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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro Vol. 1 by Kiyuduki Satoko 
28th-Apr-2008 11:59 pm
Kiyuduki, Satoko. Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro. Vol. 1. Trans. Satsuki Yamashita. New York: Yen Press, 2008.
          Summary: Originally titled Hitsugi Katsugi no Kuro. An androgynous girl sometimes named Kuro is exploring the world with a bat at her side and a coffin on her back, looking for a witch. Which of course she doesn't find. What she does find, however, are two catgirl sisters for companions and a number of other interesting personal encounters along the way.
          Comments: This is probably the best English-translated manga I have ever smelled. That's right, smelled. (Ask any book lover; she'll tell you how much this matters.) Thick, creamy white pages inked predominantly with swaths of flat black, especially around the margins of the panels, give this Yen Press release a distinctively tangy fragrance, and a liberal infusion of color pages adds a subtle note to an already intoxicating bouquet. If the volume had included a Japanese-style dustjacket instead of a chip-prone wrapper, it would have been paratextual perfection.
          I just wish I could enthuse in the same way about the manga text. But alas. Those who know me know that moé is always a hard sell in the best of situations (moreso than lolicon or shotacon, believe it or not, which at least has kinky sex to keep things interesting), and when it's combined with that oddly incidental, rambling narrative a la Yotsuba&!--to better centerpiece the unbearable cuteness of all the characters, of course--it fast becomes a site of undistinguished, nigh unbearable boredom. Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro commits this sin. It also uses a 4-koma format for what appears to be no good reason at all. The strips are not especially funny, and since the manga actually consists of a long, more or less continuous narrative, I just don't see the point. Indeed, the format is confusing and cumbersome, worse even than an ever-present memento mori of a coffin on one's back, and with a couple of exceptions, Kiyuduki never truly experiments with it to see how far she can push at its boundaries.
          All in all, this manga is clearly the work of a rookie. A promising one with excellent draftsmanship (and if she continues to produce content for the manga industry, I wouldn't be surprised by leagues of rapid improvement in subsequent series), but a rookie nonetheless. There are several wasted opportunities here; the worst by far is not giving the snarky, hard-drinking bat Sen a better design. But even the larger mystery behind Kuro's apparent plight and ultimate objectives does not get spun out in the most effective, suspenseful fashion...and when combined with hard to translate gender confusion that had me mentally trying (and failing--this was a well-adapted translation) to return the English prose to its original Japanese to figure out what had and had not been interpolated, I can't say I was having much fun.
          Notes: ~A5 paperback, 1st American edition; first published in Japan by Houbunsha in 2006
          Rating: 4.5/10 - Is moé the Next Big Thing in manga in the States? I doubt it...so only if you already loveloveLOVE moé. And then be aware that it is after all a flawed work. A bonus half-point for presentation.

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