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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Manga Review: Voice Over! GN 1

Voice Over! Seiyu Academy volume 1
Author: Maki Minami
Viz Media/Shojo Beat
208 pages
A new series by the author of the best-selling SA! Hime Kino’s dream is to one day do voice acting like her hero Sakura Aoyama from the Lovely Blazer anime, and getting accepted to the prestigious Holly Academy’s voice actor department is the first step in the right direction! But Hime’s gruff voice has earned her the scorn of teachers and students alike. Hime will not let that stand unchallenged. She’ll show everyone that she is too a voice acting princess, whether they like it or not!! (Source: Viz Media)
Even though my exposure to the behind-the-scenes world of Japanese voice acting is limited at best, I've always imagined it to be a rather cutthroat world where only the best will do and everyone is fighting for a limited number of roles, an impression given by such series as White Album and Sakende Yaruze and REC. The latest title by Maki Minami, best known for Special A, takes an academic twist on a voice actor drama with her fictional Holly Academy's Voice Acting Department, where only the brightest and best voices can rise to the top of the class.
So far, after one volume of school hijinks and voice actor intrigue, Voice Over! is endearing and cute shojo title with a dramatic flair that will easily entice Minami's fan base and more.

Our main heroine is Hime Kino, whose aspiration is to be a voice actor on the hit anime series Lovely Blazer. The main voices on Lovely Blazer are cute and lovely, much like the Lovely Blazer who inspired Hime years ago. Unfortunately, every time she tries to hit that cute voice, Hime's voice sounds like anything but cute, ranging from an old lady to a old man to a staticky radio voice. Ouch! But Hime, like any good Minami protagonist, is determined not to let this rather major setback keep her from being a professional seiyu (Japanese voice actor) and every bump in the road towards becoming a seiyu only drives her harder towards success.
The courses in the Voice Acting Department are rather interesting and a lot different than what you might think a seiyu must take to become better at their craft. As an aspiring seiyu, Hime has to work on basic skills such as vocalization, pronunciation, and dubbing, but also such skills as singing, which improves the vocal chords and their impressions, and even physical education, for exercise also strengthens the voice. She even has her 'normal', school studies on top of all the voice acting stuff! I do not envy Hime's work load!
I really enjoy Hime's character, even though she can be clueless and needs some help realizing what other characters' feelings toward her actually are. However, at this point, my favorite character is actually her seiyu rival (and clear frontrunner for her future love interest) Senri Kudo, whose mother is the famous Lovely Blazer that inspired a young Hime to help people and become a seiyu. He comes off initially as this cold, hard-hearted young man who is more concerned about his studies than other people - but the more we see Senri, the more we see his true self. Senri is a emotionally volatile, quick on the trigger, arrogant cat fanatic who finds himself drawn to Hime despite his best efforts and I love it.
Naturally, I can see Voice Over! setting up the Hime/Senri relationship as one where the closer they become, the more they realize what their feelings for each other actually mean. Which means, being a shojo, there must be another player to make this a love triangle. Enter the boy idol duo AQUA, Mizuki and Shuma, who also attend Holly Academy. Thanks to an odd mix-up that leads to borrowing a set of clothes, Hime meets Mizuki - who is immediately intrigued by her candor and her personality. Unfortunately for Mizuki, Hime has no interest whatsoever in boy idols! Let's see how long that lasts, hmm?
I loved the competition between the first-years and the second-years over the weekly lunchtime broadcast, during which student groups can put on voice dramas and possibly be noticed by professionals in the anime industry. We get to see Hime show why she's been accepted at Holly Academy, a fact that seems depressingly absent until that point. We also see the dynamics of Hime's straggler group, which includes the brash and kanji illiterate Sho, the beautiful but oddly perverted Mitchel, and the quiet voiced Tsukino. Happily, this group does not reflect the archetypes seen in Special A, so at least Minami is consciously moving away from those kinds of characters for her newest series.
The only bit I'm not in love with, which has been pointed out by other reviewers like this one, is the use of bullying from students and teachers alike to make Hime a stronger person. I hate that! I'd rather see Hime stand up against the teacher who keeps giving her extra homework as punishment as well as the students who trash her things because of an assumption Hime is dating 'their' idol. Hopefully, this will occur in later volumes. I like my shojo heroines to fight for their own, thank you!

I'm really enjoying Voice Over so far – it's made me laugh on several occasions and the ending chapter has me clamoring for the next couple of volumes, which are already readily available for pre-order on Amazon, cover art and all. I liked Special A by Maki Minami so there's no doubt in my mind I'll like Voice Over. Any shojo fan who likes madcap seiyu adventures, oddly endearing characters, school drama, and love triangles should give this one a try. And then, like me, pout and wonder why no one has made an anime out of it yet!
A review copy of Maki Minami's Voice Over! was provided to me by Viz Media. I received no monetary compensation for writing this review.