July 27, 2011

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Karakuri Odette Volume 4

Written by Julietta Suzuki
Illustrated by Julietta Suzuki
Tokyopop

Odette might have a new friend, if she can break down the barriers of a human heart turned robotic by years of isolation. Can these two young women who haven't experienced the world in the way that most of us have form an alliance in their everyday lives and find their way to humanity together? From going out with friends to experiencing the great outdoors, it's another set of life experiences for our protagonist android in Karakuri Odettte.

I have to admit, this is the first volume of Karakuri Odette that really let me down. It's not bad by any means, but I'm not a big fan of this new character, Shirayuki. She would have been okay as an occasional character, but Suzuki uses her so often she's basically the co-lead in this volume, and I think that's a mistake. The focus of this title should always be on Odette and her troubles adapting to life as a teenage girl, exposing both the wonder and the pain of growing up. Shirayuki deflects from that everytime she is around, because now there's yet another character who is similar to Odette. Things are getting entirely too diluted for my taste here. I don't think the premise works nearly as well in an ensemble setting as it does with a primary character.

I definitely get what Suzuki is trying for here, in terms of creating Shirayuki. Here is a human being who might as well be a robot because she's been shut out of all the things that make up a life. I think we all know people who have that background, though obviously not to this degree. It makes for an interesting comparison: Who is more human, the flesh and blood person or Odette? The problem for me is that seeing them side by side takes the focus off either of them, so the impact of, say, visiting someone's home for the first time is blunted.

There's also another big problem with Shirayuki, and that's Suzuki's decision to make her filthy rich. I hate the flunky sidekick bought for her, I hate that she can be helicoptered out of any problem, and I don't see how we're supposed to sympathize with a girl who has that much money. She may be poor in friends and life experience, but the money factor just turns me off caring about her. That might just be my bias showing, but overall, I thought it took away some of the potential for strong storytelling moments.

One thing that I noticed about Odette here that *is* interesting to me is that she's far more likely to be cruel to Shirayuki than her other friends, and is generally more aggressive than we've seen in the past. In the case of the former, it's hard not to think that Odette considers Shirayuki less than human (a good plot point that I'd like to see followed up on, though not at the expense of everything else). In the case of the latter, is it possible her programming has been tweaked after so many technical issues? I guess I'll just have to see how things progress in the next volume.

Suzuki's artwork continues to be extremely strong, with every character being distinctive and expressive. It's not easy to make a robot look like she has feelings, but Suzuki pulls it off quite well, I think. There's a lot of posing, frowning, smiling, and shouting that helps the reader understand how Odette and her friends feel about their lives. Karakuri Odette is neither flashy nor exploitative, and that's part of what makes it work so well.

Though this was not my favorite volume of the series, I still like Karakuri Odette a whole lot, and I'm so glad it was finished here in the US before Tokyopop went under. It's a female robot story that's based on the desire for humanity rather than the desire to titillate, a rarity in comics both Eastern and Western in nature. If you can find this series somewhere, definitely pick it up!