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Sonia Harris | Writing About Comic Books

Committed: Dolls & Death (Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Vol 12)

Just before I moved apartment, volume 12 of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service came out. Last week I finally had time to curl up on my new couch and read this wonderful book. This time, the three short stories involved examined dolls, virtual life, and the existence of the soul. One after another they shocked, delighted, and devastated me. Now I’m hoping that I can entice some of you to give them a go.

For me, these books can’t come out fast enough, but for anyone out there who has never read them, there are 12 little volumes (so far, but there are more to come), packed with strange & beautiful stories. To briefly summarize; a group of young, technologically savvy, buddhist-monks-in-training team together to use their extra-sensory powers to work with the dead, delivering them to their final resting places and helping them to finish whatever business they were forced to leave. Ostensibly they’re doing this to make money, because (like all students the world over, including, apparently, our president) they have way too many bills. In actuality they don’t seem to make much profit, but what they do brings peace to many tortured souls (including, at times, their own.) I could give you more information, but I think you’ll have more fun reading about them yourself. Strictly speaking, these are horror manga, an odd genre with a fairly dodgy reputation for tentacle monsters and vagina fetishists (I’m generalizing, I have no idea, but it looks that way from the outside), and so I expect some of you will have automatically dismissed this as outside of your interests. Luckily I tend to cast a wide net with my reading and I will now dismiss any prejudices you might have, and explain why you might love them.

6 Misconceptions About The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service:

1. This is a horror book, so it will only appeal to people who like horror.
Nope. Okay, well yes. Sort of. To my taste this is horror in the old-fashioned sense of the word, loaded with tension and tragedy, like those creepy black and white “Hammer House of Horror” movies that used to keep me up all night. There is atmosphere and tension, pathos and melodrama, much more so than there is horror in the contemporary sense of the word, (i.e. gore and sensationalism.) Yes, in each story there is a at least one panel of something shocking or disturbing, that is just one aspect of a broad range of emotions elicited by the stories. The reason each short story gets under the reader’s skin is because the authors skillfully and deftly make us care about the protagonists. There is an awareness of human frailty and empathy which makes the horror something which actually softens the intensity of these weird little meditations on the human condition.

2. I only read mainstream superhero stories, so there’s nothing here for me.
Definitely wrong here, at least I think so. No one is wearing spandex, but this is an elite group of people who have banded together to use their super powers to help people. The fact that their superpowers make them better at helping the dead instead of the living is purely an accident, but one which forces them to work with a very odd clientele. As we read each story, we see them exerting their powers, learning to use them wisely and well, and slowly, as the team learns about themselves, so do we as readers. I’m on volume 11 and I still don’t know every character’s origin story, but like good chefs using an intense seasoning, the author is careful to very slowly and sparsely allow the information to spice up the odd story. It is rewarding and enjoyable, and these misfit buddhist kids have become like friends to the readers.

3. If stories are inspired partly by Japanese folkore, the comic book won’t make any sense to me.
Understandable concern, but wrong again. I had this fear when I first picked up the books, but it was totally unfounded. First of all, the folklore used is often something quite universal (i.e. a story which is echoed in Western fairytales) and secondly, each little volume has a few pages at the back which are ostensibly a glossary of Japanese sound effects. In actuality there are many useful snippets of information there, which not only explain the stories and the background which makes them so powerful, but also gives a better understanding of the whole culture. In addition, their are explanations as to why they recently changed cover stock (from unfinished kraft card to a more common card stock printed with the kraft color.) While this isn’t interesting to everyone, it is certainly adds a lot of value to the books.

4. Manga is just for girls or little kids.
Absolutely wrong on this front. These books have that sticker warning you of “explicit content” and I would say that is absolutely the case. This isn’t simply an instance of stories with overt sex or drugs, but the subject matter is also very mature. Sometimes it is oddly sexually, exploring human need and the desire for life, other times the books explore emotionally complex subjects, none of these themes would be enjoyable or make sense to a little kid. These are books for adults, with meditations on the life of people who have lived and died.

5. Monochrome art won’t be as entertaining as a full-color comic book.
Usually I would say that this is a matter of personal taste, but in this instance there is plenty of impact and energy in the black and white art. As in comic books like From Hell, when the subject matter turns gruesome I don’t want the nasty aspects of the story to be in garish colors, it would only sensationalize the intensity. There is more than enough detail and description, and the black and white drawings are more versatile for evoking the sometimes wistful, sometimes brutal nature of the story lines.

6. The small size means that the art and action scenes won’t have as much impact as US comic books.
The action is dynamic and graphic, because instead of simply shrinking down a traditional page layout, the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service limits the number of panels on the page, keeping the flow of the story going at a fast clip. The stories are dense in subject matter, with plenty of detail, but the pace is smoothly fast. As with any comic book, you can read it as quickly as you like, but the way these stories are told keep them eerily personal and intimate. The size helps with that and I’m glad of it.

I hope you’ll give these books a try, from the elegant cover designs to the poignantly disturbing content, these books deserve a wide audience.

Originally published here.