A 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 completed its serialization in Manga Time Kirara in June 2018. It was localized for North America by Yen Press, with the story concluding in the seventh volume released in May 2019, followed by a "side story" volume of previously unpublished stories, titled Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro Side Story: Nostalgic Travelogue released in April 2020.
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.
- Kuro is mistaken for a boy at times.
- Dorothy from the third volume is rather boyish looking, though Kuro is able to tell she's a girl.
- 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."
- 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.
- Color-Coded Characters: Nijuku gets her ears and tail turned black early on and wears a blue dress, Sanju's ears and tail are still white and she wears a red dress.
- Crapsack World: Don't let the Puni Plush art style deceive you. The world Kuro lives in is a dark place, with malicious people and vile powers aplenty. The supernatural plague... *shivers*
- Exposition Fairy: Averted with Sen, who doesn't explain things to Kuro but to everyone she runs into.
- 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.
- Goggles Do Nothing: Averted with Kei, who always has them over his eyes and uses a motorcycle to get around.
- Innocent Inaccurate: Sanju and Nijuku can describe fairly horrific things without realising that what they've seen or said is, indeed, horrific.
- Meaningful Name: "Sen" means "one thousand", which is the number of bats that make up his collective body. It's also the first syllable of sensei, and Sen was originally Kuro's teacher before he was cursed.
- No Name Given:
- The dog-faced traveler is never referred to by name, until volume 3.
- The Witch that Kuro is after isn't named until, until Volume 4. It's Hifumi.She wrote in the ground in page 101 of volume 3.
- No Sympathy: 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.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: While they are both energetic and curious young girls, the red-clothed Sanju is slightly more impulsive than the blue-clothed Nijuku.
- Running Gag: Kuro being mistaken for a boy.Kuro: 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.
- In a story involving a murder, the culprit is Yasu.
- 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 the concept art for Knights in the Nightmare as an exception), but she manages to take this to Serial Escalation levels of adorable.
- Talking Animal: Sen is a colony of bats, the "lead" one is able to talk.
- 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 have cat ears. When Kuro first meets them, at least...
- Voluntary Shapeshifter: Nijuku and Sanju are catgirls by default but the Professor made them able to take other forms such as mice and winged humanoids.
- Walking the Earth: The plot of the manga mainly focuses on Kuro and Sen as they walk the path that was apparently taken by the witch who cursed them in order to get their original forms back.
- 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.
- You Are Number 6: Nijuku and Sanju mean "Twenty-Nine" and "Thirty", they are the Professor's twenty-ninth and thirtieth experimental creations. Hifumi is a fusion of the first, second and third experiments.