March 14, 2010

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Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 4

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Illustrated by Housui Yamazaki
Dark Horse

The team goes international (and also intergalactic) in this volume of the continuing series, as they take on jobs that involve everything from crop circles to controversial exhibits to snails. Watch as they try to contact alien life forms and get an assist from a busty American farm girl who has an unhealthy obsession with bugs.

We even get a visitor that makes sense, as Reiji Akiba stalks the team as their cases cross paths. From Japan's own Area 51 to suicidal humans, if there's a corpse, there must be a delivery, and our team is here to do it!

Continuing with the the set of short stories that reference each other without being entirely linked, Otsuka puts together four tales that are definitely among the best I've read so far. Adding aliens to the mix gave us a chance to have a light-hearted romp before moving into the more serious crimes of the next two chapters and using a force of nature as the villain in the final story was a nice touch (and, I think, a nod to the great horror manga Uzumaki).

As soon as I started reading the second chapter, I knew where Otsuka was going with the story. You may recall the controversy over the display of bodies that were supposedly volunteer specimens but had suspect backgrounds. It's the perfect background for a plot involving a team that can talk to the dead, and it even gave Otsuka the dual ability to move the team out of Tokyo for a bit and make commentary about a shameful part of Japan's past. (Best of all, he manages to do this in a way that doesn't throw the reader entirely out of the story, as the discussion is in-character for the team.)

I also think there's been a great improvement in balancing the cast, which is funny because this trade adds characters. Everyone gets screen time and takes part in the adventure. I do wish Makino was a bit more than bait, but at least her skills are utilized more. This was by far the most we've seen everyone in action, another sign that Otsuka's writing is reaching prime form in this collection.

By this point in time, the series has matured enough to reference things about themselves in a way that doesn't feel forced. They joke about their own never-ending quest for money, make a few comments about manga, and even quip about the character design of Makino. It's always a good sign when a series is not trying to take itself too seriously, and these little moments help keep Kurosagi's feel light, despite the horrific events going on in the pages.

The continued use of the social worker and the inclusion of Reina and Akiba (even if just for this volume) expand the world just enough to prevent us from getting stale or needing Sasaki to magically gather everything from the internet. The idea that Reina inhabits this world, along with the creepy vengeance funeral home from earlier builds up an entire world of the supernatural that doesn't just begin and end with the team.

Plus, there's another factor to consider. As more and more people start to know the strange powers of Karatsu in particular, how much longer can they operate under the radar. In this trade alone, they steal bodies, cover up a murder of an infant, and that's saying nothing about the whole alien thing. At some point, they're going to grow too notable to be ignored. When Otsuka gets around to that concept, it's sure to make for an interesting story arc or two.

I really like Yamazaki's artwork, as I've mentioned from reviews of this series and also Mail. He's in fine form here, blending the natural world with the gore the team often encounters. Walking corpses split in half look like they belong, as do snail monsters and even dead soviet monkeys. His line art is crisp and portrays the horror without piling on the extreme scenes of blood that another artist may have tried. His look is perfect for the series.

Yamazaki also draws a bit sexier with each volume, which also shows off his ability as an artist. Akiba is still attractive, despite being a total stereotype of an American farm girl off at college. I'm not sure why he opts to draw the team in clothing that might better serve a gang on the street, but the details in their dress are as exacting as everything else. Even the crowd shots are better drawn this time than last volume.

It must have been fun for Yamazaki to include his character from Mail in this trade, and my only regret is that his signature Rod Serling narration wasn't present. I'd have loved to have seen how he introduced the Delivery Service crew. Perhaps another time? Reina seemed rather intrigued with Karatsu and the spirit haunting him, and doesn't strike me as the type to leave anything spiritual rest without it being at the end of a bullet. This is yet another storyline that can be picked up, showing how much material there is left to mine from the characters.

Kurosagi Corpse delivery service is still as fresh as it was in the first volume. In fact, if anything, the larger supporting cast and ever-increasing abilities of Karatsu and Numata show Otsuka and Yamazaki hitting their stride. I am a big fan of this series, and I recommend it to anyone who wants both a good read and a solid supernatural setting. Anyone who picks this up because of the link to Mail should definitely go back and read the rest. You'll be glad you did.