Now I'm willing to call it a return to form.
Writer/Artist: Eiji Otsuka and Housui Yamazaki
Translation: Toshifumi Yoshida
Adaptation: Carl Gustav Horn
What They Say
Heads up! That's what the Kurosagi crew sees floating in midair . . . above a moving motorcycle! But this headless horseman in reverse is linked to a corpse that can be smelled and felt... but not seen! Then, the mystery moves from sight to sound, as the last words of an elderly veteran reveal the hideous crime behind a secret program of World War II-whose effects can still be heard...
Otsuka seems to be inserting a lot of otaku-related stories into Kurosagi in the last few volumes of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, and Volume 9 is no exception to this. In the opening story "Key to an Apartment"/"A Lonely Singing Doll", a pop idol named Yuriri is being attacked by possessed dolls planted in her apartment by an unknown stalker. The Kurosagi gang independently finds one of the unused dolls during a part-time job, leading Sasaki to find out about the elaborate "solo hide-and-seek" ritual that causes spirits to possess the dolls. The tone of these three chapters are much more serious than the other otaku-related plots we've seen so far in the series, with Otsuka being uncharacteristically sympathetic to the idol's fanboys. Instead, most of the humor comes from Kereellis, who takes it personally when people start cutting open and smashing the dolls.
Contrast this with the second story, "Grape Colored Experience"/"Tears That Disappear Into the Sand", which definitely pokes fun at otaku -- or at least gives some good-natured ribbing to a specific otaku. The plot deals with a pair of graduate students working on optical camouflage, one of whom dies in an "accident" after refusing to hand his findings over to his coworker. The humor here comes from the fact that the deceased researcher is an otaku who misuses his research to peep in women's locker rooms, and whose name and likeness are lifted directly from a well-known member of the anime industry. The whole scenario feels like an extended practical joke on said member of the anime industry, replete with a running gag that people associate optical camouflage with an obscure shonen manga series from the 80s rather than a project involving the otaku's real-world counterpart. Still, it's the rare one-note joke that's enough to carry the story, punctuated with some more clever commentary from Kereellis (who enthusiastically approves of the otaku's motives).
The remaining two stories don't work quite as well. The three-part "White House by the Sea"/""A Certain Situation"/"What Lies After the Dream" reintroduces Kikuchi into the series when an elderly man named Professor Minowa dies in her care. Minowa's gift for picking up political secrets earned has him a lot of friends within the Japanese government; combined with his unusual last word -- "mimizuka", or "ear mounds" -- that seems to be enough to motivate members of Japan's ruling party to steal Minowa's corpse before Kikuchi or Karatsu can get anything incriminating out of him. Frankly, I felt that this three-chapter arc dragged on for about a chapter too long; this may have something to do with closely it's tied to post-World War II Japanese politics, which is the kind of thing where most of Otsuka's satire will go above my head. The volume then closes with the single "My Sadness" chapter, which flashes back to Makino's childhood before showing how Yaya, Makino, and Kereellis help summon the spirit of a dead goldfish to comfort a grieving child. Fans of Makino's Mumume-Tan cosplay outfit will probably get a kick out of its return, but otherwise it's mostly just inoffensive fluff.
On the whole, this ninth volume isn't as even as the last one: Volume 8 had three stories that were uniformly decent, compared to two terrific ones and two mediocre ones in Volume 9. But uneven or not, it's a solid entry into the series, and one that's worth the purchase price.