The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, volume 1
Writer: Eiji Ohtsuka
Artist: Housui Yamazaki
By James D. Deaux IV
04 April 2007 — I was first informed of the existence of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service at Anime Weekend Atlanta last autumn. A Dark Horse editor was holding a panel on manga market trends and he showed those of us in attendance some upcoming releases. Immediately, when he described the plot of Kurosagi, I thought to myself, "That's brilliant!" Much like Death Note, Kurosagi's story made me wonder, "Why didn't I think of that?!" The manga details the daily lives of five students at a Buddhist university, each of whom possess a skill that helps them solve the mysteries of the dearly departed. When I finally managed to get a copy of the first volume, I was not disappointed. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service can best be described as a bizarre amalgamation of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Raines, with a smattering of Scooby-Doo here and there all wrapped up in an attractive Japanese manga shell.
There are five main characters, three males and two females. Kudo is a psychic who can communicate with the souls of the dead by touching their corpses. Numata is a dowser who finds bodies in much the same way farmers used a divining rod to search for water. Sasaki is the computer expert / hacker. Makino majored in embalming in college (even though most Japanese people are cremated), and operates as the medical examiner for the group. And Yata channels a mysterious voice (it's implied that it's an alien) that provides hints and insults to the group at will through a hand puppet. Together, they form the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, a club-of-sorts, at their university and become detectives in their own right.
Kurosagi means "black heron" in Japanese, which is apparently the characters' menacing answer to the white stork of Western culture that brings life. Their group, on the other hand, helps death to be "completed" by allowing the dead person with unfinished business finally rest in peace. Many times this involves them actually hauling the corpse all over Japan (in a box, no less) trying to find the answers they and the cadaver seek. They only seldom get paid for their work (after all, they are helping the dead), but they have to take what they can get given their individual skill sets are not of much use amongst the living (particularly in the cases of Makino and Yata). When they are compensated, however, it's normally something delightfully unexpected, such as a winning lottery ticket in the jacket pocket of the corpse. This clever plot device is one of my favorite little nuances in this book. If able, the dead person pays the group with whatever it can (i.e. jewelry, lottery tickets, premonitions, etc.) as recompense for helping them move on to the afterlife. That is the basic outline of each case: find a body, communicate with it, figure out who or what caused the person to die, let the corpse do what it needs to do to move on, repeat. And it works surprisingly well.
Though primarily a horror / mystery manga, it does have its comedic moments. Anytime Kudo has to lay a hand on a corpse, at least some sarcastic humor ensues. More often than not, however, the profanity-slinging, alien-channeling sock puppet is the source:
Yata: "It's a person who determines coverage and annuity premiums, reserves and dividends based on established patterns of risk."
Puppet: "Put simply — in deference to you — he carefully calculates just how much of a fuck-up you are, and then jacks up your insurance rates accordingly!"
Given the graphic and disturbing nature of this manga, these kinds of moments are unquestionably important to have interspersed in the book. Even people with the strongest of stomachs need a good chuckle after seeing some of the extremely gruesome things that occur all throughout.
Unlike the other manga I've read, this one was not among those that I finished within a couple of hours. I read it slowly over five days. The cases are too engrossing and complicated to just fly through. Skimming through would result in details /clues being overlooked. Housui Yamazaki's artwork ranges from routine (i.e. a normal, sunny afternoon at school) to the macabre (i.e. a gruesomely stitched-together body created from parts of over half a dozen different corpses). Both are equally well drawn, but are so different that one might wonder if the same artist can possibly be drawing all these scenes. The other remarkable feature about this book is the exceptionally long endnote section; you get a description / explanation of every sound effect used throughout the manga. And believe me, there are tons. These sound effects range from someone slurping noodles to a dead arm falling from a stretcher. It proves very useful in explaining things English-speaking readers would not understand at first glance.
Grade: 90/100 — Interesting and uniquely different characters, legitimately eerie plots, fantastically grotesque artwork, originality and a foulmouthed hand puppet. Just about everything you could ask for in a horror / mystery novel. Buy this book... that is, if you don't have a weak stomach.