24 July 2020 | Gordon_Harker
A fairly unique take on a comedy thriller series format ...
A 14-year-old girl with exceptional hearing and a talent for mimicry and vocal impersonation earns pocket money by working part time on a sex chat line from which she learns all there is to know about men's desires and how to manipulate them. Hmmm... that's surely a bit dodgy for a family entertainment series, even in Japan?
Well, luckily the Nippon Television comedy thriller series from 2007 is only loosely based on the manga series, the opening premise of which is described above. In NTV's cleaned up adaptation, Niko Hayashi aka 'Sexy Voice' is still 14-years-old, a skilled mimic and in possession of a wisdom beyond her years, but that maturity is derived from an 'Adrian Mole' style contemplation of the absurdities of the adult world around her, including her parents' failing marriage, rather than by dealing with the fantasies of hentai salarymen.
Iichiro Sudo, aka 'Robo', on the other hand, remains very much the toy robot obsessed, mid-twenty-year-old otaku character that first saw the light of day in the manga series, with perhaps a little less hipster and a little more social responsibility about him. In the TV series, Sudo takes over the call centre role, but now as a social chat line / citizen's advice contact.
This unlikely pair hook up after Niko witnesses a fight and calls the local chatline for advice, putting on her older sister's voice to avoid not being taken seriously by sounding too young. The duo then proceed to get involved in the life story of a very unusual assassin who they call 'Three Days' because that's the length of his memory. This duly brings them into the orbit of a mysterious and seemingly somewhat shady lady antique shop owner (played by glamorous 70-something and scandal sheet favourite Ruriko Asaoka) who becomes the catalyst for subsequent storylines by assigning them various colourful and not wholly safe missions.
One highlight was the two-parter about three nurses who grant dying patients their last wishes, one of which happens to be (another) assassination attempt on the antique shop owner (this episode guest starred top character actresses Satomi Kobayashi and Masako Motai who have worked together in loads of stuff, including riceball-restaurant-in-Helsinki comedy drama feature Kamome Diner, which also starred Hairi Katagiri, who plays Niko's disfunctional mum).
I enjoyed Sexy Voice and Robo as much as other comedy detective thrillers of a similar vein (e.g. Trick, DoS Deka). While the humour might sometimes seem weak and obvious by British standards there's a good-heartedness to the whole thing that makes for good pick-you-up TV, despite the near-the-knuckle nature of some of the stories. Thanks to solid writing, the disparate characters work well together and there's a surprising amount of plot density, unexpected twists and a tendency for innocent actions to have comic repercussions, sometimes several episodes later.
Suzuka Ohgo, fourteen at the time, i.e. the same age as the character she plays, is particularly impressive and manages to avoid western style over-reaction to the events that unfold around her, alternately conveying affection and frustration at her family's and Robo's actions with a subtlety of expression that belies her youth.
Note: Episode 7, 'Mr. Hamburger', was pulled from transmission as it was thought it would remind viewers of a restaurant hostage crisis that had occurred in the Aichi Prefecture shortly before its intended broadcast date.