Creator Satoko Kiyuduki delves into Kuro’s somber past for this second volume of her delightfully gothic manga.
Writer/Artist: Satoko Kiyuduki
Translation: Satsuki Yamashita
Adaptation: Satsuki Yamashita
What They Say
With Nijuku and Sanju in tow, the road winds on for Kuro and Sen. During a lull en route, Kuro takes a turn down memory lane, revisiting an unfortunate incident during her early days as a traveler that resulted in her imprisonment! One by one, the secrets surrounding Kuro and her journey with Sen are disclosed... and the fate that Kuro will suffer should her quest fail is finally revealed!
Blood-splotched bandages soaking down through the shadow painted surface of an early morning river. This, the final panel of Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro Volume 1, cradled by its inky boarder, happens to be an appropriate portent of the darkened turn found in the series’ second installment.
Satoko Kiyuduki’s yonkoma (or four panel) manga about a bespectacled young girl in dour attire, eerily accentuated by a killer-red person-sized coffin strapped to her back, skews rather more morbid this time around, managing even a touch of gruesomeness. The journey of this solemn traveler continues, as she searches for the mysterious witch who placed a fatal curse upon her tiny frame. Along for the ride is a cheeky-talking bat named Sen and two almost offensively adorable cat-eared children, Nijuku and Sanju.
The bright-eyed children’s innocence and infectious optimism buoy this volume atop an expanse of cold, unforgiving reality, courtesy of a fragmented glimpse into Kuro’s past. Flung backwards, we’re taken to a point not long after a slip of a girl has decided to leave home in hopes of curing herself and a friend (now no longer human) from a deadly hex.
Appearing randomly and without chronological ordering, these bygone vignettes show a much abbreviated creation of the modern Kuro. Herein is a child lacking worldly experience, unprepared for the harshness of life without a home and ripe for targeting by society’s less savory denizens. Through trial and hardship, we see the character’s internal changes mirrored by an evolving façade: unnecessary eyeglasses serve as a hope-filled memento, a bright maiden’s dress replaced by raven attire, protection in the form of a traveler’s top hat, and of course a red coffin connecting sorrowful events from the past to a dreadful future.
Reading a yonkoma so consumed by grim subject matter is slightly unsettling, especially since the format is so adapt as a vehicle for comedy. Possibly aiding this morose impression is that most—if not all—of the yonkoma released in the US are overwhelmingly humorous by nature.
Still, death’s sobering touch has been present since the first book, alleviating much of the shock caused by this blacker shift in tone—besides Kuro’s decaying body, there was also the two children’s abandonment thanks to their creator’s untimely end, to name just a few instances. Mortality plays an even larger part in Volume 2 as we meet Mo, a young girl who shares our coffin-carrying protagonist’s affliction. The meeting between Mo and a then immature Kuro is this book’s centerpiece, both clarifying the most prominent matters concerning our heroine and ultimately birthing her current self.
Though full of sad circumstances and some tragedy, Kiyuduki doesn’t allow things to end on a sour note. Closing the volume is a cute, fairytale-style story of a selfish queen and the odd request she puts to those travelers unfortunate enough to wander into her domain.
Kiyuduki’s artwork remains a visual treat, full of attractive designs and a powerful, eye-catching use of black coloring. Her ability to compose such detailed scenes inside each miniature box continues to impress. Due to some of the locales visited this time around, she’s also able to embellish the series’ more gothic elements: towns become mazes closing about their inhabitants like hungry mouths; sharp trees laden with snow strike at hazy skies; and imposing castles with checkerboard floors look ready to greet visitors from any would-be wonderland. The occasional colored pages, particularly those breaking from the four-panel mold, are truly lovely, almost making one wish the whole book was rendered in such vibrant hues.
This second installment tugs noticeably stronger at the heart, and is hardly a book to assuage the day’s daily stresses. While not infused with the calming atmosphere offered by many yonkoma, Kiyuduki has crafted a standout title, awash in lush imagery and strong emotional resonance. Kuro’s journey continues, but now a keener understanding of the past will help shade her future.