Shoulder a Coffin Kuro

Review covers all of the volumes released so far

The title of this Manga seems an odd contrast: A coffin is a dark and somber object, but to carry one around is a bit silly. But in a way this does do the series some justice; Shoulder a Coffin Kuro frequently switches between lighthearted and dark stories. And it’s very good at doing both.

The series stars Kuro, a young woman who travels the world and carries an empty coffin around with her where ever she goes. Also staring is Sen, the talking bat who used to be human, and the small twins Sanju and Nijuku, who follow them around.

A girl carrying a coffin around and a talking bat might seem like a “what the heck?” type thing, and when I first picked up the Manga I thought it would be full of random insanity. But that’s not quite how Shoulder a Coffin Kuro works.

Each of the four main characters has something unusual about them. For example, Sen has a bat-swarm under his control, and the twins can change colour and shape. It would follow the standard cliche if the four of them then went on to use their unusual powers to fight crime or save the world, but that’s not how Shoulder a Coffin Kuro works either.

Instead the majority of the stories involve taking one of their powers, and exploring the implications. There’s never any villain, and there is rarely any danger for the main characters. Instead a typical story might be more like, “what would happen if the children decided they wanted to use their powers and try to learn to fly?” or “what would happen if Sen lost a few members from his bat-swarm?”

These stories often end up being quite lighthearted, and very heavy in the cute factor. In fact the Manga is saturated with cuteness, and the twins in particular are ridiculously heavy in cute. But for all the lightheartedness Shoulder a Coffin Kuro is very good at giving even its light stories a dark edge. For example, Kuro first meets the twins imprisoned in a basement, and occasionally they trigger a flashback to their life in chains in the middle of an otherwise quite happy storyline.

Then there are a few stories thrown into the mix that are very, very dark in nature. For example, Kuro meets a young girl who is the soul survivor of a disaster that hit her village and has just watched everyone she knows die.

And just as the lighthearted stories had a dark edge, the dark stories also have a light edge. For example, as said young girl watches her dead friends being carted off, we hear her monologuing about how she’ll play with them when they “wake up”. Then later, when she realises what has happened, we have a “play” funeral where only she and Kuro attend.

This light edge managed to make the dark stories even darker, as the slight air of humanity makes the deaths feel less like unnoticed extras dying in a comic book, and more like something real and horrible.

Shoulder a Coffin Kuro has a strange format whereby it starts in the middle of the story, and alternately switches between moving forward and explaining the beginning with flashbacks. I’m aware I always complain when time-shifting in a story is done badly or without thought, but here I felt it really added to the story as it allowed the author to slowly uncover details about the main characters in a more natural way.

Cleverly, the flashbacks themselves are told in reverse order; so as the reader continues reading the series they get closer and closer to the events in the beginning as well as the events at the end. This has the effect that, rather than know exactly who the characters are from the start, the reader starts out not really knowing but slowly build up a deeper understanding of them as each layer of the past is peeled away.

I really enjoyed reading Shoulder a Coffin Kuro. It’s well written, but most of all, it’s different than the norm. In a world full of comics using tried-and-tested story-lines that they know are safe investments, I can’t stress enough how important it is to be different.

I’ve not read anything quite like this before, and I can’t wait for the next volume. I really hope the series does continue on from the two volumes released so far.