Nico, the titular Sexy Voice of Iou Kuroda’s Sexy Voice and Robo (Viz), is a busy young woman. She’s got school, a part-time job working the phones for a dating club scam, and she investigates delicate and difficult situations for an elderly retired gangster. She’s a tremendously active protagonist, and she expends considerable energy trying to figure out the world through the prisms of the mysteries she encounters.
Nico leaps into action, at least intellectually. She parses the possibilities and sifts the solutions with terrific vigor. Her confidence that her insights and analysis will lead to a desirable outcome isn’t misplaced. Nico can resolve difficulties with her intelligence and sympathetic understanding. Kuroda respects her and likes her, so her precocity is never a joke or freakish.
But even budding spies or fortune tellers need a day off. Kuroda gives Nico a beautiful bit of respite in “Touch Blue Sky.” Perhaps it’s the novelty of seeing her in a more passive role that makes me so fond of this particular chapter, or perhaps it’s the fact that her passivity is as calculated as her engagement.
The chapter starts with an extremely resonant moment. Nico is getting a haircut, a mundane and restorative activity that’s out of step with her usual agenda. This being Nico, the haircut takes place on the back of a scooter in the open air of a city park. It’s the kind of strange urban treat you’d expect a girl like Nico to discover, and she clearly revels in it. She’s a girl who lives in her head a lot of the time, and she’s earned the sensory pleasure that Kuroda grants her.
Again, this is Nico we’re talking about, so this sedate mood doesn’t persist. She drags her sidekick, Robo, to the stylist’s salon. (He wants to practice on men’s hair, and Robo can always use a pick-me-up.) Robo is barely in the chair when a fugitive drives his motorcycle through the salon’s front door.
It would be easy to say that this is when things get interesting, but they were interesting from the start, from those first, open-air snips that left Nico’s head feeling so light. Nico slips into the role of observer as the stylist, Maruo, slips into her usual role. He gets the fugitive talking, reinforcing Nico’s belief that Maruo is a kindred spirit… someone who must understand people as a part of his job. She can’t help but compare Robo’s clumsy attempts at empathy to Maruo’s composure and patience, and the peril of the situation gives way to another chance for Nico to do what’s so essential to her nature – to watch people and figure them out, with the added bonus of improving her technique in the process.
Kuroda pays special attention to Nico’s expressions in this chapter. He never really neglects them, but these are the pages where Kuroda demonstrates how many emotions he can convey in a few spare lines. Nico ranges from satiation to alarm to bemusement to curiosity to even something like despair, or at least disappointment. She may not be driving the story, but it’s clearly being viewed through her eyes and reflected on her face.
It all ends with another haircut in the open air and Nico a bit wiser than she was at the beginning. She may be a little sadder as well, and a budding hope may have proved to be futile, but she’s not going to deny herself pleasure. And she’s earned it.