Sexy Voice and Robo by Iou Kuroda
It is the first installment of the Manga Moveable Feast, and the book picked was Iou Kuroda’s unique manga about a teenage adventuress named Sexy Voice and her older otaku sidekick, chauffeur, and occasional bodyguard Robo. Nico Hayashi’s part-time job is talking with random people on a telephone dating line. But her real goal is to be either a spy or a fortuneteller. Ichiro Sudo is a lonely otaku who works in a video store and collects classic toys. He calls in to Nico’s phone line and she quickly singles him out as a person she can use to move through the world as an adult, since a fourteen year-old can’t drive.
Nico encounters an old man with ties to the underworld who starts using her as a fixer. She’s tasked with tracking down a kid who stole dirty money, tries to intervene in the life of a young man who is hopelessly in love, and meets an amnesiac with a unique profession. There’s something almost invulnerable about Nico. It helps that as a character she’s firmly put in superhero mode by introducing herself as “Codename…Sexy Voice!” as if she is a pint-size Charlie’s Angel. One of the things that I like about Nico is that her character is more complex than the typical precocious child you’d expect to see investigating human behavior. While she might be worldly enough to manipulate Robo in order to get help her whenever she wants, she still maintains an element of innocence and a childlike point of view. I thought this was best expressed in the story where Nico goes to check up on a young man who is headed down the wrong path with love. When Nico meets his lover, she immediately thinks the older woman is cool because men everywhere just fall in love with her, to the point where she goes around collecting random money from would-be lovers. When Nico sees the result of love sick obsession she realizes that the world can be a scary place.
Nico manages to capably deal with assignments from the Old Man. Sometimes her adventures will at first seem like a random chain of events, but at the end everything connects. One of the things I like about Sexy Voice and Robo is the subtle way the relationships between the characters are explored. There might be a hint of romance in the way the unlikely duo relate to each other, as Nico dresses up like an older woman in her spy gear to meet Robo. He remarks to a friend that he won’t touch Nico because he has standards about messing with kids and also a vow to never date a girl below a certain cup size. In a lesser manga there would be some sort of conclusion or their friendship would be the main focus of the stories. Here, everything is open-ended and unspoken. Nico meets an old woman who has fulfilled her ambition of becoming a spy. Is Nico talking to a version of herself? Is a perpetually missing watch a symbol of fate? So much is left to the readers’ interpretation, making this manga particularly rewarding when it is reread. I definitely felt I appreciated this work more the second time I read it.
I was struck again by how much I liked Kuroda’s art and how unique the style is compared to most manga being published today. He uses a thick black line to draw his characters’ faces and backgrounds. The reader can see the brushstrokes in a characters’ hair, which gives the art a feeling of calligraphy. Some of the images in the manga are iconic. I think I’ll always remember scenes of a woman kissing an aquarium worker through glass, an open air haircut on a scooter, and a fateful reflection in a woman’s eye. Usually I get a little annoyed with unfinished series. Sexy Voice and Robo might be unfinished, I found I didn’t mind the lack of conclusion at all. It was illuminating to spend time in Kuroda’s world, and just knowing that there are literary creations out there like a wannabe spy and her hapless sidekick is rewarding enough for this reader.