Thursday, April 29, 2010

Karakuri Odette Volumes 1 & 2

By Julietta Suzuki. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialized in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Tokyopop.

I have to wonder what demographic Tokyopop was going for here. A very, very pink cover (girls?) with the original Japanese title (manga nerds?), noting it's from the creator of the unlicensed Akuma to Dolce (which is actually on hiatus in Japan - HARDCORE manga nerds?), and featuring the back cover copy "She's a hot robot in high school - what's the worst that could happen?" (sleazy guys). I have to assume that the audience they want is number 1, but the audience they'll get is numbers 2 and 3. And that their editorial department is number 4.

It's a shame, as this is a really fantastic title, one which gives a genuinely sweet look at what a robot girl deals with in trying to learn about humanity. Japanese manga is littered with robot girls, of course, but most of them tend to be in titles for boys and men, and they're very much of the "what is this Earth thing you call kissing" variety of emotion-attaining robot girls. Odette's counterpart in Negima, Karakuri Chachamaru, for example (Karakuri means robot in Japanese, by the way) also is seen as basically trying to discover real human feelings and know what it's like to be alive, but almost all of the development she's attained has come from her crush on Negi.

With Odette, though, romance has not yet factored into it at all. I'm pretty sure that will change soon, and we do indeed see someone confess to her at the end of the second volume. But Odette's growth is shown through her friendships. First with Yoko, then with Asao, she's clearly desperate to try to be like everyone else, not realizing how human she already is. We see her curiosity itself changing - in Chapter 1, she comments in a deadpan way about wanting to eat food or be less strong, but by the end of Volume 2 she has better reasons for wanting to do these thing. Human reasons, like wanting your friend to like your cooking.

This is contrasted very well by the two main male characters, Chris and Asao. Chris, originally a one-off character, is reintroduced in Volume 2, and right away we see why. Because we've been following Odette all along, we don't realize how far she's come from the first few pages till we see Chris, also emotionless but trying to become more human, contrasted with the already quite emotional Odette. He clearly admires her, though I'm not sure I'd call it romantic love - I think in the end he'll be the guy who winds up needing an older sister/mother figure, kind of like Yuki in Fruits Basket - but it's clearly what's driving him to be less passive. Unlike Odette, Chris's changes ARE driven by love, just like the shonen robot girls. His first genuine response is to get angry at Asao - both for Asao's grumpy bitching at Odette, and for Odette clearly not minding it.

Speaking of Asao, he's a case in point that humanity can be difficult to achieve for actual humans as well. He's grumpy, he's mean, he gets into fights (but doesn't start them) all the time, and he's constantly saying the wrong thing around Odette and then having to fix it later. He's exactly the sort of 'mentor' figure Odette needs, giving her "tough love" through simply trying to deal with her everyday "wacky schemes".

The best thing about this manga, though, is hard to describe. It's what I call "those moments". The ones you want to read over and over again, and quote to others. Karakuri Odette is absolutely littered with them. Odette's tears in Chapter 1 as she flashes back to asking for less strength, now realizing what that means. Odette telling off Yoko for dissing Asao (but allowing her mere acquaintance Miwako to do so). The entire 2-page spread that can be summed up (with a shudder of horror) as "I LOVE CATS!". Asao's "Well, right now you look like you're so sad that you're about to cry." Julietta Suzuki is simply a good writer. And it shows.

I'm pleased that Tokyopop is releasing this, despite their ludicrous back cover copy. (Perhaps they can license Akuma to Dolce once Viz licenses Tokyo Crazy Paradise?) For all the talk of hot robot girls, this *is* a shoujo title. The goal is seeing Odette grow up and make friends. And yes, a lot of it is quite pink, if a rather deadpan sort of pink. Can't wait for more.

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