Random Musings: Dealing with the Dead in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and The Embalmer

Out of all the unusual talents that the characters in Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki’s horror manga The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service hold, the skill that is considered to be the strangest also happens to be one of the more realistic. Keiko Makino is an embalmer, an oddity in Japan where bodies are generally cremated soon after death, largely rendering their preservation unnecessary. In fact, the only other embalmer that I have ever encountered in a manga as a main character is Shinjyurou Mamiya from Mitsukazu Mihara’s series The Embalmer. (Granted, there are several important secondary characters in both of these series who are also embalmers.)

Because Makino and Mamiya share the same profession, they also happen to share a few other things in common. It is now possible to study mortuary science in Japan, but both Makino and Mamiya traveled abroad to America in order to study embalming. I’m not sure if Makino’s school is ever specifically mentioned in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, but Mamiya attended the Pittsburgh College of Mortuary Science (a real place, although it’s now known as the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science). Mamiya and Makino also both have ties to American military bases in Japan. Mamiya’s father was an embalmer in the American military and their family lived on a base for a time. In Makino’s case, her skill as an embalmer is occasionally called upon by the Americans when they are shorthanded. Because there are so few embalmers in Japan and because embalming is an unfamiliar process there, both Makino and Mamiya are seen as rather odd and strange. They, and their profession, are often misunderstood and in some cases even reviled.

Embalming primarily serves three functions: the preservation of a body over time (slowing its decomposition), the restoration of a body’s appearance, and the sanitization and disinfection of a body to help prevent the spread of disease. All three of these functions are seen to varying degrees in both The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and The Embalmer, but for vastly different purposes. Generally, Makino is mostly concerned with preservation—the corpses need to last long enough for their souls to finally be put to rest—and public health (or at least the health of her and her cohorts). One the other hand, Mamiya places an emphasis on the actual restoration of the body. For the most part, embalming in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is done for the corpse’s sake while embalming in The Embalmer is done for the sake of the loved ones left behind. It’s an interesting distinction between the two series, basically amounting to revenge versus comfort. Both approaches bring closure but in very, very different ways. After all, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a supernatural horror manga and The Embalmer is a more realistic, psychological drama.

It’s probably not too surprising, but there is more of a focus on embalming in The Embalmer than there is in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. This does make a fair amount of sense seeing as Makino is part of ensemble cast while Mamiya is a primary protagonist. The Embalmer explores many different aspects of embalming, including Mamiya’s training and schooling. Of the two series, The Embalmer comes across as a more serious portrayal of the profession. Embalming plays a critical role not just as part of Mamiya’s life but as a part of the entire series. In The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Makino’s skills almost come across as a gimmick, which is keeping perfectly in line with the tone of the series as a whole. Often her knowledge of embalming is somehow applied to an entirely different trade, such as serving as a makeup artist on a film set. Although the depiction of embalming isn’t as thorough in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, the realistic aspects of the profession are still incorporated into the manga. While the group doesn’t always take full advantage of her knowledge, Makino and her skills are vital assets to the Kurosagi team.

The Embalmer and The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service are two completely different series, but their inclusion of embalmers and embalming creates some fascinating parallels. I find it incredibly interesting how similar themes can be used in entirely different ways to create manga that are so divergent but that still share crucial elements.

This post is a part of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Manga Moveable Feast.

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