Carl Horn’s notes from the previous volume gave me the indication that this one was going to be something special. After being put solidly on the backburner for the last several volumes, it looked as if we were finally going to get some momentum on the ongoing subplot of the origin of the spirit behind Karatsu’s powers. The Shirosagi Corpse Cleaning Service was even set to show up again. I was excited beyond the fact that we were going to get another volume of this perpetually low-selling-yet-excellent title! Unfortunately, these elements turn out to be the most disappointing part of the volume. We get three solidly entertaining stories that continue to mine the same vein of horror, comedy and Japanese culture that is the title’s stock-in-trade, but the promised revelations are delivered in such a perfunctory manner that it makes you wonder why writer Eiji Otsuka bothered in the first place.
The three tales told in this volume involve message boards where runaway girls look for places to stay, hats that control your body’s movement, Sasaki as a lay judge in a murder case, synesthesia, rice growing on the site of Japan’s failed bid for the 2012 Olympics and the ancient rites that allowed it to do so. You’d think that such disparate subjects would lead to narrative chaos, but “Kurosagi” thrives on this kind of thing. Of course, such bizarro subject matter is sometimes used best to enliven a formulaic plot and that’s also the case here. I don’t mind that so much as the interplay between the characters, Horn’s always entertaining localization, and the sheer strangeness of the material kept me engaged throughout the volume.
Still, it’s hard not to be disappointed by how the ongoing plot is advanced in the first story. The Shirosagi duo only show up in almost a token background role to set the plot in motion and offer up some exposition at the end. Also, after twelve previous volumes we finally get to find out what the connection between Karatsu and Sasaki is and it’s a genuine surprise. Problem is that this surprise is dropped in a completely arbitrary manner on the last page of the first story. Rather than the game-changing moment that it should’ve felt like, the revelation almost feels like Otsuka went, “Oh yeah, I almost forgot about this. Slotting it in here is as good as anyplace I guess.”
It also doesn’t help that this is also tied to a grindingly obvious plot detail that has Karatsu losing his power for a time here. Though I can only assume that it was tossed in to play up the surprise, the exact mechanics of it almost defy logic. I won’t say exactly what it is, but it doesn’t make sense that Karatsu wouldn’t have experienced an episode of “power loss” before now given the reason behind it. This only plays up the arbitrary nature of the surprise and really has me feeling that Otsuka doesn’t have a real plan for this part of the series and that he’s just making it up as he goes along.
If the intent behind all this was to get me to stop caring about any kind of ongoing plot threads in this series, then it’s a great start. Fortunately, “Kurosagi” has always been a very episodic series so as long as the individual stories are good -- which they still are here -- then I can’t complain too much. These developments are disappointing, though, and it leads me to fear that if Otsuka is planning on ending the series by tying up these long-term threads then it could wind up being fairly underwhelming. That’s still probably quite a ways off, so at least there’s time for the writer to show me how my issues are utterly misplaced.