Embalmer Vol. #01 (Mania.com)

By:Jarred Pine
Review Date: Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Creative Talent
Writer/Artist:Mitsukazu Mihara
Translated by:Beni Axia Conrad
Adapted by:Jessica Cathryn Feinberg

What They Say
From the Goth Loli queen Mitsukazu Mihara--creator of the hit DOLL--comes a chilling dramatic series about Shinjyurou Mamiya, an embalmer in a nation where men of his profession are viewed as outcasts engaging in an unaccepted and unclean practice. For Shinjyurou, it's just a job. But in doing it, he's gained an understanding of death, and more important, what it truly means to live...

The Review
Mitsukazu Mihara has created an interesting character study that shows us that the end of the tunnel of life doesn't always have to be so dark.

There is both good and bad aspects to the packaging, so let me start off with the bad. The cover is not all that appealing. It's a TP original where the transparent image of Shinjyurou from the original cover is placed over a pattern of screentone type effects. The original image is blurred and not very clear.

The good--the print reproduction is fantastic! Not a lot of tone work in this book, so the two-tone style really pops off the page with the crystal clear printing. Probably one of the better printings I've seen from Tokyopop--making me forget about that cover image. There is a 4 page set of illustrations from Mihara included as an extra.

Much more of a two-tone style here and not filled with the frilly lace of her other more gothic titles, Mihara's artwork is quite solid. Emotions are well expressed in the characters' facial expressions and character artwork is very clean, although the hands are quite gargantuan at times. There is some decent background art to flush out the urban landscapes. Mihara also does a great job with the full-page illustrations that show off the results of Mihara beautifying techniques.

SFX are not translated. There are a few cultural items that are left as is with translator notes in the margins, a big plus! The English script reads very smoothly as well. No alignment issues with the text and it is very easy on the eyes.

Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
While there may be quite the negative stigma attached to the mortuary profession in Japan, I think most would agree that the same stigma can also be applied to the Western world as well. I mean, you don't see many single people using the line, "Hi, I'm a mortician, wink, wink", at speed dating meetings or cocktail parties. The profession requires a person to be about as close to death as you can be; taking satisfaction in cleaning the dead not only for display, but for health safety as well (a dead body is a boon for infectious diseases). The difference with the two cultures, as is explained in the book, is that Japan doesn't support any legislature to help regulate the industry. Death and family pride take precedence over the health and safety of the mortician.

This all leads to quite the unique stage for gothic queen Mitsukazu Mihara's The Embalmer, the story of a young man who lives a somewhat solitary (at least internally) life as a mortician in a society that considers him an outcast. His profession takes him to the front lines of death, where he sees beauty and irony, rather than fear and disgust. His goal is not only to ease the pains of the friends and family of the deceased, but the spirit of his "client" as well. From a ballerina who died tragically before wearing her dream tutu to a lonely narcissist who finally got the attention he was seeking on his deathbed, Shinjyurou Mamiya brings peace to those at a time where sadness and guilt ravages loved ones.

The stories in this first volume are episodic in nature--cleverly crafted with life and death themes. However, there are some ongoing threads surrounding Shinjyurou and a young woman who is basically his landlord and secret love interest. His character is quite complex--a playboy who has great lustful cravings after doing his work, but also is quite a loner, possibly insecure, and refuses to let himself become attached to the young woman because he wants to protect her from becoming an outcast herself. His character might fall into the womanizing bishounen cliché a little bit, but his idiosyncrasies and quirky relationship makes him an interesting character to follow.

The Embalmer's refreshing premise surrounding the life and times of a mortician is a unique manga that brings to mind a sort of cross between HBO's Six Feet Under and Showtime's Dead Like Me. There is a good amount of drama dealing with life and death themes with its episodic storylines, but also mixed in is a quirky romance filled with a sprinkling of dark humor. Mitsukazu Mihara has created an interesting character study that shows us that the end of the tunnel of life doesn't always have to be so dark.

Mania Grade: B+
Art Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Text/Translatin Rating: B+
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
MSRP: 9.99
Pages: 176
ISBN: 1-59816-646-8
Size: B6
Orientation: Right to Left