My Week in Manga: July 14-July 20, 2014

My News and Reviews

Two reviews were posted at Experiments in Manga last week, one of a manga and one not. The first review was part of my Year of Yuri monthly review project. I took a look at Milk Morinaga’s Gakuen Polizi, Volume 1, which is quite different from her other work currently available in English. The first volume at least is less of a romance and more of a buddy cop story, but it’s still fairly entertaining. (She does promise that more of the drama in the second volume will be romance-related and less crime-related, though.)

My second review last week was of Tokyo Demons, Book 2: Add a little Chaos, a novel written by Lianne Sentar with illustrations by Rem. In case it isn’t clear from the review, I absolutely adore Tokyo Demons. It can get pretty dark and heavy, but it’s a fantastic series. The second volume should be available as an ebook later this month and the print edition is currently scheduled for release in October. (Tokyo Demons is one of Chromatic Press and flagship series, so in the meantime it can also be read online at Sparkler Monthly.)

Once again I wasn’t actually online much last week, but I did catch a few things that other people may be interested in: Over at Comics Forum, Martin de la Iglesia writes about Early manga translations in the West. Kate at Reverse Thieves explains How the Library Became My Go-to Place for Manga and Comics. (I posted a bit about finding manga at the library a little while back, too.) And on Twitter, manga scholar and translator Matt Thorn hints that a project with Moto Hagio is in the works. Let’s hope so!

Quick Takes

Honey DarlingHoney Darling by Norikazu Akira. After reading and enjoying Beast & Feast I decided to track down more manga by Akira available in English. This led me to picking up Honey Darling. The manga isn’t the most realistic or believable, but it is cute, delightful, funny, and very sweet. Chihiro is a young man without any real goals in his life until he takes in a stray kitten. When Shiro falls ill, Chihiro ends up working as the live-in housekeeper for Kumazawa, the vet who treats her, and helping out in the animal clinic. Honey Darling has a lot going for it: nice art, a sense of humor, adorable cats and dogs, amusing and ttractive leads, likeable side characters (including women!), and so on. Ultimately Honey Darling is a boys’ love manga, though. As might be expected, Chihiro and Kumazawa become more than just roommates by the time the manga ends, but the development feels more like Akira fulfilling a requirement of the genre rather than being something that was necessarily called for by story itself. Still, I did enjoy Honey Darling a great deal, the two of them made me happy as a couple, and the manga frequently made me smile.

Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibus 1Lone Wolf and Cub, Omnibuses 1-2 (equivalent to Volumes 1-5) written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Goseki Kojima. One of the first manga to be translated into English, Lone Wolf and Cub wasn’t released in its entirety until Dark Horse picked up the license. Sadly, the first Dark Horse edition was tiny and, while extremely portable, was difficult to read because the text was so small and crowded. Additionally, those original twenty-eight volumes have steadily been going out of print. Thankfully, Dark Horse recently started releasing Lone Wolf and Cub in an omnibus format with a larger trim size. Though quite hefty (each omnibus is around 700 pages and collects about two and a half volumes or so), the reading experience is much improved overall. Lone Wolf and Cub is an excellent series, so I’m very glad that the manga will remain in print for a bit longer. The series is fairly episodic, following the titular Lone Wolf and Cub: Ogami Ittō, who once served as the Shogun’s executioner but who has become an assassin-for-hire out of revenge over the destruction of his family, and his young son Diagorō.

Mail, Volume 1Mail, Volumes 1-3 by Housui Yamazaki. Summer is the time for ghost stories in Japan, so I felt it was appropriate to finally get around to reading Mail. I came across this short series thanks to The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service which shares the same illustrator. Reiji Akiba—detective, exorcist, and the protagonist of Mail—actually briefly appears in the fourth volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service as well. One of the things that particularly struck me about Mail is how often the stories incorporated modern technology such as cell phones and computers. It’s as though traditional ghost stories and urban legends have been updated for a contemporary audience. Occasionally Akiba will present a sort of prologue to the individual chapters, giving the stories an almost Twilight Zone feel to them. Mail can be legitimately creepy and at times a bit bloody, but gore is not at all the focus of the series. In general Mail is episodic, although the final volume adds a recurring character who becomes Akiba’s assistant as a sort of homage to Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.

Stone Collector, Book 2Stone Collector, Book 2 written by Kevin Han and illustrated by Zom-J. I want to like Stone Collector more than I actually do, but at this point I can’t really say that I’ve been enjoying the manhwa much at all. It’s not all bad. The artwork in particular has moments when it can be impressively dynamic. The character’s facial expressions are great. Even the basic premise of the story isn’t terrible. As a whole though, Stone Collector just isn’t working for me. Though it moves along quickly, the plot is thin and the characters are underdeveloped, almost as if it’s an outline or draft than a finished product. The second half of the second volume of Stone Collector of is devoted to a side story, “Land of Ice.” I was more interested in “Land of Ice” than the main story more because of its tundra setting than anything else, but it still frustrated me and had many of the same problems that Stone Collector proper has. November 2013 was the last time there was a Stone Collector update. I’m not sure if there are plans to release more (it may simply be that “more” doesn’t exist yet), but the story clearly hasn’t reached its conclusion yet.

Sengoku Basara: Samurai KingsSengoku Basara: Samurai Kings, Season 2 directed by Kazuya Nomura. While I was entertained by the first season of Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings, I really enjoyed the second season. While there are still fantastically outrageous fights and action sequences, there’s also more focus on the characters and their characterization and on battle strategies and tactics. Personally, I appreciate the added context this gives the series. The characters, who continue to be magnificently and ridiculously overpowered, come across as a bit more human since their pasts and motivations are clearer. Their confrontations carry more emotional weight because of this as well. Miyamoto Musashi makes an appearance in this season, too. I was greatly amused by the fact that he fights with a giant oar. (Legend has it that Musashi once forgot to bring a sword with him to a duel and so carved a bokken out of the oar he used to get there; this why his weapon choice in Samurai Kings is simply perfect.) Samurai Kings is a tremendous amount of fun. Based on a video game that’s nominally based on actual events and historic figures, it’s wonderfully absurd and irreverent.

Library Love, Part 11

Support manga, support your library!

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Emma, Volumes 1-3 by Kaoru Mori. Emma is a series that has sadly gone out of print and is becoming progressively more difficult to find. Fortunately for me, my library has the entire series. The artwork is simpler in Emma than in Mori’s later manga, but Mori still devotes attention to even the smallest details. Of particular note is the amount of historical research put into Emma; it portrays Victorian-era London in a very realistic way. There is an overarching story to the series, but these first few volumes of Emma felt fairly episodic to me. The series focuses on the eponymous Emma,  a maid, who falls in love with William Jones, the son of a wealthy merchant, and the difficulties that their class differences bring them. 

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Volumes 1-11 written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki. Even though I had previously read much of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, I had forgotten how funny the series is. Granted, it’s very dark humor, which isn’t to terribly surprising from from a manga with so many supernatural horror elements. But all of the horror and gore is balanced by a cast of likeable, quirky characters. One of the things I like best about The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is that the creators take inspiration from real life events, mixing them with traditional Japanese ghost stories and urban legends. The series is mostly episodic, with stories generally ranging from one chapter to an entire volume in length.

Phoenix, Volumes 1-3 by Osamu Tezuka. Phoenix was considered by Tezuka to be his life’s work. Unfortunately, much of the series is now out of print in English. (Thank goodness for libraries.) Phoenix is a mixture of historical fiction and science fiction. Each volume alternates between the past and the future, slowly converging towards the present. The themes of death and rebirth and the cyclical nature of life echo throughout the manga. The stories in each volume stand alone, but they also reflect and mirror one another. I actually haven’t read much of Tezuka’s science fiction before, so I found that to be particularly fascinating. I can see the influence his work has had on later mangaka.

Yuri Monogatari, Volume 2 by Various. I wasn’t quite as taken with the second volume of Yuri Monogatari anthology as I was with the first, but I still found it to be an enjoyable collection. (And it’s much easier to find.) The series is a collection of yuri-themed stories published in English. The stories range from the realistic to the fantastic. Once again, Althea Keaton’s contribution was particularly strong. But my favorite work in this anthology was Beth Malone’s “Night Out.” Yuri Monogatari features many of the same creators who contributed to the first volume as well as a few newcomers, which was nice to see. For some reason, toasters (yes, the kitchen appliance) came up in multiple stories, which was a little odd but kind of fun.

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.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Volume 1

Author: Eiji Otsuka
Illustrator: Housui Yamazaki

U.S. publisher: Dark Horse
ISBN: 9781593075552
Released: August 2006
Original release: 2002

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a horror manga series written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, both of whom have worked on other horror-like manga—MPD Psycho and Mail, respectively. The first volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service was originally published in Japan in 2002, the English-language edition being released by Dark Horse in 2006. The series is currently ongoing and is available through volume fifteen in Japan; Dark Horse has so far released twelve volumes. I initially started reading The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service for two reasons. The series was first brought to my attention because the covers are so distinctive and striking and they caught my eye. But perhaps more importantly, I was already familiar with Otsuka’s work on MPD Psycho (which interestingly enough, end us up crossing over with The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service) and wanted to read more of his manga. Because The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service was selected for August 2012’s Manga Moveable Feast, I wanted to revisit the series.

Kuro Karatsu may not know it, but he is haunted or perhaps even possessed by a ghost. What he does know is that the dead can speak to and through him. After being roped into volunteering to pray for suicides found in the Aokigahara forest along with a few other students from his Buddhist university, Kuro discovers that he is not the only one with a unique skill. Makoto Numata, a tough guy with a sensitive soul, is a dowser. Except, instead of finding water, he is able to find dead bodies. The cute and petite Keiko Makino studied embalming and mortuary science in America, a profession with very little demand in Japan. Yuji Yuta is a relatively quite guy, but the alien he channels through a sock puppet is more than foulmouthed enough to make up for it. And then there’s the mastermind Ao Sasaki who has brought them all together. She is determined to find a profitable scheme that will put all of their talents to good use. And thus, the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is born—a group of nearly unemployable students putting the dead to rest on their own terms.

Although I have read The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service before, I had forgotten how funny the series actually is. It’s not so much a horror manga as it is a supernatural-horror-mystery manga with a heavy dose of a very dark sense of humor. Which isn’t to say the horror element isn’t an important part of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, because it certainly is. The series just somehow manages to be very good-natured about it, mostly due to the quirkiness of its cast and great dialogue. While the first volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service doesn’t show the development of the group’s friendship, it is obvious from their interactions with one another and their banter that they all get along well. I find their relaxed, nonchalant attitude when dealing with the dead to be very amusing. They act as though nothing is out of the ordinary. Sure, death is a natural part of life, but normally corpses don’t move of their own volition. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service doesn’t let that phase them, though.

The first volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service collects four different stories. While the stories do make small references to one another and continue to reveal more about the characters and their histories, they all stand completely on their own. As might be expected from a horror series, many of the stories end up being fairly gruesome and rather disturbing. Although Yamazaki shows some restraint in the artwork, there is still plenty of blood and guts in The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. Frankly though, the gore and corpses tend to be less terrifying than most of the living that Kuro and the others end up having to face on behalf of the dead. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a strange mix of humor and horror—both psychological and grotesque—but Otsuka and Yamazaki make it work. The manga is entertaining, engaging, and has a great cast of characters. I really enjoyed my reread of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Volume 1.