The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service follows a group of five students who graduate a Buddhist university and find that their area of study isn’t in terribly high demand in the work force. The fact that one is an itako (traditionally blind, traditionally female - he’s neither) shaman who can communicate with the dead, and another is able to dowse for corpses, and a third claims to possess a psychic connection to an alien intelligence doesn’t sweeten their job prospects. Their solution is to take some entrepreneurial initiative and create a business for themselves. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service will find bodies of the dead… crime victims… suicide victims and the like… and take them where they’re meant to be. This brings them repeatedly into the notorious Aokigahara forest suicide hot spot, police morgues, atrocity sites, grisly crime scenes, and basically anywhere bound to be stinking and maggot infested. Karmicly this might be rewarding, but finically, it means that the cast still scramble to make ends meet with odd jobs.
Kurosagi isn’t a case like Monkey King where it’s best not to try to read more than a chapter at a go. Sitting down for a volume long collection of three of its stories is really far from a bad thing. But it is another case where the long, serial story isn’t the emphasis. Here, it’s not that the manga isn’t going anywhere, so much as that it’s not the appeal. It’s televisual, at least televisual when TV wasn’t as ongoing story minded. However, development and revelation is happening so slowly, so infrequently, with so much reticence to bring any overarching element to a head, that that character growth/reconciliation is evidently not a priority for the manga. Character histories and destinies aren’t unimportant, but they aren’t the focus either. What in post X-Files parlance could be called “mythology” stoories aren’t what you read the manga for. Like many seinen series, the manga is developing by having the characters reconcile with their pasts. Those chapters are painful personal episodes that tie the characters to historical crimes, their own families or their nation’s. Like a TV series, it’s occasionally gives a glimpse into some history that makes the characters richer.
From that first scene with the funny animal mask sex, the volume’s first story just gets odder and more complex, drawing in technology, cultural shifts, and esoteric psychological disorders in the convoluted mystery. The pleasure of Kurosagi is the dawning realization of exactly what you’re reading. Do yourself a favor and don’t study the front cover or read the back of this volume. They too much of a give away. Following the reasoning, and seeing the unfolding of what is very weird and also very considered and thought through what makes Kurosagi must read manga.
What writer (here, creative duty is split between a writer and a distinct illustrator) Eiji Otsuka does is appears something along the lines of what Warren Ellis does in some of his comics like Global Frequency or Osamu Tezuka did in some of his manga like Black Jack: take something that they read in a paper or a science journal or a cultural trend and extrapolate it out into a genre story.
Otsuka’s a real knowledge omnivore, resulting in some real go-for-broke monuments of stacked topics. He knows plenty of esoteric subjects. He’s on top of what’s current, and, his gift is weaving together disparate subject from folklore and Japanese history to recent technological breath through and cultural concerns and stringing them all together into specific episodes of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.
Manga has plenty of authors who study subjects well enough to write about them convincingly. Lone Wolf and Cub’s Kazuo Koike who can create realism in his absurd manga through fascination with details and process. Famous wine manga Drops of God’s Tadashi Agi (penname) is a professional writer with credits in a stack of manga, novels and screen plays. Those are all dedicated writers, but you also see the sort of dedication in plenty of other single creators who write well about a topic from a studied perspective, all the sports and cooking and food other subject based manga are filled with examples.
Otsuka ranges in and out of areas with which he had prior expertise, but what’s especially noteworthy about him as a writer is his background as an editor, academic and social critic. He’s curious. His creative engine certainly seems to get primed by new developments in culture and technology, as well as studies into the past. He’s also professionally equipped to tease out significant factors and draw connections. It’s funny the number of time that his stories pre-figure real world events. Now, while it’s a coincidence that he wrote about the death of a certain world leader in this volume shortly prior to that figure’s real death, it’s interesting to see him thinking around something that was a credible concern at the time, which happened to become a real concern, and it’s truly amazing to see the connections that he draws and threads that he ropes into the story.
There are plenty of manga that deserve to be niche or which I’m fine to see fight for attention in the crowded entertainment landscape, but Kurosagi is one that I wish would find a wider audience. It’s one of the most gruesome crime mysteries you can find and at the same time one of the smartest. It’s perfect for a curious reader. Otsuka weaves together relevant and/or fascinating subjects with real insight in a way that few do. If it’d takes animal masked people fucking to get this book some attention, fine by me. It’s certainly not entirely inappropriate to the series. (via)