Get out your love calculators, everyone, because Anonymous Noise looks like it will have the most complicated love geometry since Marmalade Boy. The basic premise of the story sets heroine Nino Arisugawa up with two potential love interests, both childhood friends: Momo, the boy who lived next door until his family moved away in the fourth grade, and Yuzu, a slightly older boy she meets on the beach while mourning Momo’s loss. Both boys encourage her to pursue singing with the vague hope that it will reunite her with them someday, albeit probably not both of them at once.
Naturally, that’s where the story is headed, as chapter two skips over the years between fourth and tenth grade to put the group in high school together. But rather than letting this feel like a melodramatic shoujo mess, Fukuyama handles the story with surprising emotional resonance. Far from being a perky heroine, Nino is a combination of fragile and gutsy. After the sudden departure of Momo, she began wearing a surgical mask at all times, because she was afraid that if her mouth was uncovered, she would simply start screaming and never stop. We see this impulse play out several times over the course of the volume (it’s actually how she meets Yuzu), and it’s clear that her pain is so deep that she can’t express it any other way. From one of her first lines in the volume, that her singing helps to distract her when her parents are fighting, we know that she has a less-than-ideal family life, and singing with Momo quickly became her coping mechanism. When that is taken away from her, she’s left bare. Going from silence to screaming is the only way that she can express what’s inside of her.
Whether or not Momo or Yuzu fully understand that is somewhat unclear. Momo seems to have known that he was on the verge of leaving town the last time they met, and it feels likely that he simply didn’t tell her because he didn’t want to hurt her. Yuzu, on the other hand, encouraged Nino to sing and use her voice until he found out that “Momo” was a boy – at that point, he simply removed himself from Nino’s life for his own well-being. He may simply have been too young (about ten years old) to understand the effect this would have on Nino or to look beyond his own conflicted feelings; like Momo and Nino, we later find out that he had a difficult home life, with the implication that he lives in a group home. Regardless, when he and Nino meet up again, he thinks that he’d hoped never to see her again, because he knew that he would fall right back in love with a girl he believes is in love with someone else.
That all of this heavy content isn’t breathlessly melodramatic is a testament to Ryoko Fukuyama‘s storytelling. Each character has a distinct, albeit not yet fully developed backstory, and in the cases of Nino and Yuzu, clear emotional reactions based on their lives and various interactions. Nino can’t see beyond her own pain to recognize Yuzu’s feelings, and Momo is something of a mystery right now, so how he fits in remains unclear. By giving each character a turn at internal monologue, Fukuyama makes it easy to understand how real these feelings are to them, which heads off a lot of potential drama. Her handling of “unrequited love” is more about the emotions than the social interactions resulting from it, at least at this point, which lends a nice tension to the story. The first chapter is especially good at this; if it doesn’t quite make you tear up, it still proves very effective.
Unfortunately, the art isn’t as well done as the story. Fukuyama has what might generously be called a tenuous grip on anatomy, and while toothpick legs might be excused by themselves, the total lack of hips makes for some very weird full body shots. The pages are also very cluttered, which can make reading order difficult. More importantly, the setup makes it hard to tell whose unattributed monologue is supplying the narration. While you can usually figure it out by the context within a word or two, there are a couple passages that could be attributed to either Nino and Yuzu, which is a problem. Likewise, there’s a very real risk of the love geometry fully overwhelming the reader – at the end of this volume, we have no fewer than five potential unrequited relationships. If the focus gets spread too thin or wanders away from the music plotline, that nasty melodrama could still rear its head.
Despite this uncertain potential and its artistic flaws, Anonymous Noise‘s first volume is the kind of enjoyable angst that reminds you why shoujo romance is such a successful genre. When done right, it allows you to feel the emotions of these characters and really root for their success. Whether you walk away from this volume favoring a Nino/Yuzu or a Nino/Momo outcome, you’ll likely be coming back for volume two to see if Nino can learn to find that space between silence and screaming.