The Voynich Hotel, Vol. 1

By Douman Seiman. Released in Japan by Akita Shoten, serialized in the magazine Young Champion Retsu. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Alethea & Athena Nibley. Adapted by David Lumsdon.

I had heard buzz about The Voynich Hotel before it was licensed, mostly that it was dark and funny. Weird probably also came up, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I probably should have been. Before it is dark or funny (though it is both of those things), The Voynich Hotel is STRANGE. A lot of the time it’s content to be a mild gag comic about the staff and residents of a hotel in the South Pacific, but then people start getting killed, or selling drugs, or investigating the secret legend of the three sisters from this island’s past (one of whom seems very familiar). And in amongst this we manage to have the start of a vaguely sweet romance between a guest who’s hiding from… something, and one of the maids, who is cute and innocent and one of those is a lie. I’m not even sure where this series is going, save the fact that I suspect there will be more deaths soon.

Our hero is Taizou, a Japanese man who arrives at the hotel hiding from his old way of life. He ends up passing out, but is taken care of by the two maids who run the day-to-day affairs of the hotel: Helena is cute and spunky and excitable and also Maria from Zetsubou-sensei, and Berna is stoic and deadpan also also a Rei Ayanami clone. The cook is trying to kill herself and anyone else she can get to go with her, the owner wears a Mexican wrestling mask, and the residents are equally eccentric – you might say the manga artist was normal, except he’s trying to write a manga and make deadlines while living on this island. There’s also an assassin, and three more arrive during the course of the first book. The assassins are mostly what drive what there is of a plot, but for the most part you’re here to see weird people be funny.

Fortunately, I found it very funny, though you’ll need to set your sense of humor dial to ‘sick’. Leaving aside all the deaths, I have to say that Berna’s ringtone grossed me out but also had me in hysterics – let’s leave it at that. There are also a lot of “shout out” references in this volume, most of them blatant. Helena takes Taizou’s temperature with her head, which he says is so cliched even Mitsuru Adachi wouldn’t do that anymore… wait, no, he would. The police officers who parody Isaac Azimov’s Bailey and Olivaw are also a hoot, though they remind me that Seven Seas has once again rated this series T when it clearly isn’t – there’s no nudity, but reader beware. Possibly the strangest thing in the book, though, is that Taizou and Helena’s growing relationship is rather sweet – well, once she puts on a different shirt, that is.

The Voynich Hotel was very popular scanlated, so I worry that it will suffer the fate of other popular scanlated series licensed over here (I’m looking at you, Franken Fran). It requires a strong stomach at times, but the skewed tone of this series tickled me, and at only three volumes, I’m quite willing to read more.

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