Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro Volume One is a manga by Satoko Kiyuduki, and it was published in North America by Yen Press. The series is rated “T,” which means that it’s appropriate for a teen audience and older; after reading this volume, I would agree with this rating.
Kuro is a young woman who is often mistaken as a boy a due to her looks. She dresses all in black, and carries a coffin on her back as she travels; whenever she’s asked why she’s carrying the coffin around, Kuro replies that it’s for her. Kuro is accompanied on her journey by a snarky bat named Sen. It appears that Kuro is looking for something, but by the end of the Volume One, the reader really doesn’t know what it is.
During their travels, Kuro and Sen come across the home of a scientist who studies the occult. Kuro discovers that the professor is dead, but that two of his experiments are still alive. They’re young and look a bit like cat-people; their names are Nijuku and Sanju (according to the translation notes at the end of the volume, their names are shortened versions of the Japanese words for twenty-nine and thirty. Nijuku and Sanju join Kuro on her journey.
Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro is told in a 4-koma (4-panel) style, which is a little different from the manga that I usually read. Until I understood which way I was supposed to be reading the panels, I was getting a little lost and confused as I read. After I realized what I was doing wrong, I re-read the pages I read wrong in order to better understand the story.
Even after doing that, though, it can still be a little confusing to follow with the way Kiyuduki chose to tell the story. There will be times where the story jumps around in time, but there’s nothing to indicate the time change at first. I only picked up on this as I read and realized that what I was reading had to have happened earlier than a section I had read earlier. Also, the fact that Kuro’s quest seems to be a bit ambiguous also makes it difficult for me as a reader to care about what happens to her and to root for her to be successful in her quest.
When it comes to the art in Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, I thought that some of the other female characters that Kuro met looked a little too similar to each other in the face. Overall, the impression this manga left me with was that Kiyuduki has a rather limited art style. The vast majority of the panels in this volume don’t have a lot of detail, and the characters seem to have a bit of a “sameness” in their look and feel.
Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro isn’t necessarily a bad manga, but it’s not a title that I’m going to rush out of my way to read more of in the immediate future.