Manga: Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro

An ongoing manga series by mangaka and character designer Satoko Kiyuduki (of Dept Heaven fame). Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, titled Katsugi Hitsugi no Kuro in Japanese, tells the story of a boyish young woman named Kuro who travels the land in search of... something, accompanied by a flock of bats and eventually a pair of unusual young girls named Nijuku and Sanju. She always dresses in black and carries a coffin (that, suspiciously, seems just her size) on her back—and is often mistaken for a boy. Or a vampire. Or a mortician, or a coffin salesman... the list goes on and on.

The story is told mostly in 4koma, and has an episodic feel to it—though there are occasional stories about the side characters that Kuro meets and then leaves along her way. Although the readers know next to nothing about the characters when they are first introduced, eventually the reason why Kuro is traveling and what she's looking for become clear, and Nijuku and Sanju's special abilities and purpose are explored.

This series is often noted for its similarities to Kino's Journey, though Kuro has less navel-gazing overall and tends to have a whimsical, charming feel even when serious events come up—though Kuro can get very dark every now and then.

The manga is serialized in Manga Time Kirara and is being localized by Yen Press. There was a long delay between the second and third volumes due to the manga being on hiatus in Japan, but the third volume was eventually released in November 2012.

Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro utilizes these tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: Sen—Kuro has to chaperone him in bars, as he usually drinks himself into unconsciousness.
  • Anachronic Order: The chapters jump all over the place, but one can get a general idea of what comes after what from the presence or lack of certain features (chapters that lack Nijuku and Sanju obviously take place before Kuro met them, for example). Things get muddled between chapters containing the same set of features, such as the last chapter in volume 3 taking place before the first chapter in volume 1.
  • And Call Him George: Sanju grips too hard when she becomes enthusiastic. This is not good when you're holding a small animal.
  • Audio Adaptation: Has one drama CD, wherein Kuro is voiced by Takayama Minami, Sen by Tsukui Kyousei, Nijuku by Tokunaga Ai, and Sanju by Nonaka Ai.
  • Bandage Babe: Kuro is covered in bandages underneath her clothes so that the black stain won't ruin them.
  • Bifauxnen: Kuro, sort of. Dorothy from the third volume, too.
  • Black and White Morality: Oddly enough, from Kuro herself: when asked by the good witch what it was that distinguished her from the Black Witch that Kuro searches for, Kuro could only reply that "She (the good witch) is a good person, (The Black Witch) is a bad person."
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The witch.
  • Body Horror: The whole manga is rife with it.
  • Boke and Tsukkomi Routine: Kuro and Sen, (usually) without the physical-humor part of the equation.
  • Bokukko: Kuro.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Sanju, whenever she's in a bad mood.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Lampshaded; Sen often teases Kuro for not fully explaining what she's doing.
  • Casting a Shadow: An interesting variant in that Nijuku's and Sanju's shadows have a sort of sentience and can freely detach themselves from the kids.
  • Cheerful Child: Nijuku.
  • Children Are Innocent: Nijuku and Sanju, though the trope is justified, considering they've spent their whole lives in their creator's laboratory before being brought along with Kuro and Sen.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Subverted early and often.
  • Crapsack World: Don't let the Moe artstyle deceive you. The world Kuro lives in is a dark place, with malicious people and vile powers aplenty. The supernatural plague... *shivers*
  • Dark-Skinned Blond: The twins.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sen.
  • The Drifter: Kuro, and the rest of her odd family.
  • Exposition Fairy: Averted with Sen, who doesn't explain things to Kuro but to everyone she runs into.
  • Expy: Yggdra Union's Mistel is based on the "witch" encountered in the third story arc; Isabeli from Gungnir has Kuro's coloring.
  • Foreshadowing: In Volume 4, there's an incident where Sanju rips off a doll's arm because she gets overexcited. The doll's owner reassures her that the doll is old, and anyway, it's easy to fix. She is not so understanding when Sanju does the same thing to a kitten's leg.
  • Freak Out: Kuro at the end of volume 3.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The selfish princess.
  • Goggles Do Nothing: Averted with Kei, who always has them over his eyes.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Sanju and Nijuku can describe fairly horrific things without realising that what they've seen or said is, indeed, horrific.
  • Kuudere: Kuro, oh so much.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Lots of it. As expected from Kiyudzuki-sensei.
  • Lovable Sex Maniac: Sen, sometimes. (He never seems to actually get any, though.)
  • Meaningful Name: "Sen" means "one thousand". It's also the first syllable of sensei, and Sen was originally Kuro's teacher, whose body was split into one thousand bats.
  • No Name Given: The dog-faced traveler, until volume 3.
    • The Witch, until Volume 4. It's Hifumi
  • No Sympathy: Sen seems relatively unconcerned about Kuro getting attacked (and, it is implied, raped) by thugs. He basically tells her to consider it a learning experience.
    • Possibly as a result of their social isolation, Sen and Kuro's priorities can appear a little skewed; they only really express concern for their immediate group. When Sanju maims/kills a kitten, their concern isn't really for the kitten or its traumatised young owners, but how they're going to get Sanju to stop destroying/killing things by accident (and therefore making trouble for them) without upsetting her too much.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Kuro and Sen.
  • Parental Substitute: Kuro and Sen, to Nijuku and Sanju. Sen to Kuro.
  • Puni Plush
  • Rape as Drama: Implied in volume 2 when we get a glimpse of Kuro and Sen's first months of traveling. It's only one strip and Kuro doesn't say anything, but Sen mentions that it was in an alley and the man said he was going to give Kuro information on a witch.
  • Running Gag: "Just so you know, I'm a girl."
  • Shout-Out: In the selfish princess' arc, Kei tells her a drama-filled adventure story; the illustrations show the princess fleeing mysterious pursuers with a massive sword.
  • The Stoic: Kuro, because fits of strong emotion cause the corrosion of her body by the black stain to speed up.
  • Super-Deformed: Kiyudzuki's art is already extremely cutesy (and she rarely ever draws any other way—see Yggdra Union for the rule and Knights in the Nightmare as an exception), but she manages to take this to Serial Escalation levels of adorable.
  • Talking Animal: Sen.
  • That Man Is Dead: Subverted. Kuro almost never tells anyone her real name—turns out that this is because it's very girly and cutesy, and she doesn't think it fits her.
  • Theme Naming: The guardians of The World Tree are all named after characters from The Wizard of Oz. They refer to the world tree itself as the Emerald City.
    • Theme Twin Naming: Nijuku and Sanju are cutesy pronunciations of the Japanese words for twenty-nine and thirty.
  • Tragic Keepsake: The coffin, in a really creepy way. Kuro's glasses also sort of count.
  • Trail of Bread Crumbs: A child uses the food trail type to keep from getting lost in a forest. Kuro and Sen, themselves lost and trying to find their way to the girl's village, are decidedly dejected because they are certain that animals have already eaten the crumbs.
  • The Unreveal: At the end of volume three, the middle-aged man's identity is apparently posthumously revealed because he knew Kuro and her mother's names, but the information is relayed to Kuro offscreen, so we still don't know her given name.
  • Unusual Ears: Nijuku and Sanju. When Kuro first meets them, at least...
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Kuro, but it's to be expected after years of travelling her world.
  • The Virus: Kuro's curse.
  • Walking the Earth
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Usually employed deliberately - Kuro's status as a perpetual traveller means that she encounters many people on her journey, but as she's only passing through their life, she seldom finds out the outcome of their story.
    • This can crop up in its more usual form, however, such as in the incident where Sanju maims a kitten by accident. Nijuku says she tore the kitten's leg off, making it unlikely the poor thing would survive. Sen says she "broke" its leg, making it seem more likely it survived. The illustration seems to imply that it died, but Kuro passes someone singing a song about a man with a prosthetic limb, which, given the nature of the series, would appear to hint that the kitten was treatable. We don't learn exactly what happened, and Nijuku's Innocent Inaccurate story doesn't help...but it certainly doesn't look good.
  • What You Are in the Dark: What those that seek a wish granted by the World Tree should expect to go through.

Alternative Title(s):

Shoulder A Coffin Kuro