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. Also, if you’d like more information on volumes 1-4, please see my review of it.
Moving swiftly into this second bunch of volumes, the gang get their first clues as to Yaichi’s identity and we also see the Nire group in here for the second time. All the while, they go from client to client trying their best to not either get arrested or dead. The Nire Group are interesting. Initially they came across as complete bad guys (and to be frank, reanimating a dead convict who’s already been executed by the state only to have someone kill them again is sick) but as we learn about them, we realise that Nire himself is simply a driven man, not a vindictive one. But Mutsumi, his adopted daughter, has a similar talent to Karatsu and used it to her own ends. These ends aren’t evil in themselves but I dare you to face down a finger-chomping, zombie cat and not poop your pants. Also, the appearance of Shirosagi Cleaning Service is evil personified. It’s one thing to profit from another person’s misfortune, resulting in their death. It’s another when you keep profiting from them after they’re dead. They turn up again later in the series and they just ooze a “We is the bad guy!” vibe. I’m glad that they’ve turned up in the story. Other than Sasaki’s origin story in volume 2, the book has shied away from doing continuous stories and as a result doesn’t have a arc, per se, to follow. So having recurring villains is the next best thing.
I’ve learned something about the title while reading these volumes. There seems to be a double standard going on in terms of nudity. I’ve already seen Sasaki naked from the waist up and in this bunch we see Makino naked, albeit from a distance. And yes, in this batch we do see full frontal male nudity but not from the male cast members. So, it’s OK to see a nondescript corpse’s yoo-hoo but not Yata’s, Karatsu’s or Numata’s? Hmm, it’s kinda one sided, don’t ya think? It’s a minor gripe in an altogether great series but still it niggles at me. Oh, I should bring up Tooru Sasayama, the social worker who used to be a police detective in Otsuka’s MPD Psycho, and who appeared in the first volumes but I forgot to include him on my first review. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon but he really does have a good sense of honour about him. He’s forever giving the kids (as he puts it) terrible unpaid jobs but in the blink of an eye, is cursing them for costing him money (main bone of contention is unidentified bodies have to be paid for by the local prefecture, i.e. Sasayama’s). Also, we are being deliberately misdirected about the origin of Yaichi, the spirit that rests around Karatsu. One origin is set in the mid-twentieth century, another is turn of the twentieth century, yet another is that one of the Shirosagi Cleaning Service’s people has similar scars. They can’t all be the same person so what is going on here? I don’t know but I hope this doesn’t turn into a Darth Vader moment, that’s all I’m saying.
I’ve no real problems with this batch of volumes. The gruesome is consistent (never thought I see myself writing that) and the little bits and pieces we are discovering about the characters are coming along nicely. I really can’t say why I like it. I think it’s a mixture of a few things: the gore done in such an EC Comics way, the fact that the cast aren’t all that fazed anymore, the people they meet are just people plain and simple, the equality of death is shown, the overarching Buddhist system of Karma in action when the wicked are punished for their transgressions and the irreverent way the authors put Japan in the dock in each volume.
The series continues to impress me and I can’t recommend a better book for grown ups who like their blood and guts along with a monthly dose of humor and snark.
Point of interest: another great cog in the machinery of the book is the black, black, comedy on display. You can’t help but chuckle at the way some of the antagonists get their comeuppance. Again, (and I’m really not trying to labour the point here) the EC Comics vibe is really strong when it happens. The cast almost have a collective “Oh, dear. Whatever shall we do to help the poor git?” look on their faces when the poop hits the fan for the chapters antagonists. Also, the way that the one-liners, great comebacks and delivery is presented is stellar. I can’t count the amount of times I laughed and then checked myself because someone had been brutally murdered (they deserved it, of course). Also, the cast is in the joke, while initially scared by what they see, by the third volume they actually can use the scrapes they’re in to their advantage. Just watching Numata and Karatsu coming to a halt and staring in slack jawed amazement as a corpse gets up and whales on an evildoer is great. The end of the chapter dealing with the cyonics swindler still makes me laugh. I feel that the authors are saying to me “Hey, if you can’t laugh at this sort of stuff, what can you laugh at?”