By Satoko Kiyuduki. Released in Japan as “Hitsugi Katsugi no Kuro – Kaichu Tabi no Wa” by Houbunsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Time Kirara. Released in North America by Yen Press.
I never reviewed the first two volumes of Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, the main reason being that I didn’t have a blog when they were both released. It’s been four long years (and 4 volumes of GA Art Design Class, the cute 4-koma series by the same author that many fans blame for Kuro’s hiatus) since we last saw the adventures of the stoic girl and her coffin. Indeed, the author apologizes profusely at the end of Vol. 3 for the delay, and hopes that we’ll keep reading regardless. Luckily, that should not be an issue. Not only is there a particularly vicious cliffhanger to keep us hungry for Vol. 4, but picking up this series again is like revisiting an old friend – after a few pages it’s like they never went away.
A lot of people note that this series often has a downbeat and melancholy tone, which is true and certainly doesn’t go away here. It’s just as important, though, that it manages to keep a light touch, mostly in its portrayal of Nijuku and Sanju. TV Tropes has a page called ‘Morality Chain’ which discusses characters whose basic existence is what keeps our heroes on the straight and narrow. While Kuro isn’t close to becoming a supervillain, there is a certain sense that the two mysterious children/scientific experiments function that way to this series as a whole. They have the childlike wonder of a Yotsuba, while also being able to sustain a level of creepy due to their supernatural origins. It makes for a good balance.
As for the manga itself, much of it is the same as the previous two volumes – Kuro, Sen and the two kids roaming the countryside of ‘generic pre-industrial world’ and trying to find information about the witch who cursed Kuro. And while there are stand-alone plots throughout that have nothing whatsoever to do with Kuro’s past, we are starting to see events come together into a coherent whole. We meet a strange young woman who is called a witch, and who ‘is searching for the person searching for her’ – an obvious connection to Kuro. Kuro, meanwhile, not only deals with her mirror opposite, but also her possible evil twin… though given what we know of Kuro before her curse, there may be far less difference between them than we’d like.
And much as I enjoyed the fluffy slice-of-life chapters and the twins, they are outnumbered by the melancholy in the end. We meet wind-up dolls waiting forever for their long-dead owners, and fairy-tale legends built around not-so-great men. But most of all, we get Kuro, who walks on her journey with an air of stoic suffering that is absolutely necessary. She is not stoic by choice, but by pure force of will. And when that will is shattered – as it is at the end of this volume when she encounters a war veteran searching for his wife and daughter – we are reminded that Kuro is CURSED, and there’s a very good reason why she carries that coffin all the time.
As I said, Kiyuduki urges us all to forgive her hiatus and watch over Kuro for a little longer. And she couldn’t have chosen a better volume to get us to do it. I *need* to find out what happens next. Unfortunately, while Kuro may no longer be on hiatus, it’s still not the fastest series in the world, so I may have to stoically suffer until the next volume. Get this book at once, and go back and get 1 and 2 as well if you didn’t already.