Rescued from the previous iteration of this very website is the following review of Iou Kuroda’s Sexy Voice And Robo. When David Welsh contacted me about participating in the Manga Movable Feast experiment, he said something to the effect of “Hey, you liked Sexy Voice and Robo didn’t you?” Reading this review for the first time in 5 years, yes, it appears I liked it a great deal. Heh. I’m going to re-read the work tonight and re-review it, seeing if it holds up to more than 5 years of innovative manga releases. For now though, I’m going to trust me from 5 years ago, so go out and pick up a copy of this one…! – Chris

SEXY VOICE AND ROBO GN
By Iou Kuroda
Adapted by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Yuji Oniki
US$19.99, 400 pages, 8″ x 10″
Winner of the Grand Prize for manga from Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Media Arts Festival in 2002.

Published by Viz LLC

Right in the final stages of planning and preparation for The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (a comics event I co-chaired earlier this spring), I received a mysterious package in the mail from Viz. I didn’t recognize the name on the attached business card, and the project, a strangely crude manga I was only vaguely familiar with the solicitation for, weighed in at a whopping 400 pages (with an angry legal warning on the front that this wasn’t the final version anyway!!!). This was inopportune timing to say the least.

The person who forwarded it my way probably didn’t know that I was planning a large comics event at the time. The Festival was great though, 8,000 people came and everyone sold lots of comics. It is, however, now September and more than 6 months since I received my preview copy, and more than 3 months since the book came out.

So, to make up for lost time (and a two-paragraph introduction…), run out and buy SEXY VOICE AND ROBO right now.

SEXY VOICE AND ROBO sounds almost like a prototypical anime-cum-manga title; a cute high school girl gets into adventures on the streets of Tokyo aided by a mysterious old man and a dumb-but-well-meaning lunk of a guy. But really all you have to do is flip open the book and you’ll be able to tell that this isn’t really very typical at all. Hell, it’s not even a twist on or elbow-to-the-ribs of typical romance manga, instead it’s an astoundingly realistic piece of contemporary fiction, so grounded in the sights, smells, and actions of Tokyo that even the more fantastic elements that enter the narrative as the book progresses seem utterly plausible (both in the writing and the art as well; it only takes a few pages for the realistically proportioned and rendered bodies with hastily-drawn doe-anime eyes to seem perfectly normal). SEXY VOICE AND ROBO successfully transports the reader to the Tokyo you don’t see in Sophia Coppola’s Lost In Translation, or any one of a hundred ‘realistic’ shoujo tales. You get, as Viz Editor Marc Weidenbaum writes in the afterword, a “modern Tokyo [connected] with it’s past… A Manhattan as wide as it is tall, with many many West Villages.”

Nico is a schoolgirl making money on the side by engaging in phone sex with the lonely, bored, and desperate men of Tokyo. As Codename: Sexy Voice, she uses her uniquely intimate position with these men to profile them, and then to apply that profiling to the people around her. As soon as she hears the sound of your voice, she’s got you all figured out. Her unique abilities draw the attention of an elderly Yakuza boss who has her undertake special ‘assignments’ for him: Finding his lost son, tracking down an employee who has absconded with money, a lost love… The jobs get more and more serious, and dangerous, with Nico reaping rewards and always walking the line between being impressed with and aware of her abilities, and potentially misjudging her situation. Through a combination of forthrightness and light blackmail, she gains the assistance of one of her former callers (Codename: Robo), a hapless nerd whose usefulness tends to begin and end with his being old enough to drive. It is the maturity and complexity of the relationships between these three characters, as well as the meta-commentary on the nature of relationships, that makes SEXY VOICE AND ROBO an engrossing read.

SEXY VOICE AND ROBO is the characterization, thoughtfulness, and James Kochalka-esque ‘play’ of art-comix put in the service of action-movie tropes, to create a unique reading experience. The dialogue and drawing are both intensely naturalistic, with only a few stylistic flourishes that give away the book’s country of origin (the afformentioned anime-eyes, for example). For anyone used to the crisp, measured lines of contemporary commercial manga, SEXY VOICE AND ROBO will undoubtedly seem sloppy, perhaps even amateurish. This is because we’re trained to think that all manga looks the same by the vast wave of manga being imported that all looks the same… But as ‘sloppy’ or amateurish as it may seem, the rhythm of the story, the movement of the characters and their relation to their surroundings is entirely realistic and quite obviously the product of a talented hand; the entire book looks to be drawn panel-by-panel from life, in the sketchbook of someone who is probably painting masterpieces for his day-job.

I’ve been recommending this book steadily at work for a month, and the one comment I hear (after “I really enjoyed that!”) is “I wanted more!”, a sentiment I echoed upon my first read-through of the graphic novel. However, upon re-reading the path that Nico undertakes becomes clearer, the later stories subtly inferring the larger direction of her future. While I would love to see more and more of manga-ka Iou Kuroda’s Tokyo, the four-page epilogue says more than enough about what would follow. Every reading leaves me more impressed, and satisfied, with the book we have received, and more eager to recommend it to folks everywhere.

That means you, by the way.

Highly Recommended

SEXY VOICE AND ROBO is available at better comic book stores everywhere, perhaps a chain bookstore or two, and most-assuredly on the internet.

Buy this book from The Beguiling, in Canada
Buy this book from The Publisher, Viz
Buy this book from Amazon.com

Other Reviews:
- http://www.eclipsemagazine.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=1472
- http://www.kellysue.com/professional/archives/2005_07.html#001543
- http://forums.animeondvd.com/showflat.php?Cat=2&Number=1078804&page=1&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=&fpart=1



From a store just outside Harajuku JR Station, comes these socks. Mickey Mouse as Spider-Man, from July 2009… months before the announcement of the Disney/Marvel deal. Completely unlicensed, entirely prescient.

From my post on Harajuku, which I am working on at the moment.

- Chris



One of my best friends, Mr. Jamie Kirkpatrick, is particularly environmentally conscious. I was trying to figure out a way I could bring this back for him, just to watch him shake his head in disgust.

But I guess the photos will have to do.

Worth noting: The bananas were actually pretty good!

- Christopher


Giant Robot Magazine #49 Cover by Adrian Tomine.

I don’t really mention it on the blog here as much as I should, but my favourite magazine is probably GIANT ROBOT, an independently produced and funded mag out of California. I’ve been a fan for years and years now, spotting it on the newstands with a bold logo, great title, and an eye-catching photo of CK model Jenny Shimizu way, way back. #10! It’s a general-interest magazine covering art, life, and culture, but with a focus on Asian culture specifically… both here in North America and internationally. It’s well-written, informative, and a great education in all of the things you aren’t going to find just reading manga and watching anime. It’s also very current, very vital, and when it comes to art and film especially it’s like having a great inside track.

Maybe the thing I like about it the most is that it’s so personal–editors Martin and Eric have been there since the beginning. They open every issue with an editorial and a direct address to the reader that feels real and unrehearsed, unlike so many editorial notes that are perfunctory and exclamatory coming from people with a 1-year-contract, these guys have been there since day one, and each little editorial is like a window into a long distance’s friend’s life. What they’ve been up to over the past few months (had a baby! lost at softball!) and how that might tie to this issue’s stories. Even better through working at The Beguiling and visiting the San Diego Comic Con ever year, I have gotten to know Martin and Eric in person, and they’re smart, friendly dudes who love doing what they do.

GR gives me fantastic artist profiles, stories on food and food culture, even a little bit of politics… That’s great stuff. That’s not just worth paying for, it’s worth supporting directly.

In keeping with their editorial style, Martin and Eric have recorded a video asking GR readers and the general public to lend them a hand in a difficult time:

I don’t think they’ve mentioned it anywhere yet (brave face and all that), but in addition to the kinds of issues facing print these days (declining ad revenue, distribution, sales) they’ve recently been dropped from Diamond’s PREVIEWS catalogue, the only way to interact with the vast majority of comic shops who carry manga, anime and other Asian culture goods. Because of GR’s somewhat erratic publishing schedule I didn’t even notice for a little while–and I’m a fan! I’m not pointing at Diamond in particular as the culprit, just a symptom of lost ground. Print is a ‘war of inches’ right now, and if you lose enough ground on enough fronts, eventually you lose the war. This appeal is to help keep them in the fight.

Please go to http://www.giantrobot.com/donate, and you can read more about what they’re asking for, and why, and why it’s a good idea to help. In addition to just helping keep a great arts and culture magazine going, different levels of donation will net you cool stuff like prints, books, original art, subscriptions and more.

My friend Mr. Bryan Lee O’Malley auctioned off a piece of his original art, and raised $2550 for the cause. Which is awesome. I don’t have that kind of art (or that kind of scratch), so we worked it out and I can probably swing about a hundred bucks to directly support artists and work I appreciate, and it nets me a subscription which is cool. I’m hoping that some of you reading here can spare a few bucks as well, or failing that, maybe take me at my word that this is a great magazine and subscribe? Every issue I find something really great in it, and the re-read potential is high. For just $24 (or $30 CDN) you can get a year of great magazines. Failing that? Grab an issue from the newsstand, comic store, wherever you see it and check it out for yourself. And thanks for reading all of this, I don’t make public appeals like this a regular thing, but GR is worth supporting and worth saving.

http://www.giantrobot.com/donate

- Christopher



The official Kanji of the Year for 2009, as chosen by The Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society? Shin, or ‘New’. Chosen for lots of different reasons, it feels like a lot the end of the last decade was on people’s minds the world overparticularly in Japan where the ruling party since WWII was swept from power! For more on the Kanji of the Year see Wikipedia.

- Chris


Kirin Lemon Strong, 8% alcohol. It’s terrible. Like lemon-flavoured paint thinner. Bought on my first night in Tokyo. This is Chuhai, a sort of only-in-Japan wine-cooler type beverage made with Shochu, which is distilled from Rice, Barley, or Potatoes depending… Chuhai comes from “Shochu Highball”, which is basically a mixed drink made with Shochu. I really dig these chuhai beverages, but this one with the amped up alcohol and chemical lemon taste? No good.

White-Grape flavoured soda at Mos Burger. Really tasty!

“Organic Orange Juice” J-BIO. Tasted awful, like under-ripe oranges. Sitting next to a piece of cheese-twisty-bread. What is the most prominent flavour in the cheese-twisty-bread? If you answered “wasabi/hot mustard”, you’d be correct. Worst breakfast.

Later in the trip, on the way to Sapporo actually, Andrew woke up in the morning and had a regular-strength Kirin lemon chuhai. This was our go-to beverage for the trip, and it treated us very well. Refreshing, with a hint of tipsy.

Asahi Presents: Fruits Party Chuhai! Tastes like muscat (green grapes). Next to it is “Gyoza Flavoured Hokkaido Potato Chips.” Behind it evidence of the more than 20 hours of work I did on Beguiling stuff while on vacation for three weeks.

This is a drinks case in the far corner of the food bazaar underneath Sapporo JR Station. This is the only place in Japan I saw A&W root beer!

This drink case is in the 7-11 attached to the Post Office near Sapporo JR station. In the center near the bottom, you can see two bottles of Rei Ayanami-branded Cafe Latte, clearly the best-selling drink of the day.

Nother shot of the cold UCC Cafe Latte with sexy Rei on it. These are all cold coffees, usually with milk in them. Milk and preservatives.

This was in Kyoto. We ended up staying in a budget hotel right near the manga museum, with lots of residences (and hotels) around. Just north of our hotel was this little scene, 2 vending machines in the outer lobby of an apartment building, with another across the street. Lighthouses that dot the city, guiding thirsty travelers through the urban seas.

Only 100 yen! Deal!

After walking under the blazing sun in Shirahama on Izu for basically three kilometres with no breakfast, I managed to convince my husband that we needed to eat. My increasingly cranky mood may have tipped the scales. We ended up going to the first restaurant we saw, which happened to be a Nagisa beer-themed restaurant, with western meals and really great beer, all-natural, totally unlike the Japanese beers we’d been drinking. Andrew had a pizza for lunch, I had pasta alfredo. It was just us, two sweaty white guys, and tons of Japanese house-wives, all getting lunch. My mood improved considerably after lunch, and I heartily recommend Nagisa Beer.

Our at a proper supermarket in Shirahama, with tons and tons of drinks. Awesome.  Not more selection, but definitely an impressive display! Let’s go in for a closer look.

I bought this Collagen Water, because I heard that it was a thing but I had never seen it on store shelves in Canada. It’s a little like drinking watery lube, with a hint of lemon. So no, I do not recommend it.

In Japan the word “diet” refers to Japanese parliament, and not eating specific kinds of food. So there is no ‘diet coke’ for the most part. They’ve got Coke Zero, which is still Coke Zero, but Diet Coke is called a bunch of different stuff. Currently, it’s No Calorie Coca-Cola Plus! This was a limited edition Coca Cola Plus, with added green tea flavouring. It tasted nothing like green tea, but for a diet coke addict in a country without diet coke… It was basically methadone for my heroin problem.

This is the awesomest canned coffee, BOSS COFFEE RAINBOW. So far as I can tell it tastes like all of the other canned coffees, but it is called BOSS and it has that dude on it, and also a rainbow.

Asahi Cocktail Partner! Made with real fruit juice, and perhaps Vodka! I think vodka rather than chuhai in this one? We tried one, I couldn’t really tell the difference.

The only place in Japan that you CAN get Diet Coke (okay, so I fibbed earlier), is Mickey Ds. While this is basically the size of a Large Coke in North America, in Japan it’s such a freakish size that it comes in a one-piece, sealed container for easy transport back to your home, because you’re clearly not drinking it while out. Japan!

- Chris