by Carlo Santos,

Karakuri Odette

GN 3

Karakuri Odette GN 3
By all appearances, Odette Yoshizawa is an ordinary teenage girl—except she's actually an android. Only a few are aware of Odette's secret: her creator Professor Yoshizawa, fellow android Chris, and resident tough guy Asao. To everyone else, Odette is convincing enough to be human—but there are still some areas where her artificial intelligence falls short. The concept of liking another person is just beyond Odette's grasp, and she isn't sure what to do now that first-year student Yukimura has admitted his feelings for her. Can Odette's friends at school help her get a handle on her emotions? In the meantime, she also has other questions to figure out: where to find a lost cat, how to have fun at an amusement park, and why her battery power keeps running low ...

After several chapters of up-and-down moments, Karakuri Odette seems to have finally found its groove, centering on the storyline everyone was hoping for all along: adorable android girl learns the meaning of love. Admittedly, Odette's quiet utterances of friendship are "love" in the same way that folding a paper airplane is advanced aerodynamics, but that doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable experience. In fact, Julietta Suzuki's ability to handle a well-worn scenario with a subtle touch is what makes it special in the first place. This is not a romance built on screaming klutzy schoolgirls and bone-headed teenage boys and melodramatic multi-page monologues—goodness knows we have enough of those—but a sweet little treatise on the most mysterious of human emotions, as seen through the eyes of a robot.

This volume opens with something less ambitious, though: a stand-alone chapter where Odette and Chris try to recover a missing cat. It's a very typical story for the series, showing how Odette's good intentions get derailed by other human factors she didn't take into account. Even the second chapter, where the romantic stuff actually starts happening, could easily be taken as another formulaic incident where Odette misunderstands an odd human custom (in this case, the classroom superstition of writing your crush's name on an eraser). String all the middle chapters together, however, and an elegant story arc takes shape: one where Odette starts to feel emotions such as jealousy and longing, where her friends begin to engage in a back-and-forth love polygon, and where even Odette's physical attributes are affected by these emotional changes. Of course, the science of how Odette is able to feel such things is conveniently skipped over, but such technological hand-wringing would add little to the story anyway.

Even the most trivial scenarios in this volume find ways to illuminate the gap between artificiality and humanity: the last chapter, which is about (manga cliché alert) a trip to the amusement park, dishes out another valuable life lesson when Odette has to deal with a very tired and cranky Asao. Funny how even unlikable characters end up being catalysts for the series' most charming moments—take Mika, for example, who up to this point has been nothing but a dispenser of verbal abuse towards Yukimura. But one little incident and and one line from Odette is all it takes to make Mika a sympathetic character in one of the most endearing twists in the series (although a rather predictable twist, for those who can read the signs).

The understated artistic style is also a key to Karakuri Odette's success; the visual language shows exactly what needs to be shown rather than try to overwhelm the eye with pointless ornamentation. If there are any concessions to typical shoujo convention, it might be in the screentoned patterns, or the many plain, backgroundless panels; meanwhile, others might complain about the similiarity of certain character designs—Mika and Yoko both have long dark hair, while Chris and Asao win the lookalike contest in the boys' department. All right, so maybe Suzuki isn't quite as accomplished as other artists when it comes to sheer variety and flair. Still, she has the capacity for visual flourishes like Odette comically running away from Yukimura whenever he approaches her. And few can match Suzuki's natural sense of layout: there is almost a rhythm in the way each panel comes after the next, clearly the skills of an artist who understands good visual pacing.

The way the dialogue is spaced out also contributes to that rhythm, with typically just one or two lines of text per panel. Don't expect the paragraphs (or worse yet, sentence fragments) of wild emoting that usually accompany a high school romance. Odette speaks; her friend replies; Odette speaks again; another reply; Odette thinks, then speaks, and so on—this style of speech hits a perfect balance between too quiet and too talkative, and the natural-sounding translation helps a lot too. It's a shame, though, that many of the the sound effects go untranslated: they often add to the ambience of a scene, and only translating the sounds when they matter to the plot comes off as lazy. At least the bonus strips in the back help to finish the volume on a humorous note.

Those who have been following Karakuri Odette since the beginning know that there have been ups and downs: some chapters just didn't fit with the tone of the series, like attempted robot assassinations and kidnappings and rescue missions. Volume 3, on the other hand, is the first to really dig into what the story does best: exploring the scope of human emotion from an android's point of view. (Well, the first two volumes did this as well, but they kept getting sidetracked.) Odette's fumblings toward a better understanding of "like" and "love" are a delight to read, and the storytelling is subtle enough to keep it from entering generic high school romance territory. Some of the day-to-day events are just typical android-meets-human stuff—come on, anyone can track down a lost cat—but as Odette begins to connect on a deeper level with her friends, that's where the story truly shines. Not just exploring the realms of the human and robot mind, but also the realm of the heart.

Production Info:
Overall : B
Story : B+
Art : C+

+ Builds upon the Odette/Yukimura/everyone-else relationships that have been developing throughout the story, in the usual laid-back style.
Sparse artwork can seem anemic at times, and the same with some of the less ambitious stand-alone chapters.

Story & Art: Julietta Suzuki

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