Anonymous Noise Vol. 1 (VIZ Media/Shojo Beat)

A young girl loses two childhood boyfriends only to be reunited in high school in this melodrama-soaked series about unrequited love and rock n’ roll.

192 pgs. B&W; $9.99

(W / A: Ryoko Fukuyama)

Kids who come from broken/breaking homes always need an emotional outlet. For Nino, it’s sticking her head out of her window and singing loudly along with Momo, the boy across the alley in a similar predicament. The two serve as each others’ musical therapist from kindergarten up through the fourth grade, when Momo’s family suddenly skips town. Nino is devastated; she dons a surgical mask to keep from screaming out her feelings and insists she’ll never sing again…until, that is, she stumbles upon Yuzu, a fifth grade dropout scrawling songs in the sand. In Yuzu’s songs, Nino finds her voice again, and in Nino, Yuzu finds his muse. But when he finds out that the Momo that Nino sings for is a boy she pines for, Yuzu sings her back from the emotional brink one more time and then disappears himself. Nino convinces herself that her singing will some day reach the ears of one or both of these unrequited loves and continues to sing her guts out. Flash forward to high school, where a class concert unexpectedly reunites Nino with Yuzu, who writes songs for the school pop music club and (unbeknownst to pretty much anyone) is also the frontwoman-in-drag of the awkwardly named pop music juggernaut In No Hurry To Shout. (His stage name is even Alice, the nickname he gave years earlier to Nino, whose last name is Arisugawa.) The band had recently announced their impending breakup due to Yuzu’s writer’s block, but Nino’s arrival has made everyone’s world go topsy-turvy. And if Nino’s voice finally reached Yuzu, could Momo be far behind?

Anonymous Noise is the latest manga from Ryoko Fukuyama, the author of Nosatsu Junkie (published in English several years back by Tokyopop). Though she’s published 12 volumes of the series in Japan so far, Vol. 1 appears on these shores just in time for the Anonymous Noise anime adaptation. Fukuyama discusses in her author’s notes about her desire to do her first story about an unrequited love, and the unrequitedness pours into every crevice of Anonymous Noise. (To quote the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks,” “You love her/ But she loves him” is thoroughly covered here, and I’m sure we’re not far from “And he loves somebody else/ You just can’t win.”) This is a book filled with teenagers feeling their feelings to the fullest extent possible, but all through internal monologue rather than ever even dreaming of revealing those feelings to others. It’s intense and it’s over-the-top, but it’s also life as a teenager, isn’t it?

At first read, the melodrama that drives Nino’s sense of loss seems at least a little unearned given the age at which all this happens. But when giving the work a chance to sink in, it makes sense: there are few losses more intense in life then being at a formative age and finding out that your best friend in the world is gone and you will likely never see them again…and to have it happen twice in quick succession is understandably devastating. What makes less sense, at least at this early stage in the story, is how the band In No Hurry To Shout works into the story. For a story whose emotions feel so honest (if maybe a little overly amped-up), tacking on “oh yeah, and Yuzu’s actually in, like, a hugely popular band” feels like pandering to the anime industry for a reason to team up with a record label to finance an animated version of the dang thing. (To Fukuyama’s credit, she takes the music of the manga version seriously, even hiring a composer to write the music notation Yuzu scrawls in the sand to make sure it passes muster.) One can only hope that these disparate story elements play better together in following volumes.

With 30 volumes of manga under her belt, Fukuyama’s art is well developed. Her general art style is fairly standard shojo fare: her characters are uniformly scrawny, with huge mouths, doe eyes, whispy hair, and unnaturally elongated legs and fingers, and her layouts have a heavy dependence on huge, non-rectangular panels that slash across the page. Her art lacks distinctiveness, but it’s attractive and, barring a few sequences here and there, imminently readable, capturing the intense emotional passages well.

For a first volume, Anonymous Noise is off to a decently strong start, with interesting characters and the melodrama already cranked to 11. Yet it’s also swimming with clichés, from the rock band with secret identities to the random character quirks tacked on just to make the characters memorable as instantaneously as possible. (Yuzu is short and thus drinks milk to try to grow taller quickly; we know this because every time he shows up, he’s drinking milk, and one of the other characters calls him out on both being short and drinking milk. It’s exactly as obnoxious as it sounds.) Long story short, its first volume is emotionally intense if a bit formulaic, but surely anyone drawn to the idea of a romance wrapped up in a rock band disguised in masks and eye patches will likely happily overlook the latter to sink their teeth into the former. | Jason Green

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