By Ryoko Fukuyama
It’s tricky to communicate sound in a soundless medium, but that hasn’t stopped many artists from creating comics about bands and singers. To succeed, these series must find their own voice through which they depict the power of music, to make up for a lack of any tangible sound. In Anonymous Noise, Ryoko Fukuyama’s solution is drawing her characters with wide, open mouths while they’re singing. Which initially sufficiently conveys the powerful voice of the main heroine, Nino, but proves to be a very one-note approach moving forward.
Fukuyama draws Nino’s singing as if she shouts at the top of her lungs, even if it’s a tune as calm as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. There’s little context for the music being sung, even though the piano-based ballad she composes with Yuzu is clearly different from the grunge rock of No Hurry to Shout. Fukuyama draws Nino singing both of these the same way, with her mouth howling wide open: even though these are two different styles of music requiring different vocal styling. It’s not enough that the characters in the manga are impressed by the music, Fukuyama’s drawings also must properly convey what makes it special. Unfortunately, the depiction of Nino’s singing and her compositions in the musical scenes fall flat, and she poorly portrays whatever power there is behind Nino’s voice, despite it being presented as the selling point of the manga.
Some musical manga is successful in using their premises for engaging character drama, even if conveying the music itself isn’t the artist’s forte. One of the most famous music-themed anime/manga series, Nana, focuses more on exploring the co-dependent and abusive relationships among its young adult cast, using the band as a means to deepen the stakes. Similarly, Anonymous Noise is, as Fukuyama herself puts it, supposedly a story about unrequited love, using the band aspect as a backdrop. Whether it’s the protagonist whose love is unrequited is unclear, as it currently seems she’s embroiled in a love triangle with her love interests who are both very much interested in her. The only two characters whose gestures of love are not reciprocated are Miou and Haruyoshi, secondary characters who get few focal scenes in this volume. Regardless, the point is that Anonymous Noise is poised to explore the romantic trials and tribulations of it’s cast, how it manifests through their music, and affects their friendship and careers in the music industry.
It’s not dissimilar from Nana in this regard, but its subject matter doesn’t quite measure up. Both love interests, Yuzu and Momo, are defined by their archetypes. Yuzu is the more childish, emotionally honest and available friend, whereas Momo is a tall and standoffish, brooding but attractive stoic persona. Variations of these two archetypes are present in virtually every shojo romance manga ever made. Nino herself is a very typical emotionally blunt and innocent heroine, and despite the mask gimmick she doesn’t have a whole lot of edge to her character. On a higher note, the foundation for the love triangle is much stronger. The connection Nino shares with Yuzu and Momo through music when they were children, and how they sing to cheer each other up or communicate emotionally what they couldn’t in words, makes for a cute and compelling first chapter. It’s really a shame that the story builds to its emotional crescendo so early only to quickly fall mute and stay flat for the rest of the volume.
Anonymous Noise has the potential to tell an interesting story about how the unrequited love of its characters expresses itself in their music. Despite its gimmicks, however, at heart it’s a rather standard shojo love triangle melodrama. That isn’t bad in of itself, but there are so many music-inspired manga that much better communicate the power of music through a soundless medium, and also interweave it alongside a compelling romance. Anonymous Noise can’t escape comparison with the likes of Nana and BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad since those series succeed in conveying its music or it’s relationships in an interesting context. I don’t mean to harp on the series too much, since it’s at worst just a mediocre band manga. For a series that’s trying so hard to convey the power of it’s heroine’s voice, I think it really needs more time to develop its own. Only time will tell if it finds its tempo.