The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition Book One is a pretty sizable bargain, containing well over 600 pages (for twenty bucks!) of this charmingly light-hearted horror-mystery-comedy mashup. The first omnibus collection in this series collects the first three volumes, each of which showcases a big leap forward in the storytelling of writer Otsuka and artist Yamazaki. The first volume introduces the world of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service in a fairly unorthodox fashion: it contains four stories on the longer side, but each of which are self-contained. Many series have to find their sea legs and then impress readers with their first major story arc (if they manage to impress readers at all, that is). KCDS comes out swinging with four stand-alone stories, each of which carries its own weight.
These are stories about a team of students at a Buddhist university who each have unique abilities, most of them supernatural, and all but one of them very useful. The main character can speak to the spirits of the dead when he makes contact with them, another can dowse for corpses, and another has a sock puppet on his hand which channels the voice of an alien who likes to curse a lot. Other non-supernatural powers include an expert embalmer and a crack team-head who can find out anything about anything. Anchored by Kuro who talks to the dead, they find out the last wishes of the deceased and see them fulfilled posthumously.
And it's damn funny. The alien sock puppet (I can't believe I started a sentence like that) is often the most obvious comedy-bomb that gets dropped in a given scene. But the story itself, mostly in terms of the characters, lends itself to a sort of aloofness that can be very uplifting given the subject matter. We're talking about a series where dead bodies are sometimes coming back to life and mauling people; but, when you witness how dedicated the members of KCDS are to taking it all in stride (mostly because they're just college kids and have no idea what they're doing), the series stays on a very Zen-like even keel.
Coming face-to-face with the reality of things like suffering and death is a central aspect of Buddhism. Yet, another part of Buddhism is that you shouldn't take things so damn seriously. KCDS embodies these kinds of things without ever really focusing on them too much. The fact that the horrors of death and the frivolities of life so often interweave in this series is no coincidence, and yet you can completely ignore the interplay between the two if it suits you.
Where the first volume showcases Otsuka and Yamazaki's willingness to tell effective one-shot stories, volume two on its own constitutes an entire story arc. Frankly, the themes that this arc deals with--death (of course), revenge, forgiveness--and how it deals with them run so deep that the discussion is worthy of its own essay, so I won't dive in too far. Suffice it to say, volume two does what volume one foregoes by showcasing Otsuka and Yamazaki's ability to tell a satisfying story in a longer form.
Volume three is right in the middle, featuring not four stories, not one story, but two, two-issue stories. What impresses me most throughout the first three volumes is that neither writer nor artist is focused on hanging his hat on something specific about this series. It's not about topping an arc or even creating a story arc that needs topping: there is equal care being put into stories of different sizes and shapes wherein the quality of the mystery is never compromised. The thing that stands out about volume three is Yamazaki taking his art to the next level. Readers feeling like Yamazaki needs to step his game up just a touch in order to push his horror work over the edge will find what they're looking for in the third volume.
I can't wait to catch up on this series and talk more about it. I'm very interested to see how the rest of the series develops along storytelling lines, and I'm still sort of blown away by how killer of a value this omnibus edition is.
Readers curious about all things Japanese will be very happy to know that all of the original Japanese sound effects are kept in the art. What’s more exciting, especially for those who are just curious in general, is the exhaustive glossary of those sound effects at the end of each volume. Again, this is another very interesting thing about this omnibus that warrants a much lengthier discussion, so I'll just point it out and if it sounds cool you now have an extra reason to check out this collection.
The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Omnibus Edition - Book One Writer: Eiji Otsuka Artist: Housui Yamazaki Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $19.99 Release Date: 8/19/15 Format: Trade Paperback, Print