14-year-old Rin Amami is a gifted dancer who has been forced to give up his dream of becoming a singer like his mom because of his deep, frog-like voice. A chance encounter with the idol singing group Beatmen, however, gives him the opportunity to bring his old dream to life.
Despite its oddness, his voice possesses a certain charisma: a captivating power, recognized by some as the legendary "Dragon Voice." Rin's destiny becomes intertwined with the Beatmen, Shino, Goh, Toshi, and Yuhgo, as the smalltime idol agency RedShoes attempts to take them to the top!
First of all, let me say that this will probably be my least popular review. It's about a manga most people haven't even heard of, and of those, few consider it to be really good. Nevertheless, I have to say that Dragon Voice is one of the most amazingly enjoyable mixes of group comedy and dynamics I've ever read, so much so that I paid for most of the volumes after number 1 at a normal, full-price store. I'm only missing three volumes of ten right now (plus the conclusion that Tokyopop decided to put in limbo). I don't spend my
anime money lightly, I only have like a $40-50 per month budget for manga/anime shopping, and this is the one that I'll pay the full $12 price for. That said, please hear me out before you give my review "the big unhelpful".
Story - A boy (with a dead mother) is inspired to follow his previously abandoned dreams after a fateful encounter with a group of people who have jobs that he wants. In the process, he meets the girl of his dreams (who also happens to be involved with what he dreams of doing).
...Yeah, I've never heard that one before either. Nevertheless, there are several particular innovations which the mangaka makes on this particular standard shonen theme that makes Dragon Voice stand out. Firstly, the story is about J-pop music singing (something normally reserved for shojo-themed stuff). Note that this is in no way yaoi of shonen ai. Secondly, the young boy in this manga spends a lot less time learning about winning against evil bad guy idols (who aren't even that evil, rather just competing for the same thing as the heroes) than he does learning about proper cooperation with his teammates. The focus on the relationships between the original group of five make up the bulk of the manga, and allows the truly strong point of this manga, the character dynamics, to trump over lame special-technique-to-beat-the-baddie scenes that some shonen devolve into.
Characters - The characters of Dragon Voice, and the five Beatmen in particular, are some of the strongest I've ever seen. But I don't mean strong in the traditional sense. Each of the main characters deals with a different serious flaw. These flaws aren't comedy, nor do they make it seem improbable that these five bozos ever got up the guts to get off of their asses to form an idol band. Examples: One of the main characters was raised in a strictly traditional Kabuki household, and hated being bound by the closed-mindedness of tradition. So he ran away from home and joined the Beatmen. Ironically, his experiences with his father's traditional style caused him to become equally closed minded towards older styles of dance, something which becomes a problem for him later on. Another Beatman adheres to a strict "performance for the audience's pleasure" philosophy, believing that idols, unlike athletes, can't show when they're feeling like crap (at all) because it ruins things for the audience. This philosophy isn't just an ideal, it's directly relevant to him - he's an asthmatic. It's quite something to watch him struggle against his own body's weakness, which shows up quite frequently thanks to all the fancy smoke effects used in the music industry.
But coping with trials also can be a great stepping stone into character growth, and Dragon Voice does this exceedingly well, turning the characters into stepping stones for one another. The real fun of the serious half of the story comes from seeing just how the Beatmen deal with their own flaws, but how they deal with each other's. Each of the Beatmen is a strong individual character, so, instead of being one big happy family under the leadership of the main character, they bounce off of each other. It's rather heartwarming to watch the guys work with each other in their own separate searches for another song and dance because you get to see in detail each of the five component parts which make up that final song and dance.
Enjoyment - Not to say that the Beatmen only bounce off of one another for plot purposes. There's a lot of friendly teasing (supposedly male bonding) and outright hilarity that ensues oftentimes over the course of this manga, with the quirky mains and secondaries tormenting and/or squabbling with each other over little day to day things.
Also, I must point out that the dance scenes themselves are very detailed, and the songs actually have full lyrics. This was the icing on the cake for the pop afficianado in me - the dancing was in stop-motion, but it sure didn't seem that way.
Art - Doesn't matter that much so long as it doesn't suck rat's ass. Realistically, art usually counts for about 2% of my normal rating. Moving on...
Overall - I fully recommend this manga to anyone who enjoys reading manga with excellent characters. It's moderate length (11 volumes), it keeps a good balance between comedy and drama, and you'll probably find at least one individual story you can sympathize with. A great read, I'm glad I picked it up.