January 23, 2010

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Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 2

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Illustrated by Housui Yamazaki
Dark Horse

Dark Horse's manga has been a pretty reliable source of enjoyable stories for me, and I was happy to move from Mail to Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, even if I found that I liked the former a bit better than the latter.

That's still the case but Otsuka shows his writing chops with this compelling, entire-volume story that threatens to tear the group apart before they've really had a chance to stay together!

The Delivery Service falls on hard times, and one of its staff members opts to pick up work at a funeral home that runs a rather fascinating side business using a girl who might just be even better at working with the dead than the Delivery Service! Meanwhile, Makoto and Kuro start taking on jobs for free and Ao seems to withdraw further into herself as her tragic family history comes to light, bit by bit. On top of everything else, that same funeral home wants to merge with the Delivery Service. It's an offer that just might be perfect, but with the team splintering into factions, does anyone care enough to investigate the offer?

These seemingly disparate paths are weaved together by Otsuka into a climax that's as surprising as it is logical, based on all that came before in the story. As the reader turns the pages, the plot twists and turns but never breaks, and in the end, almost the entire Delivery Service crew is needed to solve the crime. It's put together quite beautifully, and is worth the read just for that fact alone, though there's plenty more to like about it.

More than most manga I've read lately, this story had the feel of an American comic series, with the concept of a "story arc" dominating the flow. It's not that other manga don't hold one story across a single--or perhaps several--volumes. That's certainly the case. However, this volume of Kurosagi that reminded me of the days when Marvel would announce "The beginning of a great six-part story!" in the days when they did that within an ongoing title instead of a plethora of minis. We set up a problem for the team, they moved on separate paths, and came together at just the right moment to save the day, or at least as close as you get to saving the day when corpses are involved.

I'd also wager that Otsuka was reading quite a few well crafted mysteries before starting on the plot to this one. In addition to having the typical horrific elements that I expect from the series (even at this early date), there is a very tight story running through the pages. Despite initial appearances, everything is not at it seems, and Otsuka ties the knot closer as the story progresses. Little details that almost (but not quite) seem like throwaways begin to nudge at the edge of the reader's brain, as in any good mystery story.

I also like how Otsuka split the traditional detective part into the various members of the group. Yuji is the patsy, Ao looks to buy into the shady deals offered to her, Kuro gets a hunch and just can't let it go, and Makoto takes on the role of the sidekick to the gumshoe. It's a neat idea that uses the ensemble cast within a usually singular framework.

By the time we reach the ending, I felt that Otsuka had played fair with me the entire time and that the characters acted in a logical manner based on the facts presented to them. Even Ao's strange behavior clicks into place, which was the one piece that didn't add up until almost the very end.

Those who enjoyed the creepy elements of the first volume should still find plenty to keep them going. There's zombie cats and talking corpses and oozing body parts, all drawn with perfect skill by Yamazaki, who continues to impress me with his ability to tell a horror story without resorting to buckets of blood. However, a lot of the scare factor this time is in the psychological nature of the horror and the idea of what people are willing to do in the name of vengeance.

It's a story of liberation in some ways, and the ending definitely showed that the author and I have very different ideas on the concept of justice. I can't say I agree with some of what is implicitly condoned in the book, but that doesn't mean I didn't think it was a great story. (I love old noir authors like Raymond Chandler, but I certainly don't advocate the way he treats women in his stories.) I'm just glad that this is a fictional world, and that Otsuka doesn't have control over the criminal justice system, and we'll leave it at that.

I already mentioned Yamazaki's artwork in relation to horror, but I also want to point out his chops in telling the story itself. He has the ability to keep the narrative going, even when there is some down time as Otsuka sets the stage for bigger things. I also love the way he poses his characters when they are ready to make a big announcement. They always look so self-assured regardless of the situation, both in this series and in Mail. It's a nice touch that I appreciate.

If there's a problem with the art, it's that Yamazaki seems to have the Vertigo sickness in relation to his drawing of women. There are several gratuitous shots of women's breasts, including a primary character, that aren't necessary in relation to the story. I don't object to naked characters per se, I just think it should be there for a good reason, and I wasn't able to find one here, especially Ao's topless shot. I wonder if that has something to do with the original location of the story? Can someone with better knowledge of the original clue me in?

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a very solid adult-oriented manga series that works both as short stories and in long form, as we see in this volume. There's a nice mix of horror and mystery that attracts me on both levels and they get just about equal treatment here. I'll be curious to see if future volumes continue in the single-story format or if they return to episodic pieces. Either way, I'll be looking forward to my next delivery.