WrterArtst: Satoko Kyuduk
Translated by: Satsuki Yamashta
Adapted by: Satsuki Yamashta
What They Say
Lttle tomboy Kuro, garbed n black wth a coffn on her back, heads out on a journey to fnd a wtch. Wth the help of her bat frend, Zen, they encounter all manners of people and places.
Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro exemplifies what I consider a quality presentation. Besides an English language logo conversion, the deep crimson front has been left untouched, with no unnecessary additions grafted onto its splendid artwork. Yen Press—in a move I wish more manga publishers would follow—relegated their company information to the back cover, where a few further illustrations and a synopsis reside.
Inside, thick inky pages act as perfect mediums to transport the story, providing an ideal canvas for the artwork that helps to further establish the somber atmosphere. Even without the aid of glossy pages, the print appears lush with striking blacks and vibrant colors. This book is quite simply a pleasure to hold in one’s hands.
The cool wind bristles across a verdant field guiding would-be travelers towards looming mountains and the lonely pass they silently guard. Amidst this cloud dotted landscape slides a diminutive shadow, its dark queerly shaped form in quiet opposition to the otherwise luminous green surroundings. Step by step, the onyx presence fades further down the winding path, until all that’s left are footprints in sandy dirt.
Manga-ka Satoko Kiyuduki works in contrasts. Deepest blacks seething next to virginal white or crystal blues, hers is a style that—much like the pastoral scene broken by a sable aberration—finds beauty in the juxtaposition of natural and surreal. Her world is crafted with loving attention, full of finely detailed buildings and untamed wilderness; it carries a sense of realism showing these are tangible places existing in three dimensions, not merely flat backdrops for the staging of random events.
Moving about the intricate environs are characters whose charming nature immediately captivate the eye. Their cutesy, exaggerated features at times teeter on the brink of saccharine overload, but Kiyuduki shows she has a masterful hand when it comes to creating personas which warm the heart without feeling sappy. It’s little touches—like how the triangular silhouette of the boyish main character’s suit instills a feminine sensibility—that make her characters particularly endearing.
What might then come as a surprise is how the manga is told using the Japanese yonkoma (four panel) style. Certain pages break from the layout (predominantly those first few color leafs opening each chapter), though most of the story flows through four vertical cells. Yet even bound by a limiting format, the manga-ka’s artwork never feels cramped, remaining lovely and clear insides its tiny square home.
Continuing with their superb production, Yen Press has managed a wonderful localization of the original text. As it should for a book working largely in a comic strip mold, the language flows briskly and doesn’t tax the comprehension. Character’s voices are also distinct, further helping to draw readers into the story’s fanciful world
Inline with my usual preference, drawn sound effects are left intact with small translations listed near at hand, while honorifics are occasionally retained in instances where they add nuance to a person’s dialogue. The book isn’t notably heavy on cultural ambiguities, however a small section covering needed translations is provided at the volume’s end.
A journey without any destination can be a difficult one indeed; and when your only belongings is a bright red coffin strapped snuggly across the back, complications and unwanted attention are bound to arise.
But such is the fate of Kuro, a solemn slip of a girl decked-out in a black suit and matching wide-brimmed top hat—thanks to her appearance and manner of speaking she’s oft mistaken for a boy and sometimes even a vampire. Accompanied by the sardonic bat Sen and two spirited cat-ear-&-tail endowed children, Nijuku and Sanju, she travels a quaint bucolic land in search of the witch who placed a deadly curse upon her body.
Constructed atop a basic narrative framework and told through minimalist trappings, Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro is a book that excels in simplicity, establishing its core values in the space between Kuro’s obliquely defined quest. This is a tale as much about the uncanny quartet as it is the many people met along their rambling way. Each chance encounter holds its own story, one that shows how even the faintest of noble gestures can lead to positive changes within a person’s life; and because the four panel structure demands the dearth of any extraneous material, the manga delivers its lessons in beautifully concise packages.
This is a title drawing strength from the ability to touch at one’s benevolent nature—the need to care for two small abandoned children or comfort an elderly gentleman near the end of his life. Nothing is too bittersweet, of course; there’s always a subtle laugh waiting to punctuate even the saddest of moments, coating the lumpy pill with a bit of sugar It’s in this melancholic mixture the story’s drive is obtained, compelling us further down a winding road as Kuro’s journey continues.
Kiyuduki wraps her feel-good concoction in a completely pleasing and appropriate artistic style. She offers just the right blend of cleanly cute and stylishly detailed, never allowing things to become overly whimsical, always playing in the antithesis of light and dark which imbues the book with the qualities of a fairy tale. The overall effect is a title that equally tells its story through word and picture.
There is a bit of intentional anachronism early on serving to highlight the lack of importance placed on conveying a completely linear yarn. Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro is more concerned with exploring individual occurrences and weaving them together into the larger tableau that is Kuro’s travels; as such, this is not a book full of sweeping arcs and high tension. The manga’s heart rests within the delicate interplay of its genial characters and comforting atmosphere, coming together in hopes of placing a faint smile on the reader’s lips. With an easy story and beautiful artwork, sometimes the simplest journeys are the most rewarding.