Sexy Voice and Robo, The Girl and the Otaku from U.N.C.L.E.February 12, 2010
I actually watched the live action series of Sexy Voice and Robo, and enjoyed it immensely, thanks to it staring Matsuyama Kenichi (of L fame). I’m not sure exactly at what point I found out it was based on a manga, it must have been from Hisui. In any case, this Manga Moveable Feast deal seemed like a good as time as any finally get around to reading this work involving an amateur sleuth, a role that I have an immense fondness for, and a robot otaku.
I picked up the Sexy Voice and Robo manga a few years ago after reading several positive reviews and finding its independent comic vibe quite intriguing (plus the comic store had it 40% off). I liked it so much I threw it on my 2008 year in review but until now it went without a full discussion. When The Manga Curmudgeon proposed this project we both decided to throw in our two cents on a great franchise we had not given our full attention to on the blog.
Nico Hayashi has two amazing abilities, one is immediately obvious and the other is a little more subtle. She has the ability to change her voice with tremendous range. This ability has led to her uncanny insight into how people think and consequently which lets her read people like a book. One day an old gentlemen notices Nico’s talents and hires her to be a troubleshooter for various odd assignments. During her first mission she cons the otaku Iichiro Sudo into helping her. She soon forms an odd friendship with “Robo” as she calls him and involves him in various other assignments. All the stories in Sexy Voice and Robo involve Nico getting involved with someone and their problems. Almost all the cases revolve around one or more self-involved people with selfish problems. Although she is being paid by the old man for most of her mission it is obvious that she loves solving mysteries and figuring out how people work.
The style of both its story artwork are captivating in Sexy Voice and Robo. Take the visuals which will hit you immediately, it has got a more raw and energetic feeling than much of the manga released in English. The uncontrolled line work, the less precise flow, and the boldness of the strokes and shadows really enhance the read. It’s a comic by all means but it has a fine art quality to it at points. And at other points it made me think about American indie comics. I don’t know how much they have influenced Kuroda, but it comes off as a great hybrid style. The story then takes all that energy from the art and adds humor and a charming bittersweetness to top it off. This story simply stated is about a few happenstances meetings which lead into a whirlwind of human stories that are all little off kilter but moving.
There is a starting place to this story but it’s not completely the beginning of the why and what for Nico. And while we learn about her forward movement, we learn very little about her life outside of these strange cases she gets involved with. But truly you learn everything about her personality within the context of these stories. Nico is spunky, outspoken, and pretty fearless sometimes to the point that she questions herself as she does things. And above all she is very curious, she just can’t keep it in check, so she ends up meeting, helping, and befriending an interesting lot. Hence how she ends up as Charlie’s Angel and obtains a minion nicknamed Robo. Ah poor, lonely Robo who finds himself wrapped up in her first case. He is many times funny, sometimes pathetic, but always seems to contribute something to the problem at hand (or possibly cause another problem). Their, what ends up being, friendship is in many ways a testament to how much Nico is able to use what she can deduce about people to her advantage and also how Nico beings to care about people on a more personal level. Robo also servers as one of the only people that sees her with and without the spy act.
Nico is a very unique character with an unusual mixture of jaded and green, callous and compassionate, generous and greedy. She starts off viewing people, almost like Gregory House, as fascinating puzzles to be analyzed and solved. You get the feeling that her research into what makes people tick is the most important thing to her. But unlike House she still has some sympathy and empathy for the people she observes. Eagle eyed observation and razor sharp wit all are crucial to her completing her assignments but the main theme of the series and what sets her apart from most people in the manga is her ability to see beyond herself. This seemingly simple ability is what makes her a super spy and a super woman. As she does jobs for the old man she realizes how similar the two of them are. More importantly it begins to dawn on her that if she does nothing to change she will be as powerful and influential as her employer but also equally isolated. Robo is your stereotypical otaku: an awkward, desperate, self-involved man-child with hardly any social skills and even less luck. But overall he is a good guy who just wants a little romance. Through his interactions with Nico we see the depth of her compassion and strength of her loyalty. She may manipulate Iichiro but she goes out of her way to protect him from harm the best she can.
The main thing I would have liked to see to really enhance this manga (especially for a story like this that has a good chance at cross over appeal) is a note about what exactly telephone clubs and subsidized dating are. I don’t think you need a deep understanding of them to enjoy Sexy Voice and Robo, but it would help to add some context since atleast the telephone clubs play heavily into many of the stories. That part of Japanese society, which reflects some of the difficulties to connect with people, is really central to why Nico can get people to trust and open up to her (which is the ability of all great amateur sleuths). Sexy Voice and Robo is both a fun read and an intriguing look at human beings. The only thing to be upset about from this series is that there isn’t another volume.
Sexy Voice and Robo is a fascinating look into the independent manga scene in Japan. It has an amazingly unique visual style and storytelling approach that sets it apart from your stereotypical manga while still retaining the greatest strengths and powers of Japanese visual story telling as well. This is a good series for anyone looking to shake up their regular manga reading habits, anyone interested in indy comics no matter where they come from, and even for people who dislike anything manga related but still are interested in graphic story telling.