Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, Vol. 6

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. Translated by Sheldon Drzka.

It has to be said, each new volume of this series has been more ominous than the last. It began alternating somewhat unnerving stories with occasional sweet fare, and there’s still a bit of bittersweetness in here, but as the reader slowly progresses through the book they are likely wondering how the author is going to end this without making the audience cry. Kuro, who has been spending her last few years trying to find the witch so that she can return to what she was, has now realized an important truth: regaining that will mean losing Kuro, effectively killing herself. And she isn’t ready to do that, even when offered the chance midway through. Meanwhile, Nikuju and Sanju are still soaking up the world, but they’re also increasingly worried about Kuro, who may be literally coming apart. Are they the key to everything? And why do I have a bad feeling about that?

We do get the occasional ‘traditional’ Kuro tale here as well, with Kuro running into someone trying to solve problem ‘x’ and helping them out, only to turn out that the helper was part of the problem all along. The story with the ghost and the photographer brought a smile to my face, though I will admit it was a wistful smile. There is also an extended interlude in an all-girls’ school, which Kuro has infiltrated (this came out the same week as Murcielago 4, which has the same plotline, and the justaposition makes me shudder to imagine the crossover) in order to investigate something that sounds similar to her witch but is instead tied to the same sorts of things you’d expect at a Japanese school for young ladies: status, bullying, and fear. It’s a high point of the volume, and for once doesn’t seem to end in half tragedy.

That said, I suspect most people are going to have stronger feelings about the story in the middle and at the end, dealing with Kuro’s past and future. Seeing Sen and Kuro in the illusive city in the middle of nowhere is intentionally dream-like, and I had assumed the author was, as usual, not quite letting us see the ‘old’ Kuro’s face, which helped set up the impact of the panel where we do. It’s very well-drawn. And then there’s the last two sequences, which are almost pure horror, as Kuro’s confrontations with Hifumi grow more and more ominous, and Sanju decides to help her, even if it may mean sacrificing her own innocence.

The author has said that the next volume should be the last, though I’m uncertain when it will be out – this one took a year and a half, so it may be about the same. It’s probably for the best – Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is something to savor at special occasions, like a 40-year-old scotch, rather than a manga where you drink fast and move on to the next one. I don’t think Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is going to end with full-blown depressing misery, but I do think it will be sad, and I expect tears may gather in the eyes.

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  1. This volume was amazing, almost everything plot relevant, and considering how every character is connected in some form thanks to the Professor, I have the feeling everything will come together, in the final volume all the recurrent characters will probably help Kuro with the witch, I mean, Hifumi is formed by 3 women, one of them was probably Kuro’s mom because she reacted to the the stone carved by Kuro’s dad, the other had the earrings Lily gave to Sen, so I feel they just need a final item for Professor’s childhood friend to complete their quest. Nijiku and Sanju will probably remember Mo too.

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