Fourteen-year-old Nico Hayashi has a double life: By day she’s a Plain Jane junior high school student, but the rest of the time she’s “Sexy Voice”--a phone flirt with the ability to tell an uncanny amount about people by the sound of their voices. She can be a bit bossy, deceptive, and demanding. Just ask Iichiro Sudo (Robo)--the hapless 20-something she met on a phone party line and subsequently manipulated into being her muscle, transportation, and patsy.
At first, she does her “phone actress” job just for the money. However, when she meets elderly gangster/fixer, Dekogan, she does it for the possibility of adventure.
Writer-artist Kuroda has crafted a compelling character in Nico; one who often knows more than everyone around her but who is still prone to getting into scrapes. She’s invested with equal amounts of cunning and very realistic youthful cockiness. Visually, she’s unassuming: Small, with short-cropped, almost boyish hair and features. Her character and personality come from her narrative “voice.”
The “cases” that Kuroda crafts for Nico are usually inverted in their structure--starting big and ending small, or vice versa. They always end up being about the personal vs. the general. The standout is “Three Days to Heaven” where Nico pretends to be the daughter of a hitman whose memory extends back only three days in order to keep him from murdering old Dekogan.
Each of the chapters is ostensibly a mystery, but in each case it’s about Nico unraveling the interpersonal connections that make people act the way they do. As a result, she learns more about herself.
Kuroda’s black and white artwork is expressive and works perfectly for a book that is often dialogue-heavy. Nico’s face and body language communicate a great deal of information relevant to the story.
Consider the scene of Nico crossing a busy intersection, hunched-over and frowning in thought; later still, she’s half-hanging out of a taxi in massive traffic, impatient and excited. Better yet, there’s the moment when a mysterious caller leads her to believe she’s responsible for a man’s death and Nico’s emotions are expressed through Kuroda’s illustrations. He is able to get much across with just a small hand clutching anxiously at a gate.
Sexy Voice and Robo is an excellent piece of low-key pop writing and a snapshot of a character we rarely see in comics: A confident teen girl in control of her own life. This is an excellent book. My only complaint is that there is not more of it. However, it ends when it should--with Nico unsettled but in charge.
If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at Monster In Your Veins
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