Sexy Voice and Robo Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, August 01, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, July 05, 2005
Translated by:Yuji Oniki
What They Say
Award-winning series in one volume from Japan's most highly regarded young manga artist.
Fourteen-year-old girl Niko Hayashi wants to become a fortune teller or a spy when she grows up. She also possesses a special talent: she has seven different voices, which she uses at her job at a phone-chat club. One day, she meets a rich old man who happens to be an underworld boss. Thanks to her voice skills, she becomes his personal assistant and is assigned to work on various problems, such as rescuing a kidnapped boy, protecting the old man from an assassination, locating murderers, etc. She continues her phone-chat job, though, and through it enlists a partner in her adventures: Robo, a guy who never gets laid. This intense, beautiful, cinematic work of art is a breath of fresh air from the current manga style. Creator Kuroda (born 1971) has been hailed as the future of the manga art form. SEXY VOICE AND ROBO is his English-language debut.
A 14-year old phone sex operator teams up with a robot otaku to investigates cases handed down from a mysterious mob boss. The result is an exemplary seinen title that every manga fan should read.
The manga is presented with both volumes of the original release combined into an A4 size format with book flaps. The cover artwork has an interesting pulp-ish feel that fits this investigator title perfectly. The print job is great, highlighting Kuroda’s thick brush work quite nicely. At the back of the book is an afterword from Marc Weidenbaum that I thought really helped wrap up this story with some interesting thoughts and insights.
Kuroda’s artwork is a great breath of fresh air that might just go underappreciated by many readers. Entirely composed of brush strokes without the use of tones, Kuroda presents with a very natural, free flowing manga that paints Tokyo in a different type of light then most are used too. This is not the harsh, technology filled city dominated by skyscrapers and businessmen that we see in most manga. Instead, Kuroda’s Tokyo feels much more older, with an European influence, and concentrates more of the heart of Tokyo and it’s wonderful personality, almost making it feel romantic. Even without tone work, there is plenty of depth to his artwork and he is able to properly convey many emotions through his characters. Truly wonderful stuff.
The translation is really solid and I thought the dialogue really nailed each of the character’s personality. The SFX are translated and retouched, which looks good most of the time but I had issues with a few of the SFX. Some were a little more boxed than I would like, while a few of the larger SFX looked pixilated and not very clean. It’s really the only minor blemish on what is otherwise a great job.
Contents (Watch out spoilers ahead):
Fourteen year old Nico Hayashi is a dating service operator that has big dreams of becoming a spy, or a fortuneteller. Day after day she talks with countless lonely men, listening closely to each and everyone’s voices to determine their personality and other quirky traits. Nico has a special skill with her profiling ability, and with this skill she lands an unofficial job with a yakuza boss in investigating small cases using her new found talent. Of course, if you are going to work for the mob, you gotta have your own crew. Nico finds an older, lonely robot otaku that she calls at her own whim and drags him unwillingly along on their investigative journeys. Codenamed Sexy Voice and Robo, these two not only solve cases but also bring hope back into the lives of those that need it.
The first half of this book features one-chapter cases that Sexy Voice and Robo must solve, which usually results in a good chunk of cash for Nico that she puts away or spends on food for the poor and unemployed Robo. The stories are really well constructed for being only one chapter long, allowing the reader to be properly introduced to this odd couple and the unique take on Tokyo. This isn’t your harsh, technology filled urban center of Japan that is portrayed in most manga. Kuroda’s Tokyo is must more gentile and filled with joy and wonder, and I find it a real treat.
With each passing case we learn more and more about Sexy Voice and Robo, with pieces of each story carrying over into the next. By the time the larger story arc kicks in with the 2nd half of the book, the characters have been properly developed into those that the reader can connect with and become instantly a part of their struggles. When Nico is sent out on a mission to track an assassin with only a 3-day memory, her dreams of being a spy are shattered to the core as she gets wrapped up in a larger plot that reveals the darker truths in being a spy.
A big reason for the success of this story can be contributed to Kuroda’s wonderfully crafted lead character, Nico Hayashi aka Sexy Voice. I found her character to be completely realistic in this story, and her development and actions along the way really demonstrates both her wit and youthful intelligence, but also her naivetÚ about the world around her. Still being a teenager, she still lacks that fear of the unknown and she jumps feet first right into each of her cases, regardless of the risk to her life, but she still remains somewhat professional. Her exposure to men is purely through the phone dating service, making her wise about the intentions of the lonely man, but she is still quite na´ve and plays her age when it comes to wanting to date one. Her personality and charm is quite infectious, which allows the reader to instantly connect with her. It’s really a treat to be able to connect with her so quickly, and also see a character go through so much development in only two volumes worth of manga. Nico is a character that I will always remember and will continue to enjoy on each successive read.
It is also through Nico’s character that an adult reader can remember their teenage years, on the cusp of a scary adult world but still young enough to hold on to those na´ve but hope-filled dreams. We all had dreams of being something grand growing up, perfectly crafted with no understanding of the underlining truths. As Nico finds herself caught up in a case that is too much for her young mind, you see her from being that wide-eyed teen into a more hardened adult. One of my favorite scenes is when she visits an elderly woman who used to be a spy who is trying to hide that fact by playing the role of a senile old lady. Nico immediately sees her bluff, and they both enter into a great conversation where Nico asks her questions about how being a spy. Nico is really having a conversation with a possible older version of herself, finding out if this is the person she truly wants to become. It is when the old lady speaks a great line, “Sometimes it’s your skills and not your will, that sets you on your path”, that reality sort of sinks in for Nico. She now has to decided whether or not to accept this or move on and do her best to keep her dreams and hopes alive. At the end of the book, I was filled with great conflicting emotions as I felt really sad for Nico and understood her pain as an adult myself, but also happy at her resolve and how she just keeps going on doing what she wants to do.
While Nico may dominate the story, the other supporting casts are just as strong. Robo appears to be the bumbling idiot inserted for comedic relief at first, but as the manga progresses you begin to see his worth to Nico and the story. The one-chapter characters that are present in the early cases are also well done, as I found myself wanting to know their complete stories. In order for these early vignettes to succeed, there had to be characters that the reader could instantly connect with. All around Kuroda just does a great job at presenting a tight little package that is an exemplary seinen title, showcasing everything that is great about these types of stories.
We all had those pure, na´ve dreams as a teenager that were still untainted by the World of the Adults. But as we started crossing that line into that scary world, our dreams started to show their true colors. You either have to accept these faults, or move on to something else, trying to forge your own path in your own way.
Kuroda presents to the reader a wonderfully crafted set of private investigator stories featuring one of the more infectious and realistic feeling characters in all of manga. I was shocked by book’s end when I found myself in both tears of sadness and joy in only a mere 400 pages. That Kuroda could create a character that I could connect with in that short amount of time is a stroke of genius.
The brush stroke artwork is also a real treat. The Tokyo that Kuroda presents is not the normal Tokyo seen in manga, filled with mean streets, technology, and a dominating skyline. Instead, he creates a Tokyo that does feel sweet and innocent despite the yakuza, prowling men, and prostitutes found within. There is something special at the heart of Tokyo that is wonderful, and Kuroda brings this out with his distinct style.
Originally published in Ikki, a seinen magazine, Sexy Voice and Robo is a title that is must for any manga fan’s shelf. A true highlight of seinen storytelling that has the ability to appeal to any reader that is a teen or older. Missing out on Sexy Voice and Robo would be akin to missing out on manga. This book definitely deserves my highest recommendation.
Mania Grade: A+
Art Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: A
Text/Translatin Rating: A-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: Viz Media
Orientation: Right to Left