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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds good- I'll look into it. Thanks for the recommendation, good sir!

Speaking as a huge fan of horror comics, manga is frustrating because I don't doubt that there's a lot of good stuff out there, but there's just so much of it that finding what interests you is very, very hard.

10/04/2006 1:11 AM

Blogger jblackstone said...

Mangas are a lot like North American comic books, except they all look the same, and their totally stupid.

Most of them are either about vampires, robots, or children fighting vampire robots with angst.

10/04/2006 2:31 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw this at the local book store and despite being interested by the cover (one of the best manga covers I've seen in...well, ever.), I didn't end up picking it up. I'll have to go back and fix it.

I'm also hoping the comment above mine is truly sarcastic, or else I will just explode. Literally. There will be nothing of me but ashes and a pair of socks.

10/04/2006 4:05 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patrick could try typing "horror manga" into google? I ended up with http://www.justmanga.com/cat-horror.cfm for example.

*ignores troll jordan*

word verification: ughgol

10/04/2006 8:15 AM

Blogger Phil Looney said...

That Gunsmith Cats Omnibus is even more ridiculously cheap on Amazon. It is taking every ounce of loyalty to my LCS to not buy it from Amazon.

10/04/2006 9:15 AM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Oh, don't mind Skip. He's a Transformers fan.

10/04/2006 9:19 AM

Blogger Kevin Church said...

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service freaked me right the hell out, which very few horror features can do.

Good review, Sims. Saved me the work.

10/04/2006 10:18 AM

Blogger Brandon Bragg said...


10/04/2006 6:01 PM

Blogger jblackstone said...

"Oh, don't mind Skip. He's a Transformers fan."

Says the "guy" who reads "Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane".

Tell me Chris, what's it like to be a pre-pubescent girl?

10/04/2006 6:44 PM

Blogger jblackstone said...

"There will be nothing of me but ashes and a pair of socks."

Then stop being suck a flipping drama queen and do it you wuss! I dare you!

10/04/2006 7:02 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Tell me Chris, what's it like to be a pre-pubescent girl?

If I thought you could handle being away from your Bumblebee/Jetfire erotic fan-fiction for long enough to actually talk to a female, I'd tell you to ask one yourself.

But I don't, so: Just fine, thanks!

10/04/2006 8:46 PM

Blogger jblackstone said...

Bah! Go back to writing you're gay poems about Matt Trakker and writing "Mrs. Chris Trakker" in your diary. At least I don't read girl comics.

10/04/2006 9:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, did Chris just admit to being a little girl or what? I just got here.

And I don't think one comic nerd really has the right to judge another comic book nerd's lady issues, Chris.

10/04/2006 9:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude, I was almost with you on this one, until you bashed Transformers. There is nothing gay about Transformers, espically the Dinobots. They were certainly better some Japanese comic (and face it, Manga is either pornographic, dull, or totally stupid). Yes, I've read tons of Manga, and I feel comfortable categorizing it like that. I've never had a manga recommended to me and not be disappointed to me afterwords.

And you're one to talk abou taste. You're the guy who pays money for issues of "Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose."

10/04/2006 10:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, where did all the trolls come from?

10/04/2006 11:21 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Wow, a crack about Tarot. That's new.

To be fair, I didn't actually bash the Transformers. I just bashed the fans, and, well, that seems to be supported pretty well by the evidence at hand.

Now then, I'm off to plan my wedding to Matt Trakker. If only I were old enough!

10/04/2006 11:24 PM

Blogger Phil Looney said...

>>Manga is either pornographic, dull, or totally stupid

You've obviously never been exposed to the awesome of Cromartie High School.

Seriously, lumping Manga into that sort of box is as ignorant as people who don't read comics saying to you something like "oh, they still make those?" or "aren't you too old to be reading comics?"

10/04/2006 11:26 PM

Blogger Mark W. Hale said...

Or "aren't you too old to be playing with little plastic robot dolls?"

10/04/2006 11:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who likes both Transformers and Manga (in fact, if it weren't for Transformers I wouldn't have gotten into Japanese culture in the first place), I an disgusted and appalled by all involved parties. Where do we get by insulting each other's fandom? What what does one geek have to bash another geek's hobby and/or pastime? Fandom should not divide us, it should unite us.

10/05/2006 1:49 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My God, it's full of nerds."--Dave Bowman on this comment section.

And to be fair, I'd say Transformers fans are actually more adjusted to the real world then all those fucking Otakus. Lord know most Transformers fans don't Cosplay or write bad fanfiction.

10/05/2006 1:58 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What what does one geek have to bash another geek's hobby and/or pastime? Fandom should not divide us, it should unite us."

Amen, man, amen. There are comics fans who are also manga fans. The two are not mutually exclusive.

My final word on the subject will be to point out that the Transformers actually, you know, come from Japan. I think that brings things full circle.

10/05/2006 2:42 AM

Blogger Alicia said...

Hilariously, a lot of Japanese fans seem to view Transformers as basically American, because it resulted from an attempt to re-release old Japanese toys in North America. Also all the "good" series are produced by North American principle creators, while most of the Japanese-produced series are held to be generally crappy and inferior. By Japanese people!

I don't know what this means, really, but there you go.

10/05/2006 6:00 AM

Blogger David Campbell said...

We share the same trolls now, Chris! I feel even closer to you.

10/05/2006 11:30 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to like Transformers, but I gave it up, mostly because of the Skip Jordans of the world.

Say, I'm surprised that nobody noticed this little inconsistency. Skip likes robots, right? But look at this:

"Mangas are a lot like North American comic books, except they all look the same, and their totally stupid.

Most of them are either about vampires, [b]robots[/b]...."

So you like robots, but "their totally stupid." Poor Skippy... he's conflicted.

Oh, and a comic about children fighting vampire robots with angst? I would totally buy that. "Their most powerful weapon was... their ANGST!" I mean, come on, it's X-Men... with vampire robots! A kid who can whine loud enough to destroy a vampire robot = teh fricken awesome. (In the wrong way, of course.)

(Yeah, I know that's probably not what he meant, but openly picking on spelling and grammar errors is kinda passe right now, don'tcha think?)

10/24/2006 6:51 AM


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