Eiji Otsuka / Housui Yamazaki – Dark Horse – 2015 – 20+ volumes

I am so, so very happy about this series coming back.  Tell your friends they should buy the omnibus!  Apparently if that doesn’t do well, we may not see more.  I think it’s coming out in a week or so (from now, which is August 24th, I’ll probably post this in my next round of reviews).  If you haven’t given it a try yet, and you have any love at all for horror manga, this is one of its true gems in English.  Forgive the art in the first volume, it gets way better.

I was re-reading the series a bit before this arrived, or else the content might have… surprised me.  Not because it’s particularly graphic (although Karatsu does, at one point, resurrect dozens of murder victims that had been dumped over the course of 40+ years), but because it’s just plain strange.  In a 2-chapter story in the middle of the volume, the drawing style reverts… to be more cartoony?  Like Saturday Morning Cartoons in America cartoony.  Which is precisely what it is, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service retold in an American setting, drawn in a broad caricature.  For some reason.  The best reason I can come up with is the bad joke at the end of the second chapter, but that seems like a lot of work.

The two more “realistic” stories deal with political protest, mostly, this time around.  In the first, a corrupt politician campaigns to end dam building across the country (presumably because he sees it as a government handout job-kinda situation), but continues the construction project in his own hometown.  He is hiding something.  There is also an ugly internet rumor about the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, which turns out to be related to a copycat group that uses the same logo and, hilariously, look and dress like members of the team.

The third story is about another politician who feels that we waste too much time conferring in committees to get things done, so he conducts a massive experiment involving murder victims that is very Kurosagi-like.  Sasaki finds herself in the line of fire this time.

The characters (and Carl Horn, a bit, in the back) seem to have a little fun at the expense of unusual museums.  The characters visit, for all intents and purposes, The Museum of Torture of Japan.  If you, like me, are a fan of both the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and macabre museums, and happen to be in America, then you may want to check out The Museum of Torture (hilariously located) in Wisconsin Dells , the Mutter Museum of Medical Oddities in Philadelphia (whose tagline is “Are You Ready to Be Disturbingly Informed”), the Museum of Death in Hollywood, the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minneapolis/St. Paul, or the Museum of Surgical Science, located in a Gold Coast mansion in Chicago. Of those, the Mutter Museum is the best by far. <3  The Iron Maiden also comes up in this volume, those are sometimes on display in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museums, which are all over.  I’ve seen six of them.  I live the life.

Anyway, we even get a couple tidbits about the characters this time around, I live for that in these volumes.  Here, we learn a little about Numata’s family and the ultimate end of a man involved with them.  We also get a few rare glimpses of unguarded Sasaki (she gets kidnapped, texts for help, and we also find out about her internship), which is also worth mentioning.  Funny that, 14 volumes in, we know next to nothing about these characters save for the fact they may or may not be attending college together.

Basically, this volume does not disappoint.  The editor notes in the back are hilarious as always, and made even better by the fact that the cartoon segment doesn’t have sfx translations because they are all in English or Romanized in that section.  We’ve been waiting years for this to come out, and I was not disappointed.  I will only be bummed if we never see more again.  Buy the omnibus of the beginning of the series!  This is the good kind of wacky, very smart and interesting, and reads kind of like a corpse-resurrecting Scooby Doo, where they pull the flesh off people’s dead skulls at the end instead of the usual rubber mask.


Eiji Otsuka / Housui Yamazaki – Dark Horse – 2013 – 16+ volumes

I’m having a hard time believing my good luck!  Two volumes of this in one year!  Magnificent.  This is still one of my absolute favorites.

The cover story in this volume involves an ancient tradition of Goddess worship, where sacrifices were made to ensure a bountiful harvest. The gang finds a body cut up into pieces and buried in a field, where many strangely bountiful harvests grow in the center of the city. There’s also an ancient dogu statue buried with her, and the whole thing leads back to an archeological society, and to a whodunnit from there. It’s the setting and method that makes these stories interesting, though. While I do like Case Closed, rarely are the murder cases as tied into bizarre pop culture and ancient traditions as this. They are usually a bit more… material in nature.

There are two other stories in the volume. One actually lays a little plot down on us, which I was not expecting. When was the last time that happened in this series?! I could read this series forever and not care about running across an overarching plot, but the bits we’ve gotten are tantalizing. Especially since it will potentially offer an explanation for Karasu’s powers. This story touches on that in the most minimal way possible, but the hint of more will keep me looking for volume 14 every week. The plot-related story is inside another investigation that involves creeps that pick up girls looking… well, to stay overnight, except they also murder them sometimes. This one has an unusually tense and bloody ending.

The middle story was a court case that mostly involved Sasaki and nobody else. It (and the generous end notes) look at the Japanese judicial system pretty closely, and Sasaki and one of her fellow jurists feel their case isn’t quite as open-and-shut as it first seems. The fellow jurist bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Kazuo Umezu.

Basically, everything that I’ve loved about the series all along is still here. The black humor, the way the group’s strange powers work together to solve the murders, the awesome climaxes where the dead come back to life to torture their killer (in one odd case here, another re-animated corpse), and the plentiful end notes that provide pages of details on whatever is going on in the story. This still is one of my very favorites, and I’m still so happy that Dark Horse decided to continue it.

Eiji Otsuka / Housui Yamazaki – Dark Horse – 2012 – 15+ volumes

I am absolutely thrilled this came out. I almost gave up hope. I really didn’t want to, but it’s been so long since the last volume. It’s hard for me to believe this isn’t doing well, because it’s just so quirky and has the dry sense of humor and extreme violence that I could see appealing to an audience outside manga. I love it unconditionally.

There’s a very strange Second Life story to start the volume off. I had no idea how popular that simulation was. Sadly, I recognized the situation without even having to check the end notes. The gang does their investigating in the virtual world before tracking the killer down and confronting her with the body of a dead, broke, angry nerd whose face she peeled off. I missed Karatsu’s skill so much! The motive has to do with identity theft on a couple different levels, and was all kinds of creepy. I’m not sure if it’s because the story was genuinely creepy, or if it’s because I haven’t read the series in awhile and the inherent creep factor is registering more than it usually does. Also, bonus points to this story for having a panel where one of the characters walks in on two people having sex, and there’s an image, graduate-like, through the legs of the couple, with the silouhette bottom of the woman’s butt and the man’s penis framing the character’s face who walked in. Now that’s poetry.

Also, it was awesome when Sasaki makes accounts for everyone in Second Life, and Karatsu and the guys show up wearing jeans and a t-shirt and expressionless faces, while she looks like she does in real life, but better. Parts of the story take place in the game, which is… well, really interesting. Especially since most people are wearing rabbit masks.

The second story is about a girl who can astral project. She uses her powers to recruit customers to the host club she works at. One day, she meets a young man who shares her interest in making it as a comedy duo, so she quits her job, and the two of them get set up in a posh apartment where the previous tenant has died. Unfortunately, the boy’s old boss winds up needing the apartment, and the boy is murdered by an old co-worker. Sasayama (I missed him, too!) gets the Kurosagi group together to investigate the body, which has the girl’s astral projecting form hanging around it. There’s an elaborate revenge scenario.

This story was different for a couple reasons. The victim is alive most of the time, and the story was very character-driven, and more about the two comedians than the Kurosagi group and their investigation. It was a very strange story, even with a relatively normal plot like that, what with all the astral projection and the boy living in the apartments of dead people and whatnot. Plus, the ending wraps things up in a very Kereellis-like manner. I… liked it, despite its strangeness, but the Second Life story hit my creep buttons in a more pleasing way. Both were good, though.

The third story is pretty typical Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service fodder. Karatsu and Sasaki are away, which leaves Numata, Yata, and Makino to investigate a case involving a dollmaker, a murder, and his doll-ified sister. He is a maker of… uh, Dutch Wives, and apparently a very famous one. This story is also pretty great, but my favorite moment is a page at the beginning, when Makino gets upset that Numata has run off yelling about a corpse, and Kereellis asks her if she’s sure, because that doesn’t sound like Numata. On the same page, Yata suggests the three of them could have a case on their hands if he does find one, and Makino suggests she could embalm it and the three of them could stare at it for awhile.

Another thing I missed terribly were the end notes. So much knowledge, and I don’t care how relevant it is. The important thing this time around was that they explained how Dutch Wife came to be a slang term for a sex doll, which is something I’ve always wondered. So, mystery solved. Thank you, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. There’s also a footnote that explains QR codes, and Mr. Horn explains he doesn’t have a cellphone himself, going on to describe the unlikely scenario of the President in his war room demanding that the manga editor be reached. But the way the scene is described in the footnote, it’s easy to imagine that the part that came before that line might have had something to do with contracting Duke Togo. And really, there’s only a few ways to contact him. And there’s only a few people in the US that can rattle that kind of info off the top of their head. Just sayin’.

Seriously, read this series. Go out right now and start from the beginning. There really is no horror comic like it. The horrifying moments are grouped together, surrounded by interesting mystery plots and bountiful sarcasm and eccentricity. I keep hoping desperately that each volume will contain more about Yaichi, but no dice yet. Maybe volume 13 will. Dark Horse hasn’t solicited it yet, but… as long as it comes out!

Eiji Otsuka / Housui Yamazaki – Dark Horse – 2010 – 14+ volumes

Unusually, we see a little bit of Sasayama in this volume. The stories tend to spotlight a member of the delivery service, in most cases lately revealing everything about their background. Sasayama is a special case, since presumably we will find out about him in MPD Psycho. This story is about a troubled little girl he took in, and the crimes surrounding her life a few years ago and in the present. It’s a genuinely creepy story, and the motives of the little girl are pretty ambiguous almost until the end. Unsurprisingly, she possesses a kind of strange sight in one eye. It’s not… really the same as the various specialties of the Kurosagi group, but it is interesting, and she puts it to good use.

Also unusual is that the Kurosagi members don’t really play prominent roles in this story. It’s largely all the little girl, she does the investigating, gets involved in the incidents, et cetera. The story starts with Makino and Yata getting student teaching positions at the school in question and Numata getting a guard position. Karatsu and Sasaki appear periodically with information relevant to the girl’s case.

While this volume is definitely awesome, I’m still waiting for all the fun details about what happened to Karatsu several volumes ago, or the whole story behind him. I’m willing to bet that’s more of an “end of the series”-type revelation, but I’m still curious.

I’m also a little worried the series is moving away from the “Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service” as a group, since the characters are so clearly unsuccessful at making a living at what they do best. The scenes with Sasaki and Karatsu in the meeting room by themselves were particularly eerie.

While the story of the little girl takes up most of the volume, there’s a one-off case included in the back that… I don’t know, I think the bodies are zombies, and it has something to do with performance-enhancing drugs. It was everything you’ve come to expect from the series… creepy, a little funny, lots of science, pop culture, urban legends, and other stuff come into play, and with a fantastic walking dead ending. The gigantic, bloated rats were particularly memorable, and they didn’t even play a part, really.

I still enjoy this series as much as I did when I picked up the first volume. Even more, in fact. It’s one of my absolute favorites coming out right now, and I hope desperately that it’s popular enough that Dark Horse sees it through to the finish.

Eiji Otsuka / Housui Yamazaki – Dark Horse – 2010 – 13+ volumes

I am ridiculously fond of this series.  It just has too many of my favorite things in it: black humor, horror, CSI-type situations, genuinely good episodic stories that teach you interesting things, and Kereellis.  Kereellis is only in this volume a couple times, very briefly, but it does have everything else in spades.  Including a nice little backstory for Numata.  The shades were mentioned only briefly in that story, and I really enjoy how that detail was handled.  In the story before that, his habitual wearing of sunglasses was taken to a new level, when he dressed in a fake shaman outfit and was still wearing them.

There were three main stories in this volume, with the Numata-focused story at the end being the shortest.  The longest, clocking in at nearly half a volume, introduced another rival, of sorts, for the Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service: a boy who can use a special defibrillator to bring the recently dead back to life long enough to carry out their last wishes.  This story also takes a look at a recent trend to have defibrillators in public places and people who are trained to use them (like CPR training) in order to help those suffering from fatal heart attacks.  Lots of interesting stuff at work in this chapter, not the least of which is the main victim in the story.  I think the most important thing I learned is that they have Mr. Ed in Japan.  The book opened with Numata singing a Kurosagi-themed version of the song from the show, that started with “A corpse is a corpse, of course of course…”  EXCELLENT.

The second story moves the cast out to a small town, and uses a folk story about a traveling monk as its motif.  The monk story introduces the chapter, and is quite nicely done in a completely different art style.  The monk story is about the monk being taken in from a storm by a poor couple who offer him all the hospitality they can (warm meal, thin mat to sleep on), only to have the couple slay him when they realize that he has a lot of gold on him.  The crime committed here isn’t exactly like that, but it was an interesting parallel to draw into the story.  The main theme this time was a thinly-veiled look at North Korean immigration.

The third story took a look at Numata, the man who taught Numata to dowse, fake dowsing for the cameras, and Numata’s past.  All interesting topics.  The story goes unexpected places.

The wonderful end notes are included, of course, which are very nearly my favorite part.  I have to stop myself from reading them before the story.  They are very educational, and time time around I learned, among other things, that Jason Thompson may or may not resemble Peter Fonda.

I’m continually blown away by the writing, interesting subject matter, and subtle sense of black humor in every volume of this series.  It is the best, and has yet to let me down.  I love every page of it, and really wish it came out more frequently.

I reviewed this volume for the weekly Manga Minis column at Manga Recon, so you can check it out over there.

In short: buy it.  Don’t make me come over there.  It’s genuinely quirky, but in kind of a disturbing way I could see turning some people off.  I mean, the jokes have to come at the expense of things like dead bodies, how bodies are found, dead people’s hobbies, or… you know, the characters themselves, who range from spirit-talker to embalmer to body finder.

There was no really long story in this volume like you’d normally find (when I say “really long,” I mean the format where there’s usually only two or so stories per volume), but I enjoyed the short stories immensely.  I touch on them all in that review, but I’ll say it here too: the chapter at the end between Yata and Makino is strange, inappropriate, and oddly touching, three things that don’t really go together in any series aside from this one.

I actually wasn’t expecting this volume out so soon.  I figured we’d need to wait a year between volumes now, but maybe we’re still a couple behind Japan.  I certainly can’t complain about getting this series more frequently.

The first chapter alone reaffirms what it is I like about this series, mainly its sense of humor.  There’s some really weird stuff going on as far as forensics and what kills people and how, but it’s the weird jokes and jabs it makes at its characters tha stand out the most.  The first chapter isn’t that strong as far as its plot goes, but it’s almost like a re-introduction for the series.  It opens with a campus club recruitment-type event.  There’s one panel of Numata leaning against the recruitment table for the “Kurosagi CMM Club,” which stands for “cash money makin’.”  The poster behind him on the wall goes on to elaborate on the qualities new recruits must have: like or have an interest in corpses, be able to speak to or see the dead, or have a special ability others do not.  Obviously the entire area around their table is deserted.  Despite their  attempt to keep the recruits away (this is clearly a ruse so that they get the club funding from their school), a few people show up.  Each of the regular characters then proceeds to upstage them in every way possible, from gristly details about embalming to insulting a gothic lolita type with a foul-mouthed puppet.  After each ridiculous thing is said or done, there is a panel with their full name and job description, like a freeze frame in a movie.  It is hilarious in context.  Plus, I haven’t seen most of the character’s full names in awhile.  Apparently Numata’s first name is Makoto.  Also, Kereellis gets an intro too.  His special talent is listed as “puppet (alien).”

The main story, as featured on the cover, is about marriages that take place after one or more people in the pair has died.  It’s a pretty good story.  It involves a rich wedding planner, some ghosts, a special shrine, a poor guy who gets caught up in things, some yakuza types, and Sasaki getting strangled by a ghost.  More and more is implied between Karatsu and Sasaki.  I don’t actually know if that’s going anywhere, or if either of the two is in on the implication.  The fact that neither seem to be that into one another is just another feather in this series’ hat.  This marriage story is also notable for having a suitably epic final scene.

The next story is also a couple chapters long and is about babies abortion, and midwives.  I had a harder time with this story than the other two, mostly because it’s sort of unclear what’s happening until the very end, and even then, the explanation isn’t very satisfactory (or at least wasn’t for me).  The fact that the spirits of unwanted babies who pass away enroute to the hospital through some sort of black hole are jumping into cadavers… well, you know, that’s sometimes all you need in a story, though, and it takes Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service to provide.

Also, since Castle of Cagliostro was compared to the final scene in the (copious) end notes, now I can’t ever read this series again without seeing Numata as Jigen.  Great.