Voices of Love
アイノコエ (Ai no Koe)
Josei – Romance, drama, smut, mature
1 Volume (complete)
Five protagonists are dealing with both the emotional and physical parts of a relationship. From first love to forbidden love to fractured love and everything in between, will their relationships end happily ever after? Or will they just end?
This one-volume manga stars Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest, Not-So-Smart, and Not-Too-Bright. I’ll let you decide who is who in this collection where steam takes priority over story.
Voices of Love is a series of one-shots. Surprisingly, despite this manga being josei, two are written from a man’s point-of-view. Nothing wrong with this; it’s just surprising. All five tales deal with love and relationships, and sex plays a large role in all of them. The stories concentrate on the main couple; in fact, most episodes only feature the two leads and the rival/antagonist/the other member of the love triangle. The characters here are all adults, so it is nice not having to deal with know-it-all best friends offering advice or generally being annoying. (Not all are like that, but they’re common.) Unfortunately, it’s the main characters that often get on my nerves.
Here are the five stories:
- A teacher learns her neighbor who blasts music and goes out with a lot of girls is a student of hers. One of her colleagues has an interest in her.
- Sana reunites with her friend-with-benefits from school that she was in love with.
- Nina’s boyfriend abuses her, and she suspects he’s cheating. It’s thanks to her friend Taiichi that she can get through each day.
- An office worker’s online friend just shows up suddenly, and she seems to be a lot younger than she says she is.
- Atsushi’s friend “lends” him a girl and tells Atsushi to do whatever he wants with her.
You can pretty much guess the outcome of each story. But let’s start with the titular one.
The first chapter is probably the most manga-ish for readers. There’s plot, progression, sexual tension, and a satisfying ending. Mika just wants to be a good teacher, but between her student Naokazu making noise and another teacher making moves, her days don’t go smoothly. Naokazu is 18, so this might ease your discomfort if you are disturbed by student x teacher romances. If you dislike these types of stories, then the rest of Voices of Love is probably not worth your time. I’m not condoning her actions, but at least Mika comes across as the most normal female in the entire volume. As a reader, I can actually understand why Mika is drawn to Naokazu. It’s a pretty good way to kick off the volume.
Then we move on to story number two. Sana could easily be a Jerry Springer or Maury guest. “He has a girlfriend, but he’s been sleeping with me! And I love him!” Back in high school, Sana had been in love with her friend Shigeru for years. They had a brief sexual relationship that started after Shigeru was mad about being dumped. They restart their friends-with-benefits relationship after meeting again at a reunion. Shigeru has a girlfriend, but they haven’t taken their relantionship to the next stage yet. Sana is, of course, still in love with him but wants to at least give him her body in place of her heart. Spoiler alert: they get together in the end. It’s the kind of story where it feels like the moral is if you wait long enough, the guy will change and look your way. I mean, plenty of stories take this approach, but it feels more “in your face” here, especially since neither Sana nor Shigeru are real role models.
Nina could also be a guest on Maury or Steve Wilkos. Her boyfriend injures her hard enough to leave marks. Not only that, he’s been getting phone calls from other women. Her friend, Taiichi, sees her bruises. (Nina doesn’t even hide how she gets them.) But Nina remembers how nice her boyfriend used to be, so she stays with him. Domestic violence is an epidemic, but this one-shot doesn’t feel realistic. “Well, got hit again. Good thing I can go drinking with my male friend!” Really? Most victims in these kinds of situations tend to isolate themselves or be isolated by their “lover”. I also felt like Taiichi could have tried harder to convince Nina, but she’s the one who chose to stay. It’s still pretty weird how they discuss it so casually, more like a friend advising someone not to be with a married person rather than a friend advising another to leave their abuser. Well, at least the moral of “someday he’ll change” is disproven here… (Considering how awful her boyfriend was, Nina actually escaped the relationship without too much damage.)
Thirty-six-year-old Masakuni doesn’t have many friends, let alone a girlfriend. He posts an ad looking for a friend, and 28-year-old Fuyu responds. The two meet, and Fuyu eventually admits she’s only 18. Fuyu then suddenly shows up at Masakuni’s apartment and starts staying over. Masakuni doesn’t know how to feel or react to Fuyu as she’s so different from him. Out of all the stories, this one is the least disturbing. Some people may not like the idea of meeting strangers on the Internet or think the age gap is too large, but there’s nothing illegal or immoral here. Finally! Yay! (Well, okay, lying is generally immoral, but moving on.) This just feels like one of those seemingly crazy “opposites attract”-type relationships that will actually work out.
Atsushi’s friend breaks his video game, but instead of paying him back with cash, Kasai just gives him a girl. Atsushi knows Hayako’s reputation for being loose, and Kasai tells Atsushi to do whatever he wants with Hayako. Atsushi doesn’t get why Hayako has a blank face during sex or why she does whatever Kasai wants her to. He decides to teach her about the true meaning of friendship. Hayako probably changes the most out of all the heroines, but I should hope so! She has no self-esteem or respect for herself! How do you get to be in college and not realize you shouldn’t have to prostitute yourself to keep a “friend”? It’s sad… so sad.
So there you have it. I don’t know if any rise to the level of “good”…”decent”, certainly. At the low end of the rating spectrum are the second and third stories. Blech. Overall, the episodes are pretty serious in tone, showing more the pain of dealing with love rather than the joy of love. A funny or really sweet tale might have added some variety to the manga and make it not feel so repetitive. Even in the manga’s highlight chapters, the storytelling is not the strongest. I couldn’t tell how long a period each chapter was taking place over. Did Sana and Shigeru see each other for a couple weeks? Or months? How many months? No clue. Voices of Love clocks in at about 190 pages, making each story about 38 pages long. Lots of one-shots are this length, but perhaps each world could have been expanded if there were only four stories. An extra eight or nine pages might have made room for more in-depth character backgrounds or show more of the “falling in love” parts. Nina pretty much leaves her boyfriend and runs to Taiichi. When did she realize she loved him? Beats me.
Voices of Love was released two years before Say I Love You., but Hazuki’s art does not look very different from her later works. So whether you love or hate the art in Say I Love You., Voices of Love isn’t going to change your mind. While many shoujo and josei artists focus on making girls cute and guys hot, Hazuki has more of a down-to-earth style. I did feel like the guys actually looked more visually interesting than the girls here. Five females, and they all have short, light-colored hair? Hazuki certainly didn’t flex her character design skills here. Males usually have more limited design due to most men having short hair, but at least Hazuki adds facial hair and mixes flat and spiky styles in the male leads. Humor is pretty non-existent in the manga, so there are no SD characters. Manga flourishes like flowers or funny backgrounds are not here. Every chapter features at least one smut scene (usually a couple), and Hazuki doesn’t shy away from the act like some artists do. I generally like her style, but it felt dull when a) the number of characters are limited and b) the ones who are featured look alike. Having one sweet or funny story would have also helped add variety to the art.
No honorifics are used. Aurora’s translation style seems to be more Americanized than other manga titles, so the dialogue really doesn’t need any translation notes. “Shochu” is kept, and I think that’s about it. At one point, Naokazu speaks oddly to be a smart-aleck. In Japanese, his friends are laughing at his “okama” speech (think transvestite), but the translation just changes it to his classmates thinking he’s cool. There are a few changes like that here.
I had a hard time trying to find each character’s names, but I’m not sure if this was Hazuki’s fault or Aurora’s. I know they have rewritten some dialogue that skips names before, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the original Japanese version had a name for Nina’s boyfriend. Her name was only revealed in the last couple pages of “Rainbow Smile”; surely it had to be revealed earlier in the original?
I feel like the stories in Voices of Love tend to focus on the raunchiness rather than the romance. It is perfect for someone looking for a risque manga, but if want the “luv luv”, look elsewhere.
Hazuki is better known for Say I Love You., available from Kodansha Comics USA.