Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 17th 2008
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
The five psychic-powered twentysomethings of the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service offer a unique service: communicating with the dead and carrying out their final wishes. What they never expected, however, is that other firms might start offering the same service! With the privatization of the post office system in Japan, the Kurosagi gang suddenly finds itself competing with corpse-collecting postal workers. Then they run into the Shirosagi Corpse Cleaning Service, whose specialty involves removing any trace of carnage from a death scene. One such death scene turns out to be Kurosagi's latest mystery: a daughter raised in bizarre conditions, who watched her mother die in her own apartment ... could these unexplained deaths be connected to the rival company? In fact, could it be connected to circumstances from a century ago?
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service may be a shining jewel in the supernatural genre, but even this masterful series has its off-days. Volume 6 is one such disappointment, with awkward plotting that seems to go all over the place. The first chapter is a stand-alone, the next three stumble from cliffhanger to cliffhanger in search of direction, and the last two turn out to be a Meiji-era side story. Where the heck are we going with this, people? There are still plenty of strong points to the series, from the clean and flawless artwork to the delightfully quirky characters, but it seems that the arrival of competing business has thrown the storyline into disarray.
The first chapter is really the only one that holds up well in this volume—a 60-page murder-mystery with a clever twist, some comedic asides, and a sprinkling of political satire (good job, Koizumi, now look what you've done to the postal system). After that, however, the plot gradually starts to lose control of itself. Chapter 2 is still pretty decent, with its haunted-apartment storyline in the classic horror vein, but then it ties in to Chapter 3, where the Kurosagi agency tries to solve the mystery that they've just discovered, which leads to a highly improbable revelation that becomes the start of Chapter 4, and that ends on an incomprehensible and highly unsatisfying cliffhanger. So what do they do to resolve that? Switch over to a Holmes-and-Watson-style side story that doesn't explain anything! Granted, the side story is a highly engrossing mystery, with a definite connection to the main plotline, but it sure feels like a waste of one-third of a volume when all we wanted to know was what happened to the people who died in that apartment.
All right, so the story's kind of gone off the rails. Fortunately, the characters, atmosphere and pacing are still top-notch, and solving a mystery with the Kurosagi gang is like hanging out with a group of your coolest friends. This time around, goatee-sporting psychic Numata takes center stage, and his bizarre attachment to the corpse that the group has nicknamed "Tenko-chan of the Ceiling" is nothing short of endearing. It's this kind of black humor that makes the series stand out—sure, the main characters deal in matters of the dead (and undead), but they treat it like any regular day job, which means lots of oddball chatter. This helps to balance out the series' more serious moments, of which there are plenty: rotting corpses, bodies cut open, cremations gone awry—Eiji Otsuka's sense of the macabre is certainly one thing that makes fans keep coming back for more.
And the other thing that makes fans keep coming back? Housui Yamazaki's unflinching artwork, which puts all the gory details on display. This is the kind of artist who doesn't need blood splatters or savage linework or screentone effects—his clean, clinical style is all that's needed to show the harsh reality of death, with guts and flesh and maggots showing. But enough of this stomach-churning talk—the character and background art is also just as precise and detailed, and for once we have a manga-ka who can actually illustrate people of different ages and body types. The layouts, too, go for a clean look with their perfectly walled-off rectangular panels; it may seem lacking in variety, but by changing the size and positioning of each panel, Yamazaki is able to set up plenty of dramatic moments and shocking reveals.
In addition to sharply drawn art, this volume also comes with sharply written dialogue, thanks to one of the best translation staffs in the business. (Besides, anything Carl Horn works on automatically turns into gold.) The text of Kurosagi brings out each character's personality clearly, often with a touch of humor—if there is any complaint to be had, it's that the script sometimes goes overboard with the wit and colloquialisms, like there's some quota to be met on smartypants banter. The translation notes in the back of the book are also wondrously comprehensive: every sound effect is explained in the glossary (although flipping back and forth is obviously an inconvenient way to read), and the finer points of Japanese culture—both modern and historical—are discussed in depth as well. The strong binding and unique cover design also make this a volume worth collecting.
The things that make The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service great are still to be found in this volume: supernatural mysteries, twist endings, dark humor, and striking artwork. Unfortunately, that greatness is diminished by the story arc in the middle chapters, which piles on twist after twist with no resolution in sight, and then leaves off in the most unsatisfying place possible while a side story takes over. It's true that the side story still has some relevance to the main arc, but cutting in front of a major cliffhanger is probably not the best place to put it. That said, this series is still better than 85% of all other supernatural titles even on its off-days, and that's a good enough reason to read it.
Overall : B-
Story : C
Art : A-
+ Engrossing mysteries, witty characters and detailed renderings of the macabre continue to make this a top-notch series.
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