This post is written for the August 2012 Manga Moveable Feast hosted by Eeeper’s Choice Podcast. This month’s featured title is Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, written by Eiji Otsuka and with art by Housui Yamazaki. If you’d like to participate, more information is available at the Call for Participation post or in the Google group.
On U.S. television, there are a handful of shows that have the same ubiquity as the Law and Order franchise. I have a feeling that at any time of the day, at least one channel is airing an episode of this popular procedural drama. I know I’ve definitely found myself, suffering from a bout of insomnia (or jetlag), turning on the tv and mindlessly tuning on to that episode’s case du jour. I’m truthfully not a big fan of the show(s), but over the years, watching all those episodes has given me enough of a familiarity with the characters and the universe that I can just watch any random episode, in any order, and still enjoy viewing it.
That experience is similar to my first experience in reading Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. In preparation for this MMF, I requested the first three volumes from the New York Public Library two weeks ago. Volume 2-3 arrived first; I waited for a few more days for volume 1 to come in, but it took longer for them to find the copy within the system. I’m impatient so I went right into volume 2, figuring I can always re-read the books in the correct order later.
I actually think that was my best possible introduction to the series. The story arc which begins in the 2nd volume was incredibly compelling — I don’t think I moved off my chair the entire time I was reading it. I didn’t dare look away, fearing that I’ll miss out on something if I even blinked. I think I understand what reviewers mean when they call something “an edge of your seat thriller.”
Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a manga that will seem familiar to the fans of procedural dramas, yet it adds with its own twist on the genre that illustrates that it’s not just the same old usual thing.
Getting the Basic Ingredients Together
Thought Catalog lists the essential elements that go into making a good procedural story:
- a dynamic and original lead character with an interesting quirk
- a supporting cast made up of characters having with one specific trait to help the lead
- a love interest with whom the lead will have regular and “sexually exciting” arguments
Kuro Kuratsu is our reluctant lead character, a recent graduate of a Buddhist university. He and his group of friends are mostly unemployable, so they band together and use their unique talents to form a company called the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Why corpse delivery? Because Kuratsu and his friends all have skillsets that work best in dealing with their clients, that is, the dead.
Kuratsu is an itako, a shaman with the ability to communicate with the dead. Upon touching a corpse, he can channel their last thoughts and find out if they have any last request that they could not accomplish before their death. His skill is so attuned that he could hear the voices of the dead from a burial ground or even from a dismembered body part.
Rounding out the rest of the Service are: Numata, a dowser who can locate dead bodies (most of the time); Makino, a American-educated embalmer; Sasaki, a hacker and information specialist; and Yata, who is able to speak an alien being, in the form of a hand puppet, on his left hand. In the first volume, Sasaki seems to have gotten them all together to volunteer to chant Buddhist sutras at Aokigahara forest, a site infamous among those who wish to commit suicide. Sasaki’s intelligence is pretty amazing in that she was aware of each of this motley crew’s unique talents and find a way to form a money-making venture out of it.
The Dead Were People, Too
The KCDS’s clients are not all victims of a crime; one committed suicide, one was executed, another died of starvation and neglect, and a few were accidental deaths. In all, Kuratsu takes his role as their mouthpiece and last executor very solemnly. He does remind the readers that “in the middle of the world’s shit, he is a holy man.” He often takes the extra effort to find the dead person’s families, even if it means heading out to the Iraqi war zone (chapter 13: applause). Even as a Buddhist priest, taught to let go of the attachments of this earthly plane in order to reach nirvana, Kuratsu understands that for most people, the hold of life and loved ones remain beyond death.
It is this sensitive treatment of the dead that kept me reading past one volume. In most fictionalized accounts, whether procedural drama or true crime fiction or otherwise, the dead persons are secondary to the ‘perps;’ after all, they’re already dead and it’s more important to find the person who committed the heinous act and get justice. In KCDS, the focus is what the client wants, even if it means merely being buried in a specific place or apologizing for their crime.
However, I’m not forgetting that KCDS is written to be a horror story. In the author’s afterword in volume 2, Eiji Otsuka bemoans how popular culture has desensitized us to the idea of the walking dead, “zombies are such a normal sight in movies and video games,” and Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service came out of his wish to write “an orthodox horror story.” I don’t think he has anything to worry about there; I was glad that I read volume 2 in the daytime — I feel that I would’ve been really creeped out and unable to sleep otherwise.
I’m pretty squeamish, so if you’re like me, be aware that KCDS doesn’t hold back on the horrific and the gore. This isn’t American television, where the camera cuts away before revealing the mutilated bodies or the decaying corpse. The dead bodies, often drawn naked and in lurid detail, stare up from the page. Yes, it’s fiction, but the impact is not any less striking. No matter how brave we all claim, when a naked, supposedly dead convict, with a cut splitting his face ear to ear is running towards you to strangle you, the normal and expected reaction is pants-staining fear.
In Japan, telling scary stories is as integral of the idea of the summer as barbecues are in the U.S. Supposedly, the belief is that a scary story will literally “send a chill up the spine,” thus producing a cooling feeling to help endure the hot and humid Japanese summers. So, hey, if your A/C is on the fritz or if you’re just in the need for a good scare, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is at your, well, service.