THE PALETTE OF 12 SECRET COLORS (Juni Hisoku no Palette), by Nari Kusakawa. First published in 2004, and first published in North America in 2007.
Cello lives on the remote South Seas island of Opal. Opal is renowned for its beautiful native birds and for its 'palettes.' Palettes are magic user who can extract the color from those birds and transfer them to other materials, turning plain cloth into brilliant brocades and ordinary rocks into colorful gemstones. Unfortunately, Cello is the worst palette on the island, to the point where she is being held back a year at palette school. Her failures often mean that she has to be sent to the school doctor, Dr. Guell, to bring everything back to normal. Still, she strives to pass her training, especially once she learns that she can wield colors over long distances and even write with them. Cello often finds herself putting these skills to the test, whether it's to foil bird thieves or bring snow to a tropical island.
This story is so bland that it practically erases itself from your memory the moment you put the volume down. Nobody in it is terribly distinctive, save maybe Dr Guell. He at least has a touch of snarkiness, along with his longing to return to his snowy northern home. Mind you, they never do explain how a 21 year old gets enough teaching and training to become a doctor, much less what a snowbird like him is doing in a place like Opal. Even the villians are spectacularly weak and dull. The one distinctive thing is how goofy the character names are, names like Cello, Guell, and Mousseline. Really, reading this is like eating cotton candy. It's sweet, light, and inoffensive, but ultimately without any substance. It spurs neither love nor hate, but instead a mere 'meh.'
There's a touch of Arina Tanemura to Kusakawa's character designs, with their oversized eyes, but that's where the resemblance ends. Kusakawa's designs are much more flat and simplified, which makes distinguishing ages on characters nigh impossible. The backgrounds are simple but handdrawn, sometimes concealed with screen tones. I will say that this is one of the few times where a manga has suffered for NOT being printed in color. After all, this is a story about magicians who can wield color like water, and we're often told how bright and beautiful these colors are. The only place we get to see those colors are on the watercolored cover. The rest is nothing but shades of gray, and that more than the plainness hurts the artwork.
There are some author's notes in the back, including an amusing little omake presented as a poll between the characters and their companion birds.
This series was published by CMX. All 6 volumes were released, and all are now out of print.
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