By Ryoko Fukuyama. Released in Japan as “Fukumenkei Noise” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by JN Productions.
It was always going to be difficult to live up to that cover, let’s face it. Manga readers, even in North America, have been somewhat trained to think of one thing when they see high school girls wearing cold masks: gang members. That’s not the case here, but I’d argue that Nino, the girl on the cover, does not need to convey her repressed emotions through violence, like many shoujo gang members. She can do so through song, and in fact the best thing about this new manga is the way that her voice is portrayed. Nino loves to sing, but due to the events of the first chapter, her voice comes out as a cry from the heart, a scream to be heard, a cry of loneliness. It’s primal, and the art portrays it beautifully.
The premise will be very familiar to readers of manga – in fact, it may remind people of Chihayafuru, which debuted last month. Nino and her best friend and next door neighbor Momo sing together to try to forget about the fact that their parents fight. But then one day Momo’s family moves away suddenly, and if devastated. The cold mask is to stop her simply screaming out in rage and distress at what’s been taken from her. Fortunately, she meets another young boy, Yuzu, who’s not much like Momo, but he likes to write music. Nino can sight read even at that age, and begins to sing his songs after a brief argument (Yuzu is a lot less nice and cute than Momo was, being more of a brat). But then he has to vanish suddenly too (why are childhood goodbyes always avoided in stories like these?), and all Nino has left is her voice.
Cut to high school, and the hot new band is called In No Hurry To Shout, a terrific name, which is unfortunate as the band is breaking up. No, it’s not Nino’s band – she’s an anonymous high schooler, and still wearing the cold mask. But it is Yuzu’s band, and it quickly becomes apparent that the songs are being written for Nino, even if they’re being sung by her substitute, Miou, who I suspect is going to take Nino coming back into Yuzu’s life very badly. For indeed the two reunite, and before you know it Nino has to be the band’s lead singer at the high school event. This was the scene I alluded to earlier that’s the best in the book – Nino doesn’t even try to follow the actual lyrics, and her hands clutches her face as if she’s doing the Careful With That Axe, Eugene scream by Pink Floyd.
By the way, if you know shoujo you know what happens by the end of this volume – yup, Momo shows up as well, and he heard Nino. This seems to be one of the more dramatic Hana to Yume manga, a magazine that usually has a few more jokes in its material. But honestly, I’m totally on board as long as I can see more of Nino singing. It turns out the cold mask on the cover was holding her back from the reader as well – once you see her pouring her soul into her voice, you’ll have to read more. Definitely recommended.