Reviewby Theron Martin, May 30th 2014
Koe de Oshigoto!
Kanna Aoygai has never been clear what her much older sister Yayoi does for her job at a game company, so she is caught completely by surprise when, on her 16th birthday, Yayoi requests thst she voice a role for an upcoming ero game that Yayoi and her company are developing. At first Kanna is repelled by the idea, but when she considers how much Yayoi has done over time to help raise her (their father died, their mother works a lot), Kanna eventually relents. As Kanna trains for having to say such embarrassing things and learns how to make her performance sound realistic, she proves awkward at first but eventually shows something that Yayoi has long suspected: her almost trance-like ability to fully invest herself in an imagined situation, to the point of orgasm during an erotic scene despite no physical contact, actually makes her well-suited to this business. Now her challenge is to keep her classmates from ever finding out about it.
This two episode OVA series from 2010 and 2011 is a partial adaptation of a 2008-2013 manga originally serialized in Comic Gum, a seinen magazine which has also hosted the source titles for franchises like Ikki Tousen, Mahoromatic, and Moon Phase. The basic premise – a 16-year-old girl learning to do erotic voice acting at the behest of her older sister – has all kinds of potential to go very, very wrong. It could have come out incredibly crass. It could have felt exploitive. It could have been trashy. That director Naoto Hosoda, whose other major directing credits include Future Diary and The Devil is a Part-Timer, dodged all of those bullets and instead created a surprisingly sweet and remarkably funny sex comedy is a minor miracle.
And do not underestimate the phrase “sex comedy” here. This is not something as tame as, say, the American Pie franchise. While it has very little actual nudity, its explicit language, graphic descriptions of fellatio and how semen tastes, references to characters getting erections (one scene even involves a contest to see which of two voice actresses can most effectively give a male character a hard-on simply with provocative words), sexy poses, orgasm scenes, and barely-censored sex scenes of various kinds place this title one small step short of full-blown hentai status. The most comparable anime title released in the States would probably be Step Up Love Story (aka Futari Ecchi), although this one is a significantly different animal in that the main character is merely shown imagining the sex scenes rather than actually participating in them.
That is but one of the fine lines that the series walks between funny and outright skeevy. It avoids another pitfall by acknowledging up front that what Yayoi is doing in recruiting Kanna is at best unethical, most likely illegal, and possibly typical of the kind of age-fudging that has long been part of the porn industry. The frankness with which the content confronts the issues that a sexually inexperienced girl like Kanna would face in doing this kind of voice acting also helps by making the content seem less dodgy; when Kanna is shown on a couple of occasions sucking on a male character's finger, no intimation is required because she is specifically doing it to simulate oral sex. When condensed milk comes up in another scene, it is used specifically because it is supposed to represent semen rather than being yet another eye-rolling allusion to semen. In fact, some of the series' funniest moments come from other characters not realizing that Kanna doesn't comprehend some sexual references (such as why a character she's voicing claims that semen is tasty) and having to explain it to her in a way that she can understand.
The cast, while not always credible, is at least mostly likable. Kanna is adorable as a girl who is innocent enough to get easily embarrassed by sexual content and discussions of her own libido but not implausibly so for a girl her age. (A couple of lines suggest that she at least has experience masturbating.) Kanna's two best friends, one of whom is fond of graphically describing what boys are thinking when they look at each of the trio, are a treat, as is Motoki Kaizu, a male classmate of Kanna who discovers her secret job and becomes something of a confidant for treating her respectfully over it; her friends naturally mistake them for being a couple, but they do seem like a good fit. Yayoi is believable but barely tolerable as a dispassionate pragmatist who seems to understand Kanna quite well, though only because she stops short of playing her strongest trump cards to coerce Kanna into doing the voice acting. (Of course, she might also be easily interpreted as understanding Kanna well enough to know that she would be more cooperative if allowed to come to her own decision about doing it.) More likable but less credible is Fumika, the senior voice actress for Yayoi's company, who becomes Kanna's role model and is the sole person at the company to sympathize with Kanna's embarrassment. That she chooses to still voice ero games despite having earned more mainstream voice acting work is not the problem, as her claim to “return to her roots” could also be interpreted as “I get a thrill from this kind of voice acting that I don't get otherwise;” the problem is that the intense scrutiny of anime seiyuu these days by Japanese otaku makes continuing to moonlight as an ero game actress seem unlikely.
Although these two 30 minute episodes do explore some of the technical aspects behind voicing ero games, Kanna and the ample humor completely carry the series. That's fortunate because the support offered by the artistic effort is only a little above mediocre. This was the first lead production effort by Studio Gokumi, who followed it up with a bevy of other projects (among them A Channel, Saki Episode of Side A, and The Severing Crime Edge), but they look like they were still getting their act together with this one. Lines are clean but heavy and colors are vivid, but few of the character designs stand out and background art is soft on detail. Some affectations towards on-screen dialogue were also apparently carried over from the manga. The censored sex scenes do get quite graphic despite only a couple of brief shots of active nudity, and the way that Kanna's imagination of a penis, despite her never actually having seen a real one, is handled is interesting. Except for static background characters, the animation is actually pretty good.
The music is also solid but the voice acting is only passable. Background music takes a light touch which is not exactly playful but nonetheless does a great job of supporting the content. The rock-styled opener and closer – the former sung by the seiyuu for Kanna and Fumika, the latter by the seiyuu for Kanna and her friends – both are solid efforts which feature visuals that go beyond the series content, perhaps suggesting that more of the manga was eventually intended to be animated. While she sings fine, Mako (who has otherwise done supporting and ensemble roles, most notably Charotte from the Jewelpet franchise) often comes across as a little too shrill when voicing Kanna, though this could partly be because Kanna being the only excitable one in the cast makes that aspect stand out more. The milder nature of the other roles in the series otherwise results in unremarkable efforts except for Ayano Ishikawa as Fumika, who is convincing in her ero game voice acting.
That Media Blasters delayed this release for several months from its originally-intended December release date, and at the same time dropped an originally-planned English dub, suggests either production problems or a rethinking of how marketable the title was or both. Even after five months of delays the release still does not seem like it was ready to go to market. The subtitles have a handful of grammatical flaws and fail to subtitle lines in a couple of places, the opening and closing songs have no subtitles at all, and the practice of flashing occasional subtitled translations of some of the opening and closing credits seems half-assed even when the timing is accurate. By far the biggest and most annoying problem is that the DVD reverts to the main menu each time a new chapter is reached, though whether this problem was limited to the copy being reviewed or is a general problem with the release is unknown as of this writing. The disk also has no Extras – not even company previews. The only good thing about the release is that the price is reasonable for what you get.
Koe de Oshigoto! is most definitely not for all audiences. Know what you are getting into, though, and it can be an entertaining and unexpectedly charming bit of sexy fun.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B-
Music : B+
+ Quite funny, surprisingly sweet, sharp coloring.
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