Here in the US, April doesn't mean much to schoolkids beyond the prospect of a long weekend off for Easter and preparations for their finals and term papers. In Japan, though, April marks the beginning of the new school year, and to celebrate this I'll be looking at a number of school-related titles this month. To start things off, we'll look at a manga about a school that truly could only exist in manga.
VOICE OVER! SEIYU ACADEMY (Seiyu ka-!), by Maki Minami. First published in 2009, and first published in North America in 2013.
Hime Kino has a dream to become a great voice actress so that she can perform a cutesy magical girl on her favorite show, Lovely Blazers. She works her way into the prestigious Holly Academy and its celebrated voice actor classes, but she's stuck with the class losers because of her lack of skill and her weirdly gravelly voice. Hime gets her chance when a radio drama assignment reveals her gift for believable male voices, impressing even her snobby classmate Senri, but she's determined to succeed on her own terms. Just because she can't do a cute girly voice doesn't mean that she'll let dickish casting agents, scheming class idols, or even her own friends' distress get in the way of her dreams.
Voice Over! Seiyu Academy is so earnest about itself that it verges upon the ridiculous. That onto itself is not a bad thing, but the real problem is that same earnestness clashes with the artificial drama on its pages, the stubbornness of its heroine, and the oddly off-kilter romantic elements.
I'll give Hime this much: she's got spunk. She never lets the mockery of others bring her down, and she shows both a willingness to fight back and the occasional bout of cleverness. These are good qualities, ones that I wish more shoujo ingénues would possess. She also has some very believable and frustrating faults, though. She's both stubborn and short-sighted when it comes to her personal goals, and it's clear from early on that these qualities are there more to stretch out the story than to round out Hime as a personality. Even as the universe continues to club her over the head with the fact that she's both an awkward, self-conscious actress and that her voice is better suited to handsome boys than squeaky girls, she keeps going on as to how this time she'll find the way to make her voice more stereotypically feminine. She nearly throws away a good debut role as a supporting male character because it doesn't fit her very specific dream. After a while, you have to wonder why Hime is fighting this hard to make herself fit a role she's not qualified to hold when she has such an unique talent of her own. By the end of the volume, Hime's determination starts to look less like an inspiration and more like self-delusion, and it undercuts those qualities that might have made more more of an inspiration to readers.
Of course, it was always going to be hard for Hime because Minami decided that nearly every guy present is determined to either mess with Hime's head for their own purposes or act like a dick for the sake of being a dick. What's really weird is that there are so many guys in orbit around her that this manga starts to resemble a reverse harem, yet Hime herself has a complete disinterest in guys and dating. First and foremost amongst her proto-harem is Senri, who is the sort of dark-haired, moody bad-boy sort that always seem to pop up in shoujo manga. Still, I did appreciate that his moodiness is a cover for him being a lonely crazy cat guy, with hordes oaf adopted cats in his home. Weirder still, he starts to care for Hime mostly because she reminds him of a particular cat of his. While that's a rather weird set-up for a potential romance, it's so weird that it becomes hilarious. Then there's the pair of popular boys who seem to be here more for fujoshi appeal than anything else. Why else would one be so obsessed with keeping the other 'pure' by keeping him away from girls? Worse still, the protected one gets rejected by Hime, but he simply views that as a challenge to win her. Then there are all the dickish casting agents and other professionals who simply laugh at her. It seems like the only guys who don't act like utter assholes towards Hime are her fellow class rejects, and the only things we know about them are 'violent thug' and 'vaguely French dork.' Maybe it wouldn't mind the reverse harem angle so much if Hime had anything resembling a good choice to pick from.
Maybe if you're the sort of person who can accept the idea of a high school dedicated entirely to voice acting, you might be more willing to accept a heroine with spirit but no perspective surrounded by a lot of forced drama and creepy dudes. Sadly, I am just not that sort of person.
Sadly, this series turned me off from the first page because of its art style. Minami's art is far too cutesy for my taste, and it comes off as tacky. The characters are dominated by their flat looks, huge dark eyes, and the fact that regardless of style, EVERYONE'S hair is constantly in their eyes. It's weird that the human characters look like that when Minami can draw such lovely, photorealistic cats. That's far from the only problem with this manga, though. No, the bigger problem is that Minami is determined to fill every inch of every panel with STUFF. It doesn't matter whether it's full of background, gaudy screen tones, or giant close-ups, she is determined to leave no space blank. This also extends to the page composition, as she's the sort who tries to cram in as many panels as possible on the page. About the only visual choice that works for me is Viz's creative choice of fonts. It helps communicate the notion of a voice sounding good or bad in a medium where sound is simply not possible, and it goes a long way towards selling the reader on the students' vocal talents. It's just not enough to completely change my opinion on the art, though.
Hime may be more spirited than your average shoujo heroine, but spirit alone isn't enough to overcome the fact that the author won't let her act rationally, give her some romantic options that aren't creepy or weird, or draw her in a manner that isn't gaudy.
This series is published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 12 volumes available. 10 volumes have been published, and all are currently in print.
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