Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The Embalmer, vol. 1
The story: The Embalmer is about an embalmer in Japan, where his work is considered "unclean" since he's working with the dead (and, culturally, is defiling a dead body). The first volume included short stories of the dead that the embalmer works with, including a ballerina who is a friend of a friend, an old man who loves clocks and a father/son story.
Reaction: I cried during the father/son snippet -- it's about a father who had tuberculosis and couldn't hug his son because of it, lest the boy become infected. In the end, the embalmer does his work, making the now-dead man's body sterile so that his son can finally hug him again. It hit a real sore spot for me, especially since my grandmother had TB in the 1950s and was isolated from my mom and aunt (who were toddlers at the time).
Deep thoughts: While the embalmer himself seems like a cold and callous type, it may be more of a defense mechanism as it's clearly outlined later in the volume that he craves a person's touch after working with the dead. He wants to "feel warm." Of course, since he's a young man, this is evidenced in the story by his sleeping around with random women (which is unsurprising, seeing as how he has green eyes and, because of that, draws the attention of women wherever he goes).
Artwork: While I liked the episodic nature of this manga's storyline, it was the art that got me hooked. Mitsukazu Mihara's lines are so stark and gothic, but show great detail in terms of both emotion -- this is about life and death -- and in setting. When the main character, an embalmer named Shin-Jyurou, is working, great care is taken with getting the tools right and creating a descriptive background. And in one panel of the first vignette, an office is prominently featured and one can almost see the scene in full color based on the paneling of the desk, the books on the shelving and the plants scattered about (think 1970-ish: orange, avocado, and tan). And, oh, does Mihara's skill ever extend to drawing the human form -- all the various characters are easy to tell apart, and emotions and other unique characteristics are nicely rendered.
The verdict: Highly recommended. So far, I'm interested in reading the rest of this mature story (only four volumes were published in English) and seeing where the story goes. While I'm not usually a fan of episodic manga -- I prefer an overarching story arc, plotline and character growth -- this really has me thinking otherwise, as I'm drawn in by the exquisite art and poignant stories. The Embalmer is available in the U.S. from Tokyopop.