Thursday, May 4, 2023

Merry Month of Shojo Review #4: KARAKURI ODETTE

 Sci-fi and shojo is a combination we don't see a lot of in English, and that's a real shame because this series demonstrates just what kind of potential it has.

KARAKURI ODETTE, by Julietta Suzuki  First published in 2005 and first published in North America in 2009.


Professor Yoshizawa created Odette to be his most advanced android yet, but he never could have anticipated the day Odette asked to go to school like human children do.  It's there that she begins to better understand the full range of human emotion as she tries to make friends and escape danger without revealing her robotic nature to the world.


This is far from the only Japanese work about a robot girl who wants to make friends and be like a real girl, but I think Karakuri Odette is pretty successful at giving that concept a shojo spin, albeit one with a bit of an edge.

It starts out much like you would expect, as Odette befriends the kind yet sickly Yoko and keeps asking for updates like "I want to be able to eat food" or "I want to be able to cry."  As the volume goes on, Juliette Suzuki gets a little more confident with the material and starts to branch out a little.  She dabbles a little more with sci-fi tinged horror, whether it's befriending a suicide bomber android on Christmas or a virus that manifests as a 'ghost."  That's also the point where she adds Asao to the mix.

Asao is one of the school's resident delinquents.  He starts out as an antagonist, but after discovering Odette's secret (and her using that to get him out of a fight), they become friends and confidantes.  I really liked this development, as not only does it help flesh out Asao as a character but gives Odette another perspective on humanity to bounce off of.  It's unclear if their friendship will remain purely platonic - the vibes between them are such as they could turn romantic later - but it's another sign of Suzuki's growing confidence in this premise and her skill as a writer.


 Suzuki's art style is as unfussy as ever (and unlike Kamisama Kiss, there are no pretty yokai boys as a contrast).  Her paneling is fairly straightforward, her character designs are rather minimal, and there's not a lot of shading.  Personally, I think it's a look that works in Karakuri Odette's favor.  Her simple character designs allow Suzuki to not only direct the viewer's eyes to the large, dark, plaintive eyes of her characters but give her space to express themselves in a surprisingly subtle manner.  It also helps to give the series a bit of verisimilitude, in spite of all the androids running around.   


I understand now why people still remember this series over a decade after its release here.  It's not just about the novelty of its genre but also the skillful writing, charming side characters, and the mangaka's willingness to get a little dark.  It's a shame it's never been rescued because I think it holds up and is worth finishing in English, even now.

This series was published by Tokyopop.  This series is complete in Japan with 6 volumes available.  5 volumes were released and are currently out of print.

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