Sexy Voice and Robo
Sexy Voice and Robo wasn't a planned purchase. Before I saw it on the comic book store shelf, I had never heard of the manga or its author. I'm glad that I got it anyway, as this is really an enjoyable, smart comic that I would recommend to anyone.
The manga draws you in right away when we met our protagonist, Nico, code name Sexy Voice. Nico is a fourteen year old girl who makes money on the side taking calls from lonely men for a phone dating service. She likes her job, as it gives her insight into peoples' minds and the ability to match up any voice to its owner. These skills get the attention of an old man with a shady past who lines up jobs for Nico. These odd jobs could be anything from rescuing a kidnapped child, to foiling an assassination attempt, to retrieving stolen money that was dirty in the first place. Even small things like getting a haircut can turn into a hostage situation when Sexy Voice is on the case.
The charm of Sexy Voice and Robo isn't in its spy action or intrigue, but in how it handles its unusual subject matter as casually as a slice-of-life series. It's easy to take everything at face value and assume that it's a fun teenage sleuth series, but with each re-read, it becomes clearer that there's much more to it. The cases that Nico takes on are interesting, but it's the people that she meets on the job who are the real mysteries. Although the stories are mostly episodic, minor characters reappear now and then in the manga, usually to highlight Nico's growth (or lack of) throughout the series.
One constant character is Sudo, a twenty-something loser called Robo by Nico because of his mecha obsession. In most fictional team-ups, it's the teenager who is the sidekick, but in this strange pairing, it's Nico who is the boss. Throughout the book, Robo gets manipulated into to being Sexy Voice's chauffeur and back-up, occasionally getting pay-offs, such as dinner or the prized mecha toy that he's had his heart set on. Most anime fans will be able to sympathize with Robo when he agonizes so much over buying a rare imported mecha figure that he breaks into a sweat.
Iou Kuroda excels at depicting intense, yet comical moments like that. His style is a little sketchy, using very thick lines even for small details. Backgrounds and buildings are constantly drawn, but in a loose way, like the manga-ka didn't use any photo references and he just drew what he saw in his mind. Some pages are done entirely in ink with no tones at all. VIZ Media did a great job in printing this series, preserving not only the contrast in Mr. Kuroda's ink work, but also the occasional screen tone and cross hatching. Some may find the artwork to be plain when compared to most manga being released in North America, but it serves the story well, and it grows on you with each chapter.
I don't know if I would have even noticed this series among all the many manga titles that get released if it weren't for VIZ Media's decision to 'super-size' it. Measuring in at 10.1 inches high and 7.1 inches long, it's a much larger book then the usual graphic novel. Sitting on the shelf amongst all of the smaller manga volumes, it's quite eye-catching, thanks to its size. Being nearly twice the size of a regular manga, I don't mind paying twice the cost of a normal manga for it.
Originally released as two volumes in Japan, VIZ Media decided to combine the two into one giant volume for the English release. The English release has almost 400 pages, and thirteen chapters. The format reminds me a lot of DVD boxsets of TV shows, as each chapter plays out like a TV episode. My only complaint about this series is that there is no 'series finale.' The last chapter doesn't really conclude anything, and it left me wanting more Sexy Voice and Robo. The only thing left to do is go back to the start and re-read the series again.