Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sexy Voice and Robo

The story: Nico Hayashi, code name "Sexy Voice" because of her skill in manipulating her voice, is a teenage girl with a peculiar part-time job as a phone club operator. Iichiro Sudo, or "Robo," is a hapless twenty-something who collects toy robots, hence the nickname. Together, Sexy Voice and Robo work for their mysterious benefactor, an old gangster Sexy Voice regularly meets up with. Robo, for the most part, falls time and again for one of Nico's voices and always ends up along for the ride.

Reaction: Talk about an exciting story! I love the curious situations Nico investigates, with Sudo as her lackey of sorts. Hopping from situation to situation, Nico and Sudo make quick work of mysteries and missing people, making it look seemingly effortless in the process. And right when you've gotten used to the episodic nature of this manga, Iou Kuroda changes things and pushes through some character and plot development.

Deep thoughts: Nico's phone club operation is built for men interested in enjo kosai, or compensated dating. The concept itself is interesting -- men giving women gifts for spending time with them. Of course, I wonder what kind of men call.

While this manga may or may not be a reflection of reality, it seems that either lonely 20-year-olds (like Robo), or men in their 30s call most often. In the way Kuroda tells it, these older men are seemingly disillusioned by the lives they've been asked to build for themselves and their families. Hence, the allure of a relationship without strings in which there's an equal exchange of goods. Thankfully, it seems that when teenage girls enter into enjo kosai, there's actually very little sex, if any, exchanged for gifts.

Artwork: The artwork here is thick-lined and fairly minimalist. Settings aren't so much presented as conveyed -- there's a wild quality to the linework that is reminiscent of Pablo Picasso's Don Quixote. Kuroda has a knack for creating a wide cast of characters, each recognizable in their own way, regardless of the context or close-up.

The verdict:
Required reading. This is what manga should be -- visually interesting and different with a vibrant cast of characters and a premise that may be imitable, but never replicable. I was hooked from page one and know that I'll be re-reading this time and again, while simultaneously crossing my fingers for more from Kuroda. Sexy Voice and Robo is available in the U.S. from Viz.

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