That uniform is stupid-looking.
It was only a matter of time before the wonderful world of anime/manga brought us a tale of a prestigious school that hosts a voice acting program – we’ve already got ones for idols, chefs, mega-athletes, robot pilots, and card battling children, after all. So here we are with Voice Over! Seiyu Academy, a shoujo title from Viz about a high school girl named Hime Kino whose cute face and cute name belie her masculine voice. Hime has begun to pursue her dreams at Holly Academy, but quickly finds herself marooned in the Stragglers Group when her aspirations run headlong into her ability – despite being wholly incapable of sounding sufficiently cutesy, she persists in trying, to little avail. And then there are the boys, in three flavors this go-round, in the form of mildly homoerotic idol duo AQUA, and moody classmate Senri, who, despite being the same age as Hime, already has a starring role in an anime.
I’m a bit hesitant to say that Voice Over isn’t terribly innovative, because I did enjoy it a good bit… but, well, it isn’t terribly innovative. You’ve got a fairly common basis for a shoujo story – girl whose talents aren’t immediately apparent lands in elite program at respected school, struggles, refuses to give up, inadvertently makes some friends through her struggles, and also has some guys around as potential romantic interests who are either fairly prickly or incredibly nice. I think where Voice Over works better than many others is that its humor is fairly solid, and Hime isn’t afraid to tell people to buzz off when they’re being negative and rude; the plucky heroine is far from rare, but Hime is plucky and persistent without being one of those girls who keeps smiling sweetly while seemingly totally missing that some of the people she’s talking to don’t respect her and don’t like her. Its also nice that one of Hime’s characteristics isn’t “lol she so stupid”, although I think we’re seeing a little less of that these days in shoujo heroines than we used to (THANK FUCKING HELL). The best part of the volume comes with Hime dealing with bullying that another character has orchestrated (but I won’t spoil how she does it!).
Another thing that works is that Senri, who appears to be the primary potential romantic interest, isn’t presented as just a jerk – oh, no, he’s also kind of a weirdo. Senri loves cats. He really, really loves cats. He also thinks he has to be a total asshole to make it to the top in voice acting. Hime reminds him of a cat he used to have named Gonzales (which is a little creepy and troubling since the two are being set up as mutually interested in one another), so Senri ends up running extremely hot and cold with Hime. Sometimes he is very nice to her, before remembering that she’s a potential professional rival and having a sudden pivot in behavior mid-scene. It gets played a bit in a slapstick manner, and I suppose I should feel negatively about the times he shoves at Hime roughly, but the whole thing is played to such an extreme that I ended up laughing.
Rounding it out is the supporting cast, primarily in the form of the other members of the Stragglers Group. There’s soft-voiced Tsukino (who loves making voodoo dolls, apparently), delinquent-type Takayanagi (who pledges off the bat to kick the ass of anyone who gives his fellow Stragglers trouble), and half-Japanese Mitchel (who is handsome but who is socially unacceptable due to, among other things, his enjoyment at looking under the skirts of anime figurines). The group dynamic is done very well here, as the friendships that form between the diverse set feel genuine and not simply as the plot calls for. I truly hope going forward that they don’t get shunted to the side as Hime moves along with her dreams.
I read this volume on a Nook HD. Despite being one of the newest digital volumes of manga from Viz, the overall quality was a bit below what I’ve become accustomed to from their digital releases. One two-page spread in particular stood out as the pages were apparently poorly scanned and so did not line up together properly. There were also a couple of cases where single pages seemed to have been cut slightly off, cropping the original edge of the page out. It didn’t ruin the experience, but it was unfortunate, and I expect more from Viz at this point, especially since Viz has boosted their prices for many of their digital manga lately. As for the rest of the production piece, its largely perfectly fine – the pages are clearly reproduced, the translation reads smoothly. There is the jarring inclusion of the slang ‘noob’ at one point, which was too bad since nothing really ages something faster than inclusion of slang (just pick up a late 90s Mixx/Tokyopop release if you doubt me), but its only one slip.
Overall, I liked Voice Over a fair bit, although I suspect my enjoyment may come as a result, too, of the fact that I had a roughly five year chunk of time when I just didn’t read shoujo at all. To more weathered readers of the genre there might simply be too little to differentiate this one from the crowded field. As far as decent shoujo go, though, its a pretty good bet.