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Manga / Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro

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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with the story concluding in the seventh volume released in May 2019, followed by a "side story" volume of previously unpublished stories, titled Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro Side Story: Nostalgic Travelogue released in April 2020.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:

  • Afterlife Express: Implied in Kuro's sick dream. She meets a wounded soldier who plans on returning to his hometown, but when his childhood friend came to see him off, she remarked that she won't be seeing him ever again. When Kuro's time to board comes, she slowly begins forgetting her life and leaves her coat and coffin at the station before she decides not to get on. In reality, she was suffering from a nasty case of her curse's fits. Similar to her dream she was not wearing her heavier travelling items and pondered why she "couldn't get on" again.
  • 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.
  • Angst Coma: Combined with Convenient Coma, Kuro falls into one when she realizes that the traveler who was trying to find his wife and child was her father, and he was killed saving people in a war zone. Her black then tries to cover her body and puts her out for a year.
  • Audio Adaptation: Has one drama CD, wherein Kuro is voiced by Minami Takayama, Sen by Tsukui Kyousei, Nijuku by Ai Tokunaga, and Sanju by Ai Nonaka.
  • Bandage Babe: Kuro is covered in bandages underneath her clothes so that the black stain won't ruin them.
  • Bifauxnen:
    • 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.
  • Chain of Deals: While at a train station, Kuro is asked for advice by a series of travelers who then leave something by her. She gets an orange from an old man worried about how to enjoy his travels, which is given to a set of twins leaving for two different destinations. They give her a doll, which is given to a discharged soldier heading home. From him comes a charm he carried, given to his childhood friend, who in turn gives Kuro a bouquet meant for the soldier.
  • 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.
  • Death of a Child: The series doesn't shy away from getting kids hurt. Mo's flashback in Volume 2 is all about her slow physical decay and death, while her two village acquaintances (around her age or younger) are both shown dragged off to the hospital like the rest of the dead.
  • Exposition Fairy: Averted with Sen, who doesn't explain things to Kuro but to everyone she runs into.
  • Five-Second 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Look carefully at the cracked growth chamber in the Professor's basement. See the 3? That'll be important later.
    • The fact that Kuro's coffin gets larger and larger as she grows up despite the fact that it should be the size of a little girl foreshadows the fact that Mo didn't exactly die. In the mirror chapter, the only mirror versions that should be showing up are those of the people in the house, which includes Sen, Kuro, Nijuku and Sanju. We see their doppelgangers, but we follow one extra adventuring with Sanju, who talks to her as if she knows her. She kind of does, since Mo's right there with them all.
  • 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.
  • "Just So" Story: "How Ian Brought Snow to the Village" turns out to be a tall tale explaining the existence of the singular path of white flowers going into their town. The story recounts it as Ian bringing back "Winter" from the winter country, but spilling out of his bag until he collapses.
  • Living Legend: By the present day, Kuro has become something of a folktale. One artist, after meeting her, crafted an infamous set of paintings with her as the focus, while people from the places she travels to have their own version of the "mysterious traveler" carrying a coffin. She even gets a fairy tale written about her.
  • The Lost Woods: In Volume 3, the gang and Kei end up on an ever-twisting forest that dampens out natural light. They would have been lost for good like many other unfortunate travelers, if not for them stumbling upon the house of the man who made it that way and his gynoid homemaker.
  • 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.
    • Kuro is "Kuro" because she is dressed in all black. Her curse also envelops her body in black.
  • Missed Him by That Much: On one trip, Kuro runs into a man who's been searching for his wife and child after war forcibly separated them. He eventually parted ways with her, but before he dies, he tells the woman he saved the names of his beloved family members—and they happen to be the real names of Kuro and her mother.
  • Mirror World: In Volume 3, the gang stumbles upon an abandoned mansion with mirrors and paintings everywhere. As it turns out, the mirrors are portals into a mirror universe, seemingly filled with Evil Doppelgangers. Sanju (and eventually Nijuku) wind up in there when their doppelgangers trick them.
  • No Name Given:
    • The dog-faced traveler, Fukashigi, is never referred to by name, until volume 3.
    • The Witch that Kuro is after isn't named until Volume 4. It's Hifumi.
  • 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.
  • Origins Episode: Volume 3 covers the birth and growth of the twins, both from Nijiku's perspective and from her professor's perspective.
  • Plot Parallel: Kuro's journey to find the witch that cursed her is deliberately compared to a village folktale about a father, Ian, who went on a journey to bring snow to his ailing son.
  • 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.
  • Seasonal Baggage: After Kuro collapses, Nijuku and Sanju's narration focuses on the changing of the seasons for what amounts to a year of recuperation.
  • Snipe Hunt: Volume 4 has a brother-sister pair that are on the search for faeries. The twist is that the girl is completely certain her brother would never find one, and furthermore the brother doesn't even care for faeries. A unique case of a snipe hunt done for positive reasons, since the sister wanted her brother to not worry about her illness while the brother only looks for faeries to cheer his sister up.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Sometimes, the illustrations at the back of the book make the characters look like The Moomins.
    • 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, just like main character in the beginning of Yggdra Union.
    • In a story involving a murder, the culprit is named Yasu, referencing the memetically known twist from The Portopia Serial Murder Case.
    • In the bonus drawings of Volume 4, Nijiku and Sanju ask if the witch they're watching (Hifumi as the witch in Snow White) is either the witch that says "Mahalic" or the witch that says "Pirika". The first refers to the title character of Sally the Witch and the second refers to the protagonist of Ojamajo Doremi.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: The band that protects the World Tree is named after and based off of characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Their leader is Dorothy, her wolf companion is Toto, the tree they protect is called the Emerald City, the entity inside is referred to as Oz, and while Dorothy's other three companions are not named, their builds obviously make them out to be the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow, and Lion.
  • 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. It's Sunya.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Nijuku and Sanju are cutesy pronunciations of the Japanese words for twenty-nine and thirty.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Hifumi is made up of three girls at three different stages in life: a studious girl who recently moved out from her country village (the Child), a proud and beautiful dancer with a hidden soft side (the Seductress), and a young sickly mother (the Wife).
  • 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.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: If Kuro has a particularly bad fit of her curse speeding up, she begins to forget details. She forgot most of her past, and nearly forgot about everything she did with Nijiku and Sanju.
  • Turning Back Human: Once a year on the night of the purple-red moon, Sen's curse is lifted and he once again regains his human form. It only lasts until sunrise of the next morning.
  • 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 cat girls by default, but the Professor made them able to take other forms such as mice, winged humanoids, and fish. They eventually turn into two moons, to look over Kuro as she continues to walk the earth after surviving her curse.
  • 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.
  • Wham Episode: The finale of Volume 3, which has Kuro go into a coma for nearly a year after her curse accelerates to dangerous levels.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Usually employed deliberately - Kuro's status as a perpetual traveler 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.
  • Whole Episode Flashback:
    • Volume 2's flashback chapter covers Kuro befriending Mo after her curse ravaged town.
    • Volume 3's big flashback covers the birth and growth of Nijuku and Sanju, up until they met Kuro.
    • Volume 4 begins with Sen and Kuro before they were cursed, presented as a dream of the past that Kuro cannot fully remember.
    • Volume 5 is the origin of Hifumi, told in the style of a dark folk tale.
  • 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.


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