Dragon Voice Roars!

(Originally posted on Popculture Shock)

Rin Amami is a regular middle school student—regular, that is, except for his gruff, gravelly voice. Though his classmates tell him he sounds like Godzilla or a toad, Rin has a secret dream: he wants to sing. He has an idol’s looks, and can pick up any dance style after seeing it once, but his voice crushes any attempts to go after that dream. While working on a street corner selling pictures of pop stars and taking dance requests, he literally runs into The Beatmen, an up-and-coming boy band. He becomes entangled with the group when the owner of Red Shoes, The Beatmen’s agency, declares that Rin possesses the legendary “Dragon Voice,” possessing the qualities of both a demon and an angel. Boss is determined to prove that Rin that will blend with The Beatmen’s already balanced sound, and adds Rin to the group.

Dragon Voice Volumes 1-7
By Yuriko Nishiyama
Publisher: Tokyopop
Age Rating: Teen
Genre: Music
Price: $9.99
Rating: ★★★★★

So begins Rin and The Beatmen’s rocky journey to become idols in Japan’s cutthroat entertainment industry. Their career gets off to a rocky start after The Beatmen lose a bet to a rival band, preventing them from performing and forcing Boss to close the Red Shoes agency. Their fortunes improve when an action show director casts them in his dream TV show, “The Voice Rangers.” Unable to find a TV network for the show, they air it on the internet, where it becomes an instant hit. To capitalize on the show’s success, The Beatmen need to release singles, but the don’t have an agency to help them. After struggling to write their new single, the newly reopened Red Shoes tries to promote The Beatmen’s music, only to be is shut out by rival agency S-Field. Piggy-backing it with music from “Voice Rangers,” Red Shoes gets The Beatmen’s CDs into stores—where they and Privee, S-Field’s own band, get trounced by Baby Naked, an American boy band. This leads to a live, battle-of-the-bands performance starring all three bands.

Dragon Voice is NOT your typical shonen title. It isn’t about the forces of good and evil fighting for control of the universe. It’s about an ordinary young man who challenges and changes the people around him. The story begins when band mate Shino helps Rin rekindle his dream of performing by showing Rin what makes his voice special. From then on, it is Rin that challenges The Beatmen to get better and accept his voice. It’s Rin that pushes to find a way to get Voice Rangers aired. It’s Rin that makes the leader of Privee, Tohma, want to be better and compete with The Beatmen on abilities alone. Rin’s optimism and sheer strength of will inspire people, especially his fellow Beatmen.

Despite the roadblocks The Beatmen and Rin encounter, Dragon Voice is an optimistic, upbeat series. The characters are very likeable and easy to relate to. They may seem cookie-cutter at first: the likable leader Shino, the wild loner Goh, the cold and calculating Yuhgo, and the nervous, shy Toshi. But the varied personalities make for lots of good comedy and conflict. Just as The Beatmen learn to blend with Rin’s voice, they soon learn to mesh with Rin’s upfront personality. You find yourself cheering them on, especially when they stumble and there seems to be no way out. The trust between the Beatmen and Rin is built up slowly, so that by the concert battle, they believe in both themselves and Rin enough to take chances with their performance.

And what a performance it is! Nowhere else will you see three bands simultaneous battle it out in an arena! This epic concert takes up a whole volume, and is non-stop surprise after surprise as the groups keep upping the ante to capture and keep the audience’s attention: transforming a ballad into a rap, doing a dance-off with Tohma, and even hijacking Baby Naked’s signature song. It was more exciting than any battle I’ve ever read in any fighting manga—I could not put this volume down! What really made the concert thrilling was that even though Privee and The Beatmen were competing for the right to perform at the Baseball Championship Opening, Baby Naked participated for the sheer joy of performing. You could almost feel how much lead singer Seiren was enjoying herself when Rin dances and sings with her. Could a Seiren-Rin romance be in the making?

The art is excellent. Nishiyama-sensei uses a lot of thick, bold lines, like her characters.  Her style is very clean, and not cluttered, even though she uses speed lines for dancing and quick movements. The boys, being idols, are all good looking, but aren’t annoyingly bishonen about it. And each has a distinct look, so there’s no confusion about who’s who.  The backgrounds are clean, and easy to read.

So why isn’t this series more popular? I wish I knew. I don’t know what Tokyopop did to promote this series, but I do remember reading a few early reviews that described it as “Jem with boy bands.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Unfortunately, this comparison seems to have hurt the series’ popularity, as Jem and the Holograms seems to invite ridicule.

Notwithstanding the comparison with Jem, Dragon Voice is a series with a lot of heart and soul, offering a perfect blend of comedy and drama. Without guns, aliens, or super powers, it still packs a lot of action into every volume. This series isn’t just about showing up the rival band, and climbing the stairway to stardom. It’s about putting your all into achieving your dreams—that with hard work, self-confidence, and a dream, nothing is out of reach.

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