story by Eiji Otsuka; art by Housui Yamazaki; adapted by Carl Gustav Horn
published by Dark Horse; $11.99 US
As this black humor/ghost revenge manga series enters its second “decade” of volumes, we begin with a redesign. In place of the previous “brown paper wrapper” approach, in which a khaki cover gives the feel of reading something to be hidden away from the view of others, now the books have a prominent block of black, symbolizing death and the unknown mystery.
In another change from previous books, most of this volume is taken up by one story that directly tackles many typical themes of the series. Anonymous postings begin appearing on a popular internet message board claiming that the poster is about to try and kill someone randomly (demonstrating the technological awareness of the characters). It turns out to be the work of a young girl with the unusual ability to see the demonic shadow “rats” that ride on everyone’s shoulders.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service team gets involved through the presence of three of its members. The younger Yata (with Kereellis puppet, which no one remarks on, even when it contradicts its wearer during lessons) and Keiko are student teaching at the elite girls’ school where this strange young lady attends. (I’m glad to see them together again, as they’re a satisfying sub-team.) Numata gets hired as security there, contrasting his usual immaturity with responsibility for maintaining order. He’s not very good at it, although he gets a kick out of the role-playing, which thus entertains the reader.
There are unexpected family connections revealed as the story progresses. It seemed a bit too convenient, to wrap various characters together, but still oddly touching during a flashback sequence. The real concern of the tale is exploring the idea of the wrongly accused — a young person is thought to have been guilty of a murder through being found at the location and having no one to speak for her — and the question of how such a person can be re-integrated into society, or whether they ever will be when others persist in defining them by their history.
The moody images establish everyday settings populated by characters wearing disturbing expressions, often focused in closeup. The clean, relatively realistic art makes the mystical happenings all the more creepy. The creators understand that sometimes it’s what you don’t see that can be most horrific. In one of the flashback sequences, we see for two pages only a woman’s eyes, as she’s lying on the floor with the rest of her face behind a door jamb. Our imagination fills in all kind of horrific possibilities, scaring ourselves until the actual, grisly events are revealed.
This story, unlike some others in the series, features fewer ghosts and zombies (animated corpses), and more human evil, as people do nasty, murderous things to each other out of base instincts. The evil spirits are part of the events, true, but they’re creepy not just because of how they look or what they do, but because of the simplicity of how the girl notices them. She covers one of her eyes with her hand, and that action is disturbing in how unnatural it seems. She winds up in unthinkable circumstances through being railroaded by the system, and it takes a group of weirdos (most with similar backgrounds) to stand up for her and find the real story.
I also enjoyed one short sequence near the end, where a teacher opens the wrong door, convinced that he’s going to show up the team and find nothing unusual inside. Instead, he sees something completely odd, closes the door, turns to them, and says, “What the f**k?! I mean… well, that’s strange…” It’s a completely normal reaction that reminds us how unusual the Corpse Delivery Service really is.
There’s another story in this book as well, just two chapters in which the group finds a hotel whose pool is inhabited by a zombie swimmer. It’s an odd little story that plays up the science fiction flavor, involving athletic doping through gene-altering viruses. A three-page preview of the first story is available at the publisher’s website.