This week, Tony takes a look at two pieces of manga, "Sexy Voice & Robo" and "Her Majesty's Dog. While very different in tone and style, both deal with relationships and romantic entaglements that are the cornerstone of many manga stories.
Welcome back to Manga Island! I hope your new year was full of good tidings and that the next year on the island and elsewhere is fantastic. As we look forward to the coming year, I decided to take a look at the some of the stories that deals with relationships in ways that only manga can address. Though very different in tone and style Iou Kuroda's "Sexy Voice and Robo" and Mick Takeuchi's "Her Majesty's Dog" are seemingly night and day. However they both deal with relationships and romantic entanglements that are the cornerstone of many a manga tale.
Iou Kuroda's "Sexy Voice and Robo" is one of the best manga I have read in the past year (2005-2006 to be exact), and I am really sorry that I waited this long to get around to it. The larger print format and somewhat sketchy style may put off the manga fan looking for the next pocket sized book full of starry eyed girls and monster battling, but this book is about what manga and comics can be. A book that fans of manga, indie comics, and mystery and adventure would all be well served in picking this up (and the presentation looks great on a shelf along with all your other prestige graphic novels).
"Sexy Voice and Robo" is the story of 14-year-old telephone dating operator Nico Hayashi (who works from her cell phone keeping men on the line with often risqu conversation) and one of her clients, Richiro Sudo (whom she nicknames Robo for his affinity for collecting toy robots) and their adventures together. Nico wants to be a spy or a fortuneteller, and as codename Sexy Voice, she begins by spying on her clients to put faces to with their names and habits. This leads to her meeting Robo, as well as a chance encounter with a new employer willing to pay her to use her phone skills as a professional grade flirt, her photographic memory, and ability to recognize familiar voices, to seek out people for him and to run secret errands.
Nico is a tough, smart young girl, and if it wasn't for her rather dubious choices in careers, she would make an excellent role model for young teens. She is smart and seemingly on top of all the things in her life. She realizes that her job as a telephone dating girl is only a stepping stone to her future as a spy, fortune teller, negotiator, or whatever she plans to do next. Nico and the other female characters for the most part, are all stronger than the men in the book (even Nico's mysterious benefactor). This refreshing take on women's roles in a traditional male dominated society provides an interesting window into who's really running the show in gender politics, and creates some great stories in its wake.
Kuroda's art style is fast, flowing and sketchy, with very little toning outside of the heavy inks he employs. The panels can often be heavy on the black ink, but he really knows how to lay out an interesting page with a cinematic flow. Kuroda is a master of putting detail where it needs to be as well as allowing sparse detail to define a character and bring that character out. There is a mixture of highly rendered faces and a fair amount of caricature work that blends almost seamlessly into each other and always flows well. Kuroda also sets up action well and uses camera and perspective to bring out the dynamic characters, even in seemingly mundane situations. Kuroda's renderings of Tokyo are very tactile and provide an excellent view of the city, from the slums to the houses of the upper class, everywhere in between.
"Sexy Voice and Robo" is one of those books that works as a comic for all anyone who wants to read a great story, loves a strong character, a little mystery, or something a little different in their manga. I can recommend this to older teens and to anyone who has enjoyed books like "Encyclopedia Brown", the "Hardy Boys", and "Nancy Drew", and doesn't mind something a little different in their comics or manga. While the price and presentation are more akin to the American graphic novels, I have to give it up to Viz for putting out this high quality larger format book. This book deserves to be on comic shelves in the manga, young adult, and indie sections all at the same time. If you take a chance on one manga outside of your usual books this year, "Sexy Voice and Robo" is well worth it.
A more traditional looking manga with yet another strange and different relationship is Mick Takeuchi's "Her Majesty's Dog." GoComi! is relatively new to the manga publishing business but it has a lot of industry veterans behind it, and the quality of the book and the approach to translation and presentation shows through and through. GoComi!'s website speaks volumes about their enthusiasm and their commitment to putting out quality books.
"Her Majesty's Dog" started out as a horror story before Mick Takeuchi spun the tale into a more shojo-like story full of cute girls and guys battling supernatural creatures of all sorts. The main character of the story, Amane Kamorim is a recent transfer to a high school in the city, far away from her rural village full of magic and superstition. It just so happens that she has brought along her guardian demon Hyoue Inugami (the "dog" of the title), disguised as a cute guy that all the girls seem to want.
While the art and basic plot of "Her Majesty's Dog" are fairly typical for shojo comics, there are some great plot elements and interesting twists here and there. The story started as a quarterly story and grew to be Takeuchi's only book she is working on (as well as her first translated manga). It's a great blend of high school drama with some really nice Japanese mythology mixed in for good measure. Amane's main power is the ability to use word magic, or "kotodama" (the belief held by many cultures that words, and in particular, names have powers over other creatures) in addition to her being able to control her Koma-Oni (guardian demon) provide an interesting and little used take on supernatural powers.
The characters are charming and even in issue one, Amane shows some growth and confidence with the help of her new best friend Takako Nishina, who strives to help the awkward and naive Amane escape being bullied and harassed for being "different" from the popular girls who pick on her for her differences and with the fact that they are jealous because she seems to be dating the cutest guy in class. It doesn't help that in order to recharge Hyoue's power, Amane must kiss him (what a great shojo fantasy huh?), often in plain sight of her fellow classmates. Amane is strong and extremely powerful in her use of magic and command of Hyoue, despite her awkward tendencies and her absolute bafflement at all technology (due to her time spent in such a rural village, even a flashlight is high technology to her), much to the chagrin of her friends.
"Her Majesty's Dog" is a near perfect blend of horror trappings and high school fish-out-of-water stories. When Amane's cousin from her village, the young cute new teacher Hayato Hiraka is added to the mix, the books really begins to get interesting. Village supernatural politics and the intrigue of how the magicians of Amane's village view the Koma-Oni add depth and interest to an already intriguing premise. If you are looking for a nice crossover title, this may be right up your alley. Of course all the great art, nice translation notes, and cute girls and guys can't hurt when you are looking for a manga to read. With the promise of even more supernatural elements and intrigue in volume 2, this is definitely a book to check out and it's an excellent introduction to GoComi!'s lineup. I know I will be visiting the GoComi! area of Manga Island again and I am really interested in how it shapes up in the coming year.
If you are looking for some good reads in the winter months that lead in to spring (more traditional relationship months) keep looking to Manga Island. Keep your eye out for more and more GoComi! manga and some cool upcoming titles from Viz's Editor's choice line. I hope to see all of you visiting the Island every other week for the year to come.
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, "PSY-COMM Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.