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The supernatural sleuths of the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service continue to uncover mysteries from beyond, although it's still hard getting paid, as most of their clients are already dead. This time, a homeless man's kidney leads them to a shady organ-harvesting business—a black market so widespread that it even has implications in the U.S.-Iraq war (both of them). Closer to home is the mystery of why certain graffiti marks around town keep leading to murdered people, and a string of suicides that seems to center on a certain train station. Now spirit medium Karatsu and his friends must figure out the causes of death, with little more than corpses, body parts, and a bit of sixth sense to guide them.
Here's the next great Hollywood idea: produce an American TV remake of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, with a group of post-college slackers communicating with the dead and solving mysterious deaths, and call it CSI: Afterlife. Summarized in that form, it's easy to see what makes the manga so appealing. The logical preciseness of a police procedural, combined with classic themes of beyond-the-grave spirituality—it's like the ultimate genre hit boiled down to a single equation. Yet Kurosagi is far from formulaic, and it often takes unexpected detours of plot that lead to conclusions even more bizarre than the deaths in the first place. Sometimes these detours go in wrong directions, causing the story to fall short—but other times they make great brain training, especially if graffiti cryptography or musical psychology pique your interest. So why not hang out with the Kurosagi gang and see where they take you?
Unfortunately, the first two chapters in this volume turn out to be one of those wrong-way detours, starting out strong but getting lost in its own plot and message. The international black market for body organs is always good for gore and intrigue, but when it drags the Iraqi-American conflict into the picture, it looks like Eiji Otsuka has written himself into a topical corner with no easy way out. Is he trying to say something about the plight of Iraqis? The Japanese involvement with America in the war? Or did he simply come up with a plot device that turned out more complicated than it needed to be? This lumbering story arc eats up half a volume before finally ending with an inconclusive whimper, suggesting that the idea was one best left abandoned.
The remaining two stories in the book—one chapter each—are much more effective, staying close to home and keeping it compact. The mystery of the murderous graffiti is pure code-breaking bliss, infused with an urban-legend feel, as the boys on the Kurosagi team try to unravel the secrets of the street. Meanwhile, the final chapter is less of a nerd's paradise, but still hits on a haunting idea—the idea that a certain piece of music might drive someone to suicide. Add some fear, suspense, and the requisite puzzle-solving element, and what you get is another slickly executed tale of the macabre.
With such smart plotting going on, however, the characters fade ever further into the background; right now they seem more like puppets with special abilities rather than actual people. (Of course, one of them actually HAS a puppet...) Even hacker Sakaki, who played a central role in Vol. 2, has reverted to just another member of the team. Although the main characters have their moments of quirk and comedy, there's little to suggest that we'll be learning much about them in this volume or volumes to come.
Artist Housui Yamazaki must be excited to see two of his works released by the same company on almost the exact same schedule—but for those who have trouble differentiating this from his solo effort, Mail, one only need to remember that Kurosagi has cleverer writing. No matter which series he works on, though, Yamazaki's art always carries a draftsman's precision, going with equal confidence into the realms of the disturbing (especially with dismembered bodies) and the realms of the funny (Yata's foul-mouthed sock puppet). A varied sense of character design helps to tell people apart, and the clean, lightly hatched style always makes the scenes easy to read. Backgrounds are rendered in high detail, providing a strong suburban setting, and the rectangular layouts are at their best when they go full-page for the climactic action or horror shot.
Once again Dark Horse proves themselves as a top-tier publisher with the production values on this volume. The translation is all about getting it right in English, with a strong conversational flow and a fair share of smart, sarcastic quips between characters. Sound effects are left alone, and the only translation you'll find for them is in the back, along with an unnecessarily wordy explanation of how Japanese writing works. However, the glossary also provides cultural and contextual notes, where fans can learn surprisingly deep facts like the Iraq war's impact on Japan and where the artist is hiding all his little in-jokes. Yamazaki's precise artwork comes out beautifully on high-grade ink and paper, and the brown cardboard covers give each volume a unique look and feel that's hard to miss on the shelves.
In a world of sword-wielding soul hunters and spellcasting priests and priestesses, the spiritualists of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service are a unique breed: heroes and heroines who get by mostly on their smarts. Communicating with the dead is still an essential part of the work, but it's simply a tool, not a weapon like most people would expect it to be. This latest installment of mind over macabre is not perfect, but a lot of it is still first-rate, with plenty of ideas drawing from all aspects of modern life. Perhaps the real surprise is not how many ways there are to die, but how creative people can get when it comes to crossing over.
Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A-
+ Another great collection of intricate supernatural mysteries, supported by clean, confident art.
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