I’m starting to think that someone could devote an entire blog to manga that involves characters dealing with the recently deceased. I’m also starting to worry that my blanket fondness for this kind of manga indicates a lurking morbidity in my otherwise sunny disposition.
Maybe it’s simply a matter of taste. I like episodic manga, and I like stories about people who help dead people. So is it any surprise that I like Mitsukazu Mihara’s The Embalmer (Tokyopop)?
The Embalmer takes a slightly different track than some of the other dead-people manga I’ve been enjoying lately. The restless spirits of the deceased are out of the equation, and protagonist Shinjyurou is more concerned with the peace of mind of the people they leave behind. While the Japanese (at least the ones portrayed here) generally view embalming as a ghoulish practice, Shinjyurou believes that the practice can bring closure to the grief-stricken, allowing them to see their loved ones in an idealized state as they bid them goodbye.
Shinjyurou isn’t especially heroic. He doesn’t have the young-man-with-a-dream fervor of other manga protagonists trying to bring western practices to Japanese consumers. (That would actually make for a hilariously tacky shônen comedy, come to think of it — Yakitate!! Japan with cavity fillers.) Instead, he kind of wanders through life looking sexily tousled and occasionally coming across a scenario that might benefit from his expertise.
His lazy glamour isn’t a façade. When he isn’t at work, he’s kind of a pig. He treats his numerous sexual conquests with indifference (though without cruelty or dishonesty) in the time-honored tradition of sex as antidote for death. Shinjyurou reserves his version of affection and tenderness for the dead, the grieving, and Azuki, his landlord’s daughter. He likes her too much to use her, but he’ll happily tease her.
I’m not especially wowed by the ongoing narrative elements, but the individual episodes are moving and observant. Mihara seems especially cognizant of the inherent vanity involved in leaving a good-looking corpse, and she uses that awareness to balance the sentimentality. But she doesn’t resist sentimentality entirely, which is all to the good. As with her protagonist, Mihara gives the book a credibly beating (though not bleeding) heart underneath the sexy stylishness.
Do I think The Embalmer is great manga? Not really. It’s attractive and often intriguing, but it doesn’t strike me as a series I’ll want to read again and again. It is a solid, distinct addition to the growing list of death-helper manga, though. If you like that sort of thing (as I obviously do), give it a try.