Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Volume 1 (DH edition) – Eiji Ōtsuka

4 out of 5

Collecting the first three volumes of the series (maintaining the individual page count for each so the sound effect annotations didn’t have to be rejiggered), Kurosagi Corpse Devlivery Service Omnibus 1 is an ideal way to test the waters, as it gets you past the bumpy, kitschy, procedural first tankobon and into the much more satisfying modes of the following two books – wherein all the chapters comprise one story (book 2), or the chapter length is increased to allow for a bit more nuance (book 3).  Housui Yamazaki’s art is amazing throughout, depicting cluttered scenes (always 3 to 5 characters) and complex settings with a clean, emotive style, and the translation (Toshifumi Yoshida) is solid, with those sound effect annotations (by Carl Gustav Horn) a big boom since Eiji uses them a lot, and translating in-page or in the gutters would have been way distracting, not to mention the extra contextual notes in the annotations.  Dark Horse’s binding and design is also impressive, maintaining most of the unique design elements from the original without compromising on the book’s portability – it’s quite light weight – or durability, pages fully readable without having to fuss with the big-ass spine.

The book is billed as horror (by Dark Horse, anyway), and there’s plenty of blood and guts, but it’s more like a zombiefied X-Files: five students band together to help corpses find their final resting place, spinning it into a business – that humorously everyone seems to know about, despite their attempts to keep it secret – by procuring “payment” for their services by some means from the recently departed.

Wait… what?

Part of the roughness to the first book – or maybe not, if you’re used to swallowing your manga concepts without question – is that Eiji jumps right into things without blinking, or without having any of his characters blink about it either.  There’s Ao Sasaki, a “hacker,” whose research skills help them figure out where bodies should go; Keiko Makino, a practitioner of mortuary sciences; Yuji Yata, whose puppet, Kere Ellis, he claims to be channeling an alien; Makoto Numata, who can dowse for dead bodies; and Kuro Karatsu, who can speak for the dead.  Ah, right, it’s that last one that makes this is all possible, as he lays hands on the corpse and gets a broken message about where they want to go.

Do you see an imbalance there?  It opens up plenty of questions as to the other team members uses besides assists with toting the bodies around, as it really boils down to Numata locating a corpse, Karatsu speaking for it, Sasaki hacking into personal records, and then they deliver it.  And as it seems that Numata has no special skills related to the dowsing (the tool he uses, a cross attached to string attached to a ring, works without his involvement), it’s really curious what everyone else is doing here besides acting out needed roles in an oddball bunch.

Which doesn’t much seem like a four star summary.  Indeed, book one falls prey to this criticism, trying too hard to include everyone, made all the more obvious by its short, Scooby Doo-unmasking chapters and sticking to more “traditional” shock subject matter like the suicide forest and Guinea Pig-esque killers.  It’s not un-entertaining, but it’s the least effective use of the concept.

By book 2, though, the routine feels more settled, and it’s for the best.  Kurosagi is presented as a job instead of a mystery solving crew; there’s still really no justification for its existence beyond that these kids apparently can’t find other employment, but this is a more pragmatic approach that fits the book’s somewhat laid back demeanor, and allows us to settle in for the full length curiosity of a funeral rite in which people are resurrected – that Kurosagi gets involved with after mixing up some bodies.  The characters develop a wonderfully endearing patter, and Eiji stops trying to shove everyone into the frame, mostly focusing on Numata and Karatsu, with cuts to Sasaki doing her research.

Book 3 gets even more fun.  We’re back to single chapter “deliveries,” but they’re longer and much more complex and original, making for a really satisfying page-turning reading experience, not necessarily because you can’t wait for what happens, but because you’re so enjoying your time with the characters that you want more.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service takes a book to find its footing, but once it does, it’s a very addictive read.