November 28, 2009

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Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 1

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Illustrated by Housui Yamazaki
Dark Horse

I read all three volumes of Yamazaki's great series Mail before starting this series, which has some links to Mail. It came pretty highly recommended for those who like horror manga, of which I am a fan.

If you can imagine the idea of the Scooby Doo gang having mystical powers and chasing after dead people instead of phantom ghosts, you'll have a bit of the of the Corpse Delivery service.

A campus volunteer group is reorganized to utilize the talents of a mediocre buddhist who can speak to the dead, a water witch who can only find corpses, an embalmer in a country where it's rare, and even a man who claims to channel aliens via a puppet. Rather than just bury the unwanted dead--they're going to seek out the dead who need a little extra closure.

The setup is a bit clunky, but that seems to be a common theme with first chapters in manga. One things get rolling, the team is up to their arms in creepy cases that see them dealing with incestuous parents, serial killer service workers, and a man carrying on an ancient tradition in a most unorthodox way. Heck, you even get a bit of mathematical theory--try finding that in your average horror story!

Otsuka's plots are very well done, giving the right balance of humour, suspense, and gore for the stories he is trying to tell. Each character gets their own voice as well, which is hard to do with an ensemble cast. The main focus is on Kuro Karatsu, because of the nature of his power. Being able to talk to the dead in a way that's actually interesting, Kuro can tell the rest of the team what a dead body wishes from them. However, the rest of the team gets their fair share of time, adding quirky comments or comic relief, depending on the need. Otsuka also has a nice sense for dark comedy, giving even the dead or the criminal some good one-liners.

But the real key to the success of this is Yamazaki's art. As with Mail, he has the ability to alternate between perfectly normal scenes and terrifying horror, yet manages to make it work without being all gory. There are long-dead corpses, mutilated bodies, and almost zombified creatures running around, and all of them are rendered perfectly by Yamazaki. He also does a really nice job with the little tricks, such as eye rolls or posture. A lot of the material works because of the combination of a good script and well-drawn art.

If you like the idea of an oddball cast getting together and solving macabre cases, give this a try. I know I will be back for volume two to see where Otsuka and Yamakazi take us next.