Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Embalmer, vol. 2

The story: Shinjyurou Mamiya is an embalmer in Japan, where the profession is seen as unclean. In this volume, filled with episodic tales, he helps Azuki, his neighbor and friend, come to terms with the death of her cat. Later, Shin recalls his first love, a woman who lied as much as he did. In another vignette, Mamiya meets a woman who makes dolls of those whose bodies are too damaged to embalm and watches a family torn apart by a best friend-cum-mistress. Shin spends yet another Christmas alone and finds himself once again unable to give Azuki his present. In another showing of Mamiya's devotion to Azuki, he intentionally makes his flat messy in order to entice Azuki into cleaning it, to no avail. Lastly, Mamiya's colleague, a doctor, reveals why she's an advocate of embalming in a country dedicated to cremation.

Reaction: No tears this time around, but these stories are nonetheless touching. It's hard to watch Shinjyurou push and pull Azuki around with his affections (or, more often, lack thereof). While it's obvious she cares for him, it's not so obvious to her that he feels the same. Out of all the episodic stories, I liked those with Azuki the best, as it reveals a profound part of his relationship with her. It's a codependency of sorts, although it's uncertain what he provides her with, and it reveals a bit of the humanity Shinjyurou works so hard to hide.

Deep thoughts: In the Christmas story, it's mentioned that Shinjyurou is especially busy, as it's a popular time of year to commit suicide. While Christmas has a more romantic undertone in Japan than in the United States, people still experience loneliness when not surrounded by loved ones during this important time of year. On the heels of Christmas is the New Year's holiday, where many people head to their hometowns or visit family members in order to ring in a prosperous new year.

Artwork: Mitsukazu Mihara's artwork is still typified by lithe, long-limbed people with fantastic hair and fun fashion. After reading through several manga series, I can't help but notice that the artwork in The Embalmer reminds me of that other embalming manga, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. There's something about characters' eyes and facial expressions that are evocative of the shonen series. There are also some nearly gruesome moments featuring corpses, but, on the whole, they are few and far between.

The verdict: If only... I wasn't as moved by the chapters in this volume as I was the first. While there were momentary glimpses into Shinjyurou's motivations and history, I felt myself wanting to know still more about his background. Of course, the teases regarding his seemingly non-existent relationship with Azuki are interesting in its own curious way. The Embalmer is available in the U.S. from Tokyopop.

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