Guys, imagine if there was this really cool place to hang out at with all sorts of wackos – no, not my blog – and you’d get the regular encounter with the supernatural to boot? Time to enter The Voynich Hotel!
As Taizou Kuzuki, an ex-yakuza member who looks like your average salaryman at best, leaves his country, he ends up on an island at a faraway place and decides to stay at the local hotel. There, he befriends one of the hotel’s maids and immortal witch Elena who has both the body and personality of a teenager and quickly takes a liking to Taizou. And very soon, it becomes obvious that not everything in the hotel is quite as it seems – or anything at all, really.
From thereon, Taizou’s everyday endeavors ensue and there’s quite a lot to talk about as the island’s residents are more than diverse. There’s the questionable at best, insane at worst hotel staff. Ghosts. Devils. A drug-dealing girl trio. A mangaka at his wit’s end. The local kids squad on the lookout for crime and adventures. Hitmen. And, of course, their (potential) victims. Anyway, there are a lot of guests, staff members and local residents to encounter – and for a very good reason actually! Because if nothing else, Taizou’s vacation for sure is going to be memorable.
I generally decide to group slice of life into two fractions – the mostly substanceless escapistic fluff, more often than not trying to get by through the sheer power of cute girls™ as well as the stuff with actual substance, usually incorporating some serious over- or undertones. While the former one has strong tendencies to be more or less all the same, the latter one actually has quite a bit of distinctive subcategories or so to speak. There’s Solanin, an existential story about post-graduates unable to find a place for themselves in life, a story depressingly realistic yet full of hope, there’s Oyasumi Punpun, something that’s so very skillful at being authentic and depressing it’s almost suicide-inducing as it keeps telling a character’s tale, strictly refusing to smoothen things over, there’s Silver Spoon, enriching your knowledge about the world of farming and its people, there’s Space Brothers, a story about how even in adulthood, you can do your best to achieve your dreams and then, finally, there’s The Voynich Hotel.
Unlike many of the former, The Voynich Hotel doesn’t have any important messages in particular to tell. It does not try to depict reality in harsh or accurate ways and it has no intentions of guiding you anywhere – in fact, its substance has nothing to do with all of that. It’s just about the everyday occurances of a bunch of people residing in a hotel and their various encounters with others. And it’s perfectly fine with that. And I, in return, am perfectly fine with it.
Sounds a bit like the former category instead of the latter? Kind of. And for what it’s worth, its bizarro comedy takes up a lot of the content. But as ristorante Paradiso goes to show, just because an anime or a manga is about mere people and not life itself that doesn’t mean slice of life can’t have substance or flesh to the flash.
Anyway, due to its perfect mishmash of light entertainment that is out there, charming characters but also chapters that pack quite the punch, The Voynich Hotel has always been a bit of an obscure classic with a bit of a cult following on English speaking ‘spheres of the Internet so I was really glad when it got licensed – it easily was one of my biggest licensing wishes way back in the days. And now I own all three volumes – now ain’t that just cool?
The appeal of The Voynich Hotel is complex. There is just that much to it. For one, it’s filled with pop culture references here and there and contrary to Internet meme machines, they actually stick and aren’t annoying. One character is called “Vegeta” for his hairstyle. It’s mentioned how even Chuck Norris stayed in the hotel once. Generally speaking, you get to hear a lot of real life references, giving The Voynich Hotel a very odd and surprisingly relatable charm in the midst of all its quirkiness or rather utter bizareness. There’s a police robot whose pinky finger can shoot out Nivea for instance. How useless is that?
It feels almost weird how frequently The Voynich Hotel brings up real life elements when anime and manga are usually concerned with exactly not doing that – WcDonald’s, anyone?
So as you can imagine, The Voynich Hotel isn’t a lot like other manga I’ve read – already its format does things differently. There’s usually seven to 12 or so pages per chapter and that’s it. A single short story. That sounds a bit disturbing as we’re taught that good things take their time and as experience goes to show, the less they do, the harder stories get to execute properly, yet without exception, The Voynich Hotel always manages to tell a story within a few pages. Convincingly so even.
And it does all of that while still taking the bigger picture into account: There are more than half a dozen subplots actively going on, the manga keeps shifting focus between the characters, sometimes things intertwine, sometimes they don’t and not even once do you lose overview. The characters and unfolding events are just that memorable. It’s the bizarre entailment of everything and nothing and plenty of characters’ tales in need of being told. And as the stories of a bunch of hotel guests and locals begin to unfold, you sooner or later start to realize that there simply is no need for the ordinary. The plot is constantly evolving and things keep expanding. There is constant change and progression. This is a surprisingly well-paced story. You’d think that with eight or so pages a chapter, each chapter would be rushed but that’s not it. It’s just both very efficient and effective at what it’s doing.
And yet, it’s not just the comedic as The Voynich Hotel’s abstract, dream-like content can be surprisingly substantial and is never weird for weirdness’ sake. It’s amazing how much of the humor sticks despite belonging to the kind of wacky, extravagant comedy with straight man reactions that I am usually not at all fond of. I guess that’s what creativity can do, huh? The Voynich Hotel is always clever and poignant. This isn’t a weird bizarro shouting match like Arakawa Under The Bridge and its ilk. This is the good stuff. And it helps that its characters are charming, memorable and opionionated. Unique and easy to distinguish. All of them likable and interesting. The things they do and say express them so well this manga should be a gold standard in snappy character writing.
Likewise, the humor is always on point and dialogues are intelligent. The Voynich Hotel really offers in spades on every front.
Helping matters quite a lot, the material is original, unique and creative. It keeps doing interesting things and isn’t lacking in the execution department. It’s generally a rather fresh thing you won’t really get to see anywhere else. It’s full of clever humor and well-written character interactions, supported by a good visual storytelling as the art is fascinatingly charming, stylish and expressive. Not to mention the quirky cast: The characters are crude, sometimes insane even but never are they wacky just for wackiness’ sake. Things don’t dive deep down into the randumb territory with them. These are all lovable people (yet not necessarily good ones) in their very own ways and the writing features actual personalities. People you can distinguish without any of them suffering from gimmick overload.
Another good factor of The Voynich Hotel is that it never stops when it simply is not obligated to do so. Not even once does it come to a halt and ask itself “Why?” rather than “Why not?”. Why stop at conventions when there’s no need for those? Why not pair up a crippled boy and what’s basically a female zombie of a local legend? Why not have ghosts live in the hotel? Why not have a local serial killer whose sole weapons for murder are “Demon’s Claws +2”? Granted, there are reasons as to why some things aren’t done in entertainment media and why there are conventions in the first place but the good thing about The Voynich Hotel is that it doesn’t really cross any lines where things would get bad and it’s those small touches and rather huge extravagances that make it a fascinating story. It’s a charming adventure if you may call it that and there’s not a single annoying or downright boring character or event.
The Voynich Hotel is hard to describe in its complex and charming appeal yet as I was reading it, it became very soon apparent that Dowman Sayman understood it. He writes and draws these inter-connected short stories with such a gifted hand it’s like hardly anything I’ve ever seen. And somehow, within a mere three volumes, he manages to populate an entire island with memorable characters and subplots culminating in a self-concluded story. It’s almost baffling how much The Voynich Hotel achieves with so little.
With that said, I can only recommend The Voynich Hotel to all of you out there. It’s so very genuine and so very good and also so very unique. It stands out in an overcrowded field and does so with grace.
Also, the MC bangs the very willing 100+ years old brown maid lolibaba so if you’ve always wanted to see one of those win for once… be my guest.
With that said, The Voynich Hotel is the next vacation stay you never knew you wanted. In times of corona, that sure is one recommendation to make.
Final Verdict: Very Good.