Story/Art: Satoko Kiyuduki
Translation/Adaptation: Satsuki Yamashita
What They Say
On the trail of the witch who cursed her, Kuro has an unexpected close encounter that overwhelms her with negative emotion and sends her curse into overdrive, eating away at her body. Even as she enfolds Nijuku and Sanju in her arms, Kuro sinks away into a deep, dark abyss of memory. Will the day ever come when Kuro opens her eyes again?!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Having long traveled and encountered many people while avoiding making the kinds of human connections that might cause her to change her mind about her journeys it seemed that Kuro had truly managed to seal her emotions and with that slowed the spread of the black illness that threatens to end her life. Despite that success- or perhaps because of it- Kuro is completely unprepared for the aftermath of the discovery that the old traveler she met in the previous volume who was looking for his wife and daughter knew both Kuro’s mother’s name as well as her own real name and the stress from this encounter has given her illness a chance to leap out as the young woman collapsed.
The current volume picks up a year later as Kuro has remained unconscious the whole time while Sen, Nijuku and Sanju wait for the day where the traveler in black may one day again open her eyes and as time passes the question that none of them wish to address becomes harder and harder to ignore- just what will they do if that day they are waiting for never comes? In the mean time Kuro is stuck inside her own dreams as she waits in a station to catch a train while she converses with other travelers as they share their doubts and pain or even ask her why one travels and yet somehow the young traveler never quite manages to make it onto her own train to its unstated destination.
Fortunately though for her friends one of the people Kuro had previously encountered was able to procure some herbs to help heal the young lady as she finally awakens. While Kuro’s body has recovered from her most recent attack it seems that her spirit may take a bit longer to heal as Kuro ponders whether or not picking up where she left off on her journey is for the best or if maybe leaving the twins she picked up along the way might not be in her best interest.
Eventually however she makes the decision to continue on as she had been and her search for the witch that cursed her leads her to encounter many amazing things and people, from those who wait for the return of a loved one with wanderlust to a kingdom that had been lost due to the obsession of its king who only heard about other lands from travelers to a town that has been built on legend of an angel statue that may get a new legend due to the traveling companies appearance. As Kuro travels she finds that she isn’t immune from magical encounters either as she has a strange dream that may have been more than a product of her subconscious while she also gets a chance to talk with a young woman torn between two horrible choices that throw a mirror back to Kuro’s own life. It may be however that the hardest task Kuro has is in trying to teach one of the wards she picked up restraint as they young one’s inability to feel pain has left her unable to gauge her strength and which leaves her suffering for reasons that she can’t understand. And along the way the question again gets raised, is the day when Kuro finally breaks her curse ever going to come or is her legacy going to be found in the path that she leaves behind and those encountered on it?
The fourth volume of Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro had a lot to do to live up to the previous volume and its reveal that Kuro appeared to have crossed paths with her father without knowing it as it dropped the knowledge of his presumed fate on the young woman which lead to her attack and also more than a little sadness in me in that reveal. With all sorts of options on how to come back to the story the author chose a path simply hinted at so far she finally reveals some of the back story of Kuro and Sen and how it is the two came to be acquainted before they became fellow travelers looking for a cure. What absolutely entranced me with this is how the material played out as at no point did the author seem to flinch away from the spectacular yet often cruel world she created and in addition how so many of Kuro and Sen’s previous encounters are echoed in her lead pair. With the introduction of the capricious young man who isn’t sold on the incredibly in need young woman who gets dropped at his doorstep and yet he begrudgingly comes to accept their relationship just before both their lives change forever the author finally gives an answer to one of the oldest questions her series creates and amazingly the answer largely holds up very well both on its own and in terms of the themes that have been developed along the way.
I loved seeing how the pair had met in the past and the amazing transition they have made since as they travel with Sen still often being very similar to how he was yet the young Kuro has been forced to grow up in a very molded way due to how the curse has impacted her and the age it hit versus how Sen seems to largely be close to the individual we meet her for the first time with perhaps a few more hints of maturity and responsibility mixed in. I love how this piece of the past tied into the one from the previous book in a way that felt natural (and which was more than a bit different than how I thought it would be connected when seeing that previous book’s scene) and when combined with a short little piece later in this volume it might lay the groundwork for however this title will eventually end.
I’d be remiss though if I didn’t touch on just how powerful the pages in the book were with the twins as they struggled to come to terms with the absence of Kuro in their life and as they played the role of that woman and, knowingly or not, started to ponder what comes after their current journey and the hints of growing up that started to make an appearance with them. The other side of the coin was amazing as well as Kuro has in previous books made mention of the burden that she feels for the twins after discovering them but watching her here as she struggled even more with those emotions, including initially feeling like she couldn’t even go see them, helped to really sell just how impactful their presence has become for Kuro and the moment of doubts really bring to light just what it is that this group has come to mean as a type of family during their journeys.
And that all manages to tie together while also addressing the subtheme that lies at the heart of this volume for me- the tension between being like a traveler, visiting places and learning of things first hand as opposed to finding happiness at home and being content with where one is and accepting that one can gain a lot there as well. As Kuro travels she often encounters people who are faced with similar choices when confronted with tales of what else is out there versus how the heart might have found a reason to grow roots in one location which creates a reason to stay. For Kuro this desire may be deadly as she feels that finding the witch that cursed her may lead to a cure which has lead her to have to seal off the part of her heart that would lead her to settle, yet the twins traveling with her are a constant reminder that she is unable to fully become that which she thinks she needs to in order to travel and find her cure yet she is unable to simply leave them behind. Frankly this dichotomy is one of the most powerful parts of this series to me as it would probably be easier for an author not to throw in those temptations which can create a message that isn’t as easy to convey simply and go a different route and yet it is these facets along with gorgeous art that make for a story that is powerful and simply amazing and which really feels like something unique in large part for the author taking this risk which helps create a book that I absolutely adore. Recommended.
Kuro’s brush with the man who might have been her father and the news of his tragic fate have left the young woman unconscious and dreaming of the meaning of her journey for a year while her friends in the world wish for her survival while starting to wonder what is it they will do if the young woman never opens her eyes. With this start Kuro finds that she in now in a position where she has to really think about her journey with Sen and the twins, and it maybe that while sleeping her mind has come to a decision as to whether their journey should continue as it was or if she needs to make a choice to unburden some of the load she travels with- all while she ponders if she is able to even make that decision given what the twins have come to mean to her. With its often haunting stories of choice, fantastical settings and characters that really bring with them a sense of life and the ramifications that come from there being no easy answers Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro continues to be one of the more emotional titles available on the market today. The title’s themes and exploits make it suitable for readers of almost any age who choose to travel with this cursed young woman, her bat companion and the mysterious twins as they search for a cure but who may be discovering something at least as precious along the way- an appreciation for what others and the world around them can truly mean and how special even the most mundane encounter really can be. Recommended.
Content Grade: A
Art Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: A+
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Yen Press
Release Date: September 23rd, 2014