancient rituals and supernatural forces, and once you smooth things out, the disturbed spirits can go home happy.
Once again, Housui Yamazaki's art is so stunningly consistent that it seems almost a moot point to discuss whether he's good or not. This volume is lower than usual on the gore scale—those looking for the usual dead-body full-page spreads may feel shortchanged—but there's still enough detail and technique to show that Yamazaki's skills are for real. With each new story he manages to come up with a bevy of fresh character designs (along with the Kurosagi club's fantastic fivesome, of course), and the story's emotional nuances are illustrated perfectly, from the horror-at-first-sight of a dead baby to the comical outbursts of the main cast bickering with each other. A variety of panel sizes, along with dramatic angles and clear visual flow, also prove that pure rectangular layouts don't have to be boring. And of course, with such sure-handed linework, even props and backgrounds are rendered in the same careful detail as the characters.
A translation with just the right balance of humor, drama and supernatural edification makes the dialogue a delight to read—but the real highlight of the text is the glossary and editor's notes in the back. With a luminary like Carl Gustav Horn editing and adapting this series, there's always entertainment to be had from seeing how a throwaway character leads to an entire paragraph of commentary on the Gothic Lolita phenomenon, or learning what kind of role religion plays in the Japanese culture. But of course, the glossary also has another purpose: to provide translations of the sound effects, which are left untouched from the original. Perhaps the only drawback of this appendix is the head-spinning configuration of pages that turn right-to-left while the columns read from left-to-right; maybe one of these days they'll try a straight-down layout that normal people can read.
As this volume of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service proves, sometimes it doesn't hurt to go back to basics, even when you've already got one of the best artist-writer teams on the planet. The mystery-of-the-month supernatural genre may be overdone, but seeing it done well is a rare treat. Aside from the forced sentimentality in the first chapter, all the stories to be found here are winners, and the clean yet detailed artwork just adds to the experience. Whether you've got a strong personal stance on the moral implications of marrying the dead and leaving babies at the hospital, or simply want to read some creepy stories about the people who have to deal with such things, one fact holds true: the folks at Kurosagi always deliver.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ A fine trio of stories in the classic supernatural vein, with meticulous plotting, great characters, and a flawless visual style.
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