NOTE: This post was done right after another one, so make sure you scroll down to see what you missed.
I spent the second half of the time I was reading it just ttrying to think of how I could possibly describe it to you all – it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before and completely amazing in every way. The art, for starters, is sort of how Jing would look in a 4-koma – that is to say toned down but still highly stylish, gothic, beautiful, and amazing. This is ertainly the best looking 4koma I’ve heard of with a very Tim Burton-esqueness to it (one of the full-page illustrations actually had the spiral hill from Nightmare Before Christmas).
Shoulder a Coffin is about a mysterious traveller who carries a huge coffin on her back. She is accompanied at all times by a talking bat named Sen. The traveller is often mistaken for a boy and sometimes a vampire, witch, or mortician. She is rather quiet most of the time, but she has a bit of wit to her speech. Sen is sharp-tongued but intelligent, not unlike Kir from the aforementioned Jing. The chapters each follow the girl going to a new place and interacting with the people or just hanging around.
Early on in the first volume, the girl find herself at a large mansion where a professor supposedly lives. When no one will come to the door, she breaks in (by throwing her coffin through the window) and has a look around. In the basement, she finds a room with steel-barred cages around and inside one is two little wide-eyed girls. Think Potemayo about 4 years down the road – same adorable chubbiness and cat ears. Their names are Nijuku and Sanju and they are the professor’s creations. They’ve been told to wait inside a this cage because the professor had to go do something dangerous and wanted them to stay where it was safe. The girls love the professor very much, they note. After a quick check of the mansion, Sen provately informs the girl that he found what he believs to be the professor’s remains in a room where there seemed to be a struggel with a large beast. The two girls note repeatedly how the girl wears all black and so the girl tells them her name is ‘kuro’ and that their professor is in another world. She decides to take the two children along on her journey and help them find their purpose while they believe they are searching for the lost professor.
Kuro is one of the most intensely incredible experiences I’ve ever read – almost as emotionally conflicting as Gunslinger Girl. Some of the funniest pages in the book nearly made me cry. There is a constant darkness looming all over, pervading especially in the black backgrounds of every page. Even though it’s warmhearted, funny, and witty, I almost feel like I am going to see all these characters die, or like there’s truly no hope for them. The utter melancholy of it squeezes the shit out of my heart. If that wasn’t enough, it’s just an all-around well-written tale. It’s got boatloads of character development all across the board and watching Nijuku and Sanju sort of grow up and gain life knowldege is an absolute joy – they never once come across as annoying, but they retain a childish innocence. Kuro is somewhere between Kino and Momo – she’s not as opinionated or sure of herself as Kino, and not as outright kind as Momo, but isn’t neaither of those either. Each chapter has it’s guest characters who, while not original, do their part in the story, and some who return again become memorable.
Yen Press also did an absolutely amazing job with this release. They got all of the pages that were originally in color – not just some in the front of the book, but throughout – I think there were at least 15 full-color pages in there. Every page also seemed to be printed on a thicker paper than normal manga – this might be because there was so much black used, but either way it’s very nice. There was a short preview for the next volume, translation notes (though thankfully unlike Hidamari Sketch there weren’t any particularly difficult cultural references) and some words from the manga-ka.
I seriously cannot even begin to recommend this enough – I was spellbound, drawn right in, loved every page of it, and while I can’t wait for volume 2, I’m devastated that it is the conclusive volume. If you see this in the store, pick it up, it’s well worth the extra dollar.