Manga-ka: Julietta Suzuki
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: September 2009
Synopsis: “What does it mean to be truly human…? Odette is a lovely android built by Professor Yoshizawa. Curious to find out what it’s like to be human, she convinces the Professor to enroll her in high school. And thus, with a new group of friends in tow, Odette sets out to discover the true meaning of life as a human, where even the simple stuff is an adventure!”
Karakuri Odette brings us a fresh breath in the realm of android manga. In place of the more escapist concepts of A.I Love You or Absolute Boyfriend, we are given a fairly realistic, laid back take on what it would be like if androids interacted with humans.
Odette is the titular character, an android who is new to the world but appears to be a teenage girl. Odette’s personality is mostly displayed through her observations and detached nature, giving her a shy, quiet personality that often makes very poignant views on human society. This creates a mood more in tone with works like Emma and Aria, creating a great reading experience as we’re presented with assorted, character oriented short stories.
The manga starts off with what feels like a one-shot chapter, as her plaid-enrobed creator grants her wish of attending school. Odette’s attempts to fit in with her classmates make her relatable in being just like any other teenager, and the manga soon sets about expanding the story. I found it commendable that the author did so without resorting quickly to the usual high school manga clichés, setting some chapters outside the school. Elements of humour are added also such as Odette’s desire to eat like her classmates or her occasional chattering bodiless head during repairs. This keeps the series from venturing too far into dramatic territory, helping to keep it’s gentle tone.
Despite it’s sweet nature, Karakuri Odette does manga to delve into some fairly deep sci-fi elements. It opts to tackle deep questions rather then window-dress itself with androids for cuteness sake, something I think makes this a good choice for those outside the normal shojo audience.
In a somewhat unsettling chapter, Odette’s personality is offered a great contrast via a visiting android, Asia. Asia is upbeat, super sweet, and totally moe, something that ultimately shows itself in a horrifying way for both Odette and the readers. Asia’s emotions are a false display, based on peoples expectations, echoing the cheerful android girls who populate stuff like To Heart. It reminds you how fake characterizations in high school manga can be, and helps strengthen Odette’s persona. This is followed by another sharp sci-fi chapter that puts a great twist on the usual ghost story, as a young boys ghost haunts Odette and she makes a difficult choice. In addition to these, real world topics such as gang violence and epilepsy are tackled, grounding the series to balance the fantastic elements.
The artwork is softer than standard shojo fare, with light line work that reminded me of Fruits Basket, a similarly melancholy work. Backgrounds are sparse but contrasted well, and complimented by good figure work. Tokyopop’s pink and green cover design works well with the colour art used on this volume, enhancing the techno feel. Paper enthusiasts will also be pleased to know this title uses the thicker paper they are normally accustomed to. Asides from the usual shojo-author commentary sidebar, the postscript offers background details on each chapter, alongside 4-koma and additional illustrations.
In presenting Odette as a very human creature, focusing less on romance, and more on conflicts surrounding friendships and daily life, Suzuki gives is a slightly different flavour in shojo manga, one not far outside the comfortable manga realm, but still a relaxing change of pace. Recommended to shojo fans of all ages, and to those looking for a good cross-over title with great science fiction elements and strong art style that might also appeal to more shonen-minded readers.