If you’ve just started reading this month’s MMF then I would suggest reading my brief overview of the series beforehand as I explain the setup of the books.
I really enjoyed the pace set up by the first volumes of the series. While none of the first volumes are connected to each other, having an almost anthology feel to them except that the cast is the same, the second volume deals exclusively with Sasaki’s childhood and the events that shaped her adolescence. I like this but I don’t think it needed to be a recursive thing in one volume. Other characters have some of their stories fleshed out over a much longer and better paced speed. Of the characters, Sasaki in these volumes is my favourite. She sports a mix of world-weariness and friendly ruthlessness. Now that might sound weird but Sasaki sometimes can’t believe how stupid Karatsu and Numata are sometimes and doesn’t wait to tell them. But she doesn’t put them down for being idiots, rather that she’s come to expect and accept it from them. In terms of ruthlessness, she can cajole, threaten or leverage anyone of anything to help the group. She however doesn’t ever indicate whether she would carry out said blackmail. Karatsu really is the glue that holds the squad together, figuratively and literally. Sasaki forms the company around Karatsu’s channeling ability and he’s usually the peacemaker within the group, especially around Kere Ellis and Numata. Yaichi is the silent ghostly protector, primarily of Karatsu (who he is, is not revealed at this point. As our introduction to the world of KCDS, the first four volumes serve as a taster rather than a proper introduction to the series. Sure, we meet the characters and yes, we understand the parameters of the story. But not enough is revealed to begin with and if truth be told, I prefer this kind of story.
When the gang gets together, it’s not really shown how they all got there. And even after four volumes, I might know about Sasaki’s childhood but I can still be surprised by her phobias. Likewise, the growing importance of Yaichi who hangs around Karatsu still isn’t really resolved by volume 4 (spoilers: it’s not even resolved by volume 12!). The best way I can describe the storytelling structure is as follows: the characters react and act around the plot events. However, we get little bits and pieces about them and their backstories as we go along. Please note though, only Sasaki’s story is explored here. The others start to get fleshed out in subsequent volumes.
The stories behind the people the company serves (and the recipients) vary greatly with each volume. The father in the first volume in “Less Than Happy” is just…vile. Really, when the full horror of what he’s done is revealed, the authors work is done. I saw coming but still it’s hard to stomach. In “Magician of Lost Love”, we are in full EC Comics mode with the delicious serial killer setup. With an innocent off-screen voice over, we see the killer at work and then the snap twist. In the third volume, “X+Y=Love” we find ourselves in that strange mental places people find themselves in with a Japanese rerun of The Most Dangerous Game.
Artwork wise, I think the run of the mill artwork in the book is competent and smart. It’s nice to look at but it’s not really polished. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, far from it, it gives a stability to the flow of the book. Where it really excels is the depiction of bodies being reanimated and doing the usual things reanimated bodies do: i.e. getting revenge. It’s got an EC Comics vibe to it where you often see the evil person/antagonist’s view of the approaching horror and it’s great. Yamazaki’s best trait is the way he depicts the expressions on people’s faces. An eyebrow here, a stunned look there, it’s all very well suited to break the flow (no pun intended) of gore and blood. Curious thing about the books, each cover, front and back, have thumbnails of the gang. Only Karatsu’s doesn’t change. It’s an interesting choice to isolate Karatsu like that, no explanation given.
The best thing about Kurosagi, outside of the actual story, is the exhaustive liner notes from Dark Horse editor Carl Gustav Horn. I mean, they go into real small detail (sound FX, meanings behind conversations, the fact that a lot of the chapters are song titles), getting into the meat of Japanese culture and the lifestyles of people and it also rambles into his own opinions which are great.
Kurosagi isn’t for the faint of heart nor is it for people looking for ultra-cute stuff, you won’t find it here. The characters are doing a messy job and they have as much fun as you can hauling around stiffs. It has a wonderful sense of respect for the dead and complete irrelevancy for the societal do’s and don’ts that just get in the way, don’t ya know? With 12 English-translated (beautifully done by Toshifumi Yoshida) volumes with more to come (hopefully, right, Dark Horse?), it’s a welcome jump into a nice, horrible little horror.
Point of interest: I’m a big fan of macabre horror, especially from Western literature. People like Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft (whom I had known about for years but only read very recently) really capture the essence of the dread that awaits the unwary. These are tales where the author (or someone the author knew) usually is the one sucked into the horror. The way the poor unfortunate is dispatched is always fun. So that is one aspect of KCDS that is really fun to read because it’s the same. People are killed, dismembered, drowned, set on fire, choked and those are just the victims. The authors are not indifferent to the suffering of their victims, it’s just they have an equal view of violence. The perpetrators seem to get worse punishments than their victims. But then, their perpetrators usually fall into two categories: the ones who just get killed and the ones who really have a number done on them. I really don’t feel all that sorry for either group. But the way in which the gang in KCDS after the first couple of chapters don’t seem to be fazed by having to hold back an out of control dead guy or nearly being drowned in a freak flood is neat and refreshing. By contrast, the other people they encounter who witness this stuff with them have more in common with the aforementioned New England horror crowd.