The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service [comic book series] / story, Eiji Otshuka ; art, Housui Yamazaki ; translation, Toshifumi Yoshida ; editor and English adaptation, Carl Gustav Horn ; lettering and touch-up, IHL.
Publication info. Milwaukie, Or. : Dark Horse, 2006- .
[MCL call number: GN OTSUKA; number of copies and holds vary for each volume]
As you no doubt know if you pay attention to popular culture, anyone who has a special, secret gift is in danger of finding himself starring in a comic book. It’s just one of those things.
Kuro Karatsu is a relatively uninspired student at a Buddhist university who is in need of a job. While looking at the university career center’s bulletin board, he hooks up with a group of fellow students who volunteer to chant prayers for the dead. Of course, it turns out they all have unusual abilities that combine to make them especially suited to the work of moving dead bodies around so that their restless spirits can find peace before shuffling off to the afterlife.
Karatsu’s secret turns out to be an uncanny ability to communicate with the recently dead, if he touches them. The rest of the crew have interesting talents as well: Numata is a dowser — only instead of locating water underground, he zeroes in on hidden dead bodies. Sasaki is a computer hacker who makes small change selling pictures of dead bodies on the internet. Makino spent some time studying abroad and learned the embalming trade (rare in Japan, where most people are cremated), and Yata channels a perky alien through a vaguely fish-shaped hand puppet.
In the first episode, Karatsu and his comrades attempt to reunite a suicide victim with his lover, who has also killed herself. They find that the work is both fulfilling and lucrative, and so their de facto mastermind, Sasaki, sets them up as a business concern: Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, “your body is their business!” And more adventures ensue in good time. The story is told with a light hand, and even though many of the details are grim, the overall feeling of the comic is upbeat. It is definitely low-impact reading, but I found it just weird and charming enough to hold my interest.
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The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is translated from the Japanese, but in a way, it is not completely translated. Comics are a visual medium, and since one of the systems for writing the Japanese language is in vertical lines, read right to left (the other way is written just like English), the panels of the comic are laid out accordingly — right to left, top to bottom. The book’s front cover has the spine on the right side to accommodate this. I found it fairly simple to acclimate myself to the visual structure (maybe I’m used to being confused; I often have trouble figuring out which panel comes next in comics that were composed in English), but it did feel weird at first.
In any case, don’t worry: if you open the book backwards, you will find a helpful set of manga-reading instructions inserted by the U.S. publishers. The back of the book also contains an explanation of the history of the different Japanese writing systems and their use in manga, and a very thorough and helpful glossary to sound effects (which are mostly written in the text in Japanese, outside the word bubbles). There readers will find, among other things, that “batan” is the sound of a headless body hitting the floor; and that when Yata’s puppet’s mouth flaps it makes the noise “paku paku,” which is the sound that the video game Pac-Man is named for.
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