Spooktoberfest Special: The Relatively Serious Review of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service v.1
As I've mentioned before in my inexplicably cowboy-themed manga reviews, my tastes in Japanese comics tend to fit into two pretty narrow categories--Screwball Comedy (like Yotsuba&! and the absolutely essential Cromartie High School) and, well, Gunsmith Cats--but the solicitation for Housui Yamazaki's Mail caught my eye a few months back with the (apparent) promise of a guy fighting ghosts with a gun named "The Tool Between God and Earth."
Along with writer Eiji Otsuka--not to be confused with Hiroki Otsuka, Chuck Austen's collaborator on Boys of Summer--Yamazaki also does the art for Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, which came out last week from Dark Horse Manga. I picked it up a few days ago out of curiosity, and I'm happy to report that it is awesome.
I'll admit, aside from Hellboy and BPRD, I'm no big fan of horror comics. I've got a healthy respect for EC and the way they were astoundingly ahead of their time, and I'll be the first to sing the praises of guys like Jack Davis and Wally Wood, but the stories themselves--even the ones with disembodied floating heads--tend to do absolutely nothing for me, and the same goes for the vast majority of the modern stuff, too. Kurosagi, however, is a different matter entirely; right from the extremely well-done packaging of the trade paperback, it's thoroughly enjoyable.
It's got a great premise: Looking for a way to earn volunteer credits so that he can graduate, Buddhist University student Kuro Karatsu falls in with Ao Sasaki, who has the rather morbid pastime of photographing dead bodies and selling the pictures in her corpse-themed chat room. Even better, she's got a whole crew, from resident Wolverine simulacrum Namata, who can locate corpses by dowsing with a pendulum, to Makino, a perky young mortician who studied embalming during her year abroad to the good ol' US of A, with Yata and his Puppet, through which he claims to channel channel the bitter, sarcastic, and remarkably helpful voices of aliens. Clearly, when your most sensible protagonist runs an IRC channel for necrophiliacs, you've got to go in a bit of a different direction to establish "the weird one."
Kuro's got a special talent as well: By touching a corpse, he speaks with the souls left behind in them, and while that's a relatively static visual, it comes with its own set of problems that are used phenomenally well in the third story when he comes across a Frankenstein's Monster-esque body stitched together from five separate murder victims, each of which desiring something different before the souls can move on.
And that's what the group--rechristened the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service--starts to do: Locating the forgotten corpses, essentially stealing them from the police, and using their talents to help them move on by achieving their goals, whether it's vengeance, or, as in the second story of an old woman who sacrificed her life so her family wouldn't go hungry, just to end up somewhere she belongs.
Although honestly? Three out of four times, it's totally vengeance.
And that's where the great horror aspect comes in. With a horrible crime to be avenged, there's always a horrible villain to encounter, and the potential for spookiness is only heightened by the fact that the people encountering said villain are also dragging around the corpse of one of his victims. As for the villains themselves, they're almost uniformly one-dimensional, but Otsuka and Yamazaki do a great job of setting them up as monsters, including my favorite from the fourth story, a sinister, almost faceless insurance salesman who meticulously plots out the probability of a fatal accident and murders his victims via seemingly random events.
The stories themselves are set into a tight, episodic formula, and while it doesn't leave a lot of room for characterization--Sasaki, for instance, only has one memorable scene after her introduction of the team when she casually solves a string of serial murders over lunch--but everyone in the story is distinct and quirky, and most of the work is done with Yamazaki's sharp visuals.
Namata, for instance, wears sunglasses, has a soul patch, and works his corpse-detecting magic through a ring with a demon's face on it, so it's not entirely unexpected when he jumps over a highway guardrail and punches through the windshield of a moving truck to question its drivers about the origins of a particular corpse. That does nothing, however, to mitigate the fact that it's badass.
The whole thing adds up to an excellent, well-packaged and, at times, genuinely terrifying story that is hands down--and I say this without my standard hyperbole--one of the best horror comics I've read in the past five years. It's excellent stuff, and since it came out last week, you should be able to find it at your local shop, or, if you're so inclined, it's also available on Amazon.
And for the record, it does have a zombie getting blasted with a shotgun. But trust me, you're gonna be rooting for the zombie on this one.