Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and the Dark Comedy spectrum

Our thoughts from the monthly Mangaforum 

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service and the Dark Comedy spectrum

As we launch our Mangaforum discussion panel (and perhaps fittingly in response to the sick joke that has been 2016) we’ve started our club reading an excellent example of an entry level “dark comedy”in manga; Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Kurosagi Shitai Takuhaibin – KCDS) written by Eiji Ōtsuka and drawn by Housui Yamazaki.

The blurb deems this series as a “horror”, and there are definitely some beautifully drawn, horrifying graphic scenes, but both Lexa and I push against this very basic definition.  What it actually is, is a surprisingly uplifting, funny, super-natural murder mystery, with heart and soul(s); Think intelligent, less repetitive scooby doo but with more deaths, torture, interesting multi-dimensional characters (both good and villain) and decent plot twists. There’s also a swearing alien-channeling hand puppet and some borderline unnecessary nudity (although who are we to say when nudity is a necessity…)

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So, while KCDS isn’t a comedy up-front, the overarching aspect that stood out was the almost sweet humor that has been skilfully worked in along side the very up-front depiction of death, torture, human suffering and the real value of life. And even getting us to think about what rights the dead have and how this could/should be defended (…ok, this is a fantasy, but you can always read deeper)

The compassion behind the main character, and his team of misfits, to help the lost souls they go out to help, adds to the over all endearing qualities of their story. We actually know from reading the blurb of the second book that Otsuka’s drive for writing KCDS was to depict something that went against the standard trope of living dead, where zombies are typically feared and destroyed; This story’s intention is to get back to how a soul would really feel if they couldn’t pass through to the next world, and adding that human element back in. It essentially is taking a very dark, macabre theme and putting life back into it, which coincidentally, happens with every story arch in the manga!

And this is why We classify KCDS as a dark comedy, albeit at the entrance level. KCDS manages to juggle gruesome death scenes, while simultaneously being  light and grounding through character interactions, and importantly, not in an overly slapstick way either.

So we’ve read the first 3 volumes and we both love it. But this month it got us got thinking, What other Mangas and Animes are out there, with this similar dark comedy feel? What can we read to go darker? If KCDS is “light” dark comedy, what is at the other end of the spectrum?

I think dark/black comedy is a pretty underrated and little explored as a genre in in general, and it probably has something to do with the fine line between humor and offending people; This is why I personally love this genre, and why we wanted to look further into manga’s with a similar feel. For me, I could even take a pinch more taboo crossing, gore and dry humor, just to play with the juxtaposed feelings even more.

Of course, as we discussed in our panel, there are actually a variety of perspectives to the dark comedy genre, covering the variety of otherwise taboo social topics; KCDS, for example, is based on murder and seeking justice, but with lighthearted comedic elements; And then there are examples of defined “comedies” that develop DARK story lines. A clear example of this in Anime, could be Welcome to the NHK, which isn’t about death but psychological turmoil and anxiety. It’s pretty much one of the funniest animes we’ve ever watched but it has some really dark moments, very comparable to Bojack Horseman, where the situation starts in good fun, then it sort of escalates until the bubble bursts and all that remains are the dark thoughts . Like we go from Kenan and Kel shenanigans to the lowest point in someones mind, reflecting on loneliness and their failures.

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Having looked in more detail for more dark comedy titles in manga, we can start off with 3 strong ones that seem to stand out;

  • When considering anime that reflects the same “feel” of KCDA,  I think we can also look at completely different themes, one example being  Psycho Pass (directed by Naoyoshi Shiotani and Katsuyuki Motohiro and written by Gen Urobuchi; adapted to Manga illustrated by Hikaru Miyoshi, titled Inspector Akane Tsunemori) , which would definitely be on the radar of recommendations. Just based on the procedural crime aspect and its amazing cast of characters.

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  • Next – Tokyo Zombie Written and drawn by Hanakuma Yusaku; Classified a “horror-comedy” manga, it’s about two bog-standard factory workers, who dream of being jiu-jitsu experts, then accidentally kill their boss and are now up-against a zombie uprising in Tokyo. With ridiculous but weirdly likable main characters, drawn in a crude but expressive way, this manga is a showcases the traditional role of the “undead”being an aggressive terrifying danger but with our heros trying to neutralize them, with a “fuck this” attitude,  through the grapple-based, hands on contact of the jiu-jitsu dream, all the time with a dark, tounge-in-cheek undertone of how society will always try and maintain hierarchies, even in times of chaos. Think Shaun of the Dead, but with wrestling

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  • Thridly – Odoru! Kremlin Kyuuden Mushi shi; (Dance! Kremin Palace) Written and drawn by Kago Shintaro; A manga about Russia, which has an over-riding disclaimer about NOT being safe for work. I’ve read the first volume, and let me tell you, it’s not safe for the train, or many other public places either. This manga hums with exaggerated satirical political messages, based across a factual time frame and is  the darkest of our dark comedy range here, edging strongly away from fantasy stories and laugh-out-loud dialogue, to twisted dystopia and bad taste.

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The more I looked into it, the more potential dark comedy gold I found, but these three above certainly are a good range to start with.  If we want to find where we stand on the dark-comedy spectrum, then we certainly need to explore it from each end and we’d love to hear your thoughts on any dark comedies you, the reader, can recommend too! I, for one, am sure to include some of these titles in my 2017 extra-curricular reading.

However here at Manga Forum, It is our quest to determine, What Makes a Great Manga? and therefore, we’ve pledged to read and review as many different styles, genres and  themes out there as we can…and so, for January’s Panel, we’ve decided to go on an all-out-gear-change, in terms of  style and genre, although keeping with the undead theme; That’s why, January 2017, will see us read Vampire Knight written by Matsuri Hino.

Tune in 20th January on http://www.twitch.tv/mangaforum, and follow us on twitter for more updates over the coming months- https://twitter.com/themangaforum.

We look forward to hearing what you think!

Lara and Lexa

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