Volume 8 of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service finally reverses the series' recent downhill slide.
Writer/Artist: Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki
Translation: Toshifumi Yoshida
Adaptation: Carl Gustav Horn
What They Say
Shigo kekkon-marrying the dead! It's a quaint old country custom in Japan that's becoming the next big fad in Tokyo . . . and that makes it the business of the Corpse Delivery Service! And meanwhile back on campus, since they're technically a college club, the kids from Kurosagi host a membership drive at the start of the new semester! But you've got to like corpses, you know.
What's this? A full letter grade jump in Kurosagi's Content score after just one volume? That's right: while the series may not necessarily be back in top form, it's at least taken a drastic turnaround from the disastrous last two releases.
Ironically enough, it manages this turnaround while keeping almost an identical structure to Volume 7. Like last time, there are three stories presented here among the seven chapters, with the first story taking up only one chapter and the other two clocking in at three chapters apiece. It's striking that "A Café in a Campus Town", the first of these three stories, even serves basically the same purpose as Volume 7's first chapter. "Café" is a fun diversion that has the Kurosagi team (unsuccessfully) trying to pick up some new recruits to try to lend their organization some credibility to the university staff. Like its parallel in Volume 7, this first story is filled with black humor and a lot of otaku self-loathing, matched only by the obsessive personalities of Kurosagi's existing members. It's not particularly interesting story-wise, but it's good entertaining fluff.
The second story, "Romance/I Probably Won't Die/No Need for a Love Song", manages to keep from dragging in the middle like the series' other multi-part stories have tended to do. In retrospect, I think what's been lacking from the past couple of volume is Otsuka's pointed social satire, which returns with a vengeance here. The plot involves "shigo kekkon", a supposed cultural tradition where the deceased are paired for marriage at their families' request -- the goal being to honor the groom's family in exchange for covering the bride's burial expenses. The Corpse Delivery Service becomes involved with this tradition when a friend of the group starts taking commissions to paint burial offerings portraying the deceased couple. The twist here is that the brides-to-be aren't dead yet; it's the offerings that end up causing their untimely deaths. Whether shigo kekkon is a real "tradition" or not (a cursory Internet search only turned up press materials and reviews for this book), Otsuka clearly has some things to say about overadherence to cultural traditions in general: a yakuza character even comments that there's more money in their marriage scheme than in prostitution.
The closing three-parter "An Afternoon With Just the Two of Us/Princess's Mirror/I'll Go Alone" is possibly even more direct about its social commentary. A wave of dead babies being deposited in the local hospital's controversial baby drop-off box (intended for mothers to anonymously put their live babies up for adoption) has started simultaneously with adult corpses in the hospital returning to life and screaming like infants. Because the hospital staff fears that the deposits are being made to generate bad publicity for the baby drop-off program, they hire the Corpse Delivery Service to investigate who's been making the deposits. The Service's role in this story is relatively limited: Otsuka's apparent objective is to draw attention to Japan's uneasy relationship with abortion and child abandonment.
Whether it's because of the social commentary or not, the important thing is that Kurosagi Volume 8 is at least genuinely interesting throughout; that's something I couldn't say about Volumes 6 or 7. I'm not willing to call it a return to form yet, but it's certainly starting to look like one.