by Julietta Suzuki; adapted by Peter Ahlstrom
published by Tokyopop; $10.99 US
Odette is an android, a teenage girl robot who wants to go to school to learn more about what it means to be human.
(Her professor, on the other hand, appears to have given up on normalcy. He looks like a teen boy but wears a top hat, plaid jacket, and caped coat to meet with the principal.)
It’s a comedy, as indicated by early slapstick involving Odette not knowing her own strength. It’s also Pinocchio, only instead of being about the virtue of good deeds and clean living, it’s a charming portrayal of being a naive outsider, of valuing the simple things about life: eating lunch with school friends, playing hooky, caring about the feelings of others.
It’s like a shojo version of Yotsuba&!, only with less wacky humor, more gentle exploration of emotion. The usual conventions of the genre appear, such as a misunderstood guy known as a trouble-maker for getting into fights. He finds out Odette’s secret, and the two open up unexplored areas in each other. He can be nice to Odette without her having preconceptions about him that get in the way. She, meanwhile, is learning about infatuation, noting how her classmates’ heartbeats change as they mention the person they’re interested in.
The art feels different from what I expected. It doesn’t feature the kind of fan service I feared would be the case when I heard “girl robot”. It’s made up of thin lines, a little spiky — I’m vaguely reminded of Jules Feiffer’s work, although it’s a very remote relation. I like it. It’s sparse and emotion-focused.
The second story in the book is the most memorable. It’s a Christmas tale, with Odette wishing for someone to keep her company when the professor goes to a college reunion. A robot boy shows up unexpectedly. Although his motives are unpleasant, the way things evolve is quietly comforting. I particularly liked the touch of the two of them playing the game Life. (You know, with the little car with the people pegs.)
There’s also a chapter where another girl robot, Asia, comes to visit. She’s more practiced at being human, although her version is stereotypically girly and cute, and the contrast sheds some light on jealousy and expectations. The last story is a fascinating take on ghosts and taking care of others, as Odette finds a little boy no one else can see. I was impressed by how many different things was done with the concept in this volume, getting out of the typical school setting frequently.
Odette’s lack of external emotion is a refreshing change from the overheated expressiveness of much other shojo. It makes the moments of significant feeling that much more powerful. I look forward to reading more. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)