by Julietta Suzuki; adapted by Peter Ahlstrom
published by Tokyopop; $10.99 - $12.99 US
As my contribution to this week’s Karakuri Odette Manga Moveable Feast, I thought I’d get caught up on the series. It’s been eight months since I read Book 3, but since much of the series is made up of chapters that function as short stories, that’s no problem. You can jump in anywhere as a result, with the basics of the concept — Odette is an android who wants to go to school like a normal girl — immediately clear. (The character profiles at the beginning of each book help too.)
For instance, Book 4 begins with the introduction of a new character. Shirayuki can’t stand to be around people because she can read their thoughts. When Odette is sent to deliver a new robot from the professor to Shirayuki, the two unusual girls find a new friendship. Odette’s lack of traditional thoughts brings blessed silence to Shirayuki, while Shirayuki’s loneliness inspires Odette to encourage her to come to school.
Julietta Suzuki’s character-driven art style makes her teen cast remarkably expressive, and she doesn’t shy away from setting or costume design either. The story moves quickly through panels that read quickly but convey a good amount of information. I could see Shirayuki’s huge, silent house in my mind, populated only with dolls and a runaway cat, even though in most panels she and her uncertainty are the focus. The school classroom and its many students are similarly well-fleshed-out, populating a variety of types and looks, all clearly in Suzuki’s style but distinctive to their personalities.
There’s more underlying this story than just two girls made for each other as friends. Due to her experience knowing how often what people say doesn’t match what they’re thinking, Shirayuki hates lies. That puts Odette in a bad place, given her inclination to tell white lies that make people feel better or help them, as well as her need to hide her robot status from people so she’ll be treated normally. But the two have their uniqueness in common, both unfamiliar with some aspects of daily life.
Odette’s charm comes from her willingness to erase herself from the equation when attempting to do what’s right. She considers others’ needs and desires strongly — she knows how much she wanted to go to school, so she values helping others get what they want. That’s a wonderful tendency to encourage, and it’s part of what makes Odette such an unusual, refreshing character. There are plenty of shojo girls who cheerily help everyone, but Odette is much quieter about it, more reserved, less cheerleader-ish. She observes, taking things in before jumping into action, and often her choice is to have her contributions kept secret.
In the second chapter, Shirayuki decides to attend school with Odette, in a story full of misunderstandings. One character assumes that she’ll be graciously helping another, only to have her ego hurt when she realizes that she may be the one who needs the outreached hand. It’s a subtle portrayal of teen girl politics without the meanness we so often see, and a good reminder that our preconceptions and need to seem important may get in the way of us making friends. Odette also has to learn that too good a heart may get you taken advantage of, as some other girls use her willingness to grant favors to exploit her.
Other stories in Book 4 include Odette ruing her lack of baby pictures and how she missed out on Japanese rituals of being a kid. To provide some contrasting action, Asao returns (he’s the tough guy who knows Odette’s secret) and helps fish her out of a swimming pool. The resulting panel, with Asao throwing Odette’s frozen body at the professor who created her while screaming “Make her waterproof!” is hilarious! It’s such an adolescent response — “just fix the problem!”
The schoolgirls also go mountain climbing on a field trip and learn about determination and the feeling of achievement. Then Odette finds herself competing with another girl for Asao’s friendship. She’s jealous, but it’s not clear how much she understands romantic rivalry, due to her innocence.
Book 5 includes a wide diversity of stories, including Odette wrongly thinking she has to be weak to be cute and desirable; a touching side story about one of Chris’ “brothers”, bomb-carrying robots sent to kill other designers in the field, and the little girl he comes to protect; and more information on who made the Chrises. Another robot inventor has created an egotistical boy looking for a bride and wants to buy Odette from her professor, which pits the new Travis against old friends Chris and Asao. This volume is more satisfying if you’ve read others in the series, so you’re already familiar with the two boys. Better to start with the fourth, especially since it’s $2 cheaper.
What I like about this series is that Odette is her own person, not seen as inferior for what she is. She already has her own sense of humanity, as Rob McMonigal points out in his MMF review, and her world is recognizable to us, even desirable, as Erica Friedman reminds us. Additionally, Michelle and Melinda discuss much more about the relationships in the series.