MICHELLE: Hello, Off the Shelf readers! Melinda and I are devoting this week’s column to Karakuri Odette, the topic for this month’s Manga Moveable Feast hosted at Manga Report. I had read some of this series before the MMF was announced, but Melinda never had. That has since been rectified!
Melinda, it has taken a lot of self-control not to pester you with repeated, “Did you like it? Did you like it?” inquiries this past week. And of course I’d like to know that, but I’d also like to ask what you expected Karakuri Odette might be like going into it and how it compared to your expectations.
MELINDA: I have to say that I actually had very few expectations going in, other than knowing that it was shoujo that you like and having a vague sense of what that means. And in those uncertain terms, I’d say it fulfilled my expectations entirely. Probably the series it most reminds me of is Kimi ni Todoke–a prime example of “shoujo Michelle likes” if there ever was such a thing. Its tone is similarly good-hearted, and there are actually quite a few similarities between Odette and Sawako in that both of them are really learning to be high school girls for the very first time. That robot Odette seems to accomplish this more easily than human Sawako says quite a bit about both of them and the worlds they inhabit.
MICHELLE: Yeah, I tend to like a lot of those good-hearted shoujo series (many of which were serialized in Margaret or one of its offshoots). And you’re absolutely right about the similarities between Odette and Sawako. Both, for example, have people around them who *like* someone, which is a concept somewhat alien to heroines who are happy enough just to have some friends! So they both must learn what liking someone actually entails. As of volume five, Odette hasn’t really figured that out yet, and Sawako gets it by volume four or so, so the human’s not too far ahead!
MELINDA: Well, though Odette may not have figured it out intellectually, she’s certainly got the symptoms! This is actually something I wanted to bring up with you. Odette has clearly picked up some genuine emotion along the way, and while this is certainly not a sci-fi series by any means, that’s still a pretty big deal for a robot in any universe. It seems clear, too, that mangaka Julietta Suzuki is charting a romantic course for Odette with Asao, one way or another. How do you feel about that? Does this at all impair your ability to suspend disbelief? And should Suzuki ultimately not go down that road, how will you feel about this as a shoujo manga?
I’m personally torn on both these questions, so I’m curious to hear your take on it all.
MICHELLE: Ooh, what a good question. I have vastly enjoyed Odette’s gradual acquisition of feelings, because Suzuki’s take on it has been laudably understated. Odette’s growing interest in Asao doesn’t impair my ability to suspend disbelief, because honestly I think accepting the whole robot protagonist concept in the first place means one has given blanket acceptance to all sorts of things. I like that she’s beginning to see him in this light, particularly because he was introduced as having feelings for someone else and, so far, does not seem to be thinking of Odette in a romantic light. I always admire series that go for the unexpected ending, so seeing Odette and Asao together at the end would be somewhat of a disappointment, actually. In my ideal ending, she realizes that she loves him, recognizes that he doesn’t love her, and is totally happy that she understands the feeling, even if it must remain unrequited.
An even worse case scenario than Odette ending up with Asao would be to see her paired up with either of the robot boys who seem interested in her. Chris is just too bland, and Travis just too flamboyant.
MELINDA: Poor Chris! He works so hard only to be labeled “bland!” ;) I think Chris is an especially sympathetic character, actually, because he’s most likely not capable of ever understanding Odette fully or catching up with her at all. He’s simply not an advanced enough robot. Yet if there’s anything he’s learned to actually want it is to please Odette so that he can continue to be with her. It’s subtly written and heartbreaking to watch. And really not that different from some tragic human relationships I’ve seen in my day.
MICHELLE: Well, when you put it that way! Poor Chris, indeed! It’s not that I dislike him—perhaps what I mean is that a relationship with Asao would be more challenging for Odette and prompt further progress toward humanity. Though, of course, I suppose it could say something creepy about Asao if he wanted to date a robot, even one as awesome as Odette.
MELINDA: Yes, I suppose that’s true. It’s hard to really keep a handle on concepts like that in this series’ universe, where there seem to be robots turning up all the time. This is actually the one aspect of the series I’m not completely sold on at this point. I am enjoying the story of Odette. Where better for any character to learn to be a “girl” than in the pages of a shoujo manga? But though I’ve liked most of the other robots who have turned up in the story, there have been so many of them at this point, it actually is beginning to wear on my ability to suspend disbelief. Or perhaps it’s that too many robots are muddying the waters. This may seem unreasonable, I realize. If I’ve already accepted one robot in the story, what’s keeping me from accepting five? But somehow Odette losing the uniqueness of her existence makes it progressively harder for me to take her circumstances seriously.
I like this manga, I really do. But I wish there were fewer robots. Does that make any sense at all?
MICHELLE: It does, and I get your point. It’s been a while since I read the first three volumes, but I recall a more social robot appearing there against which Odette measures herself. I suppose that’s useful for her, but the pair of robots introduced in volume five feels completely superfluous to me. There are already enough guys (human and mechanical) who are interested in Odette—we didn’t need another. I have a feeling they were introduced only as accessories to their creator, who is probably going to do something dastardly in the final volume.
MELINDA: Yes, I believe this feeling really did kick in with the introduction of Travis and Grace. It’s not that they’re bad characters, but they feel really incidental to Odette’s story. Honestly, I feel the same way about their sinister creator. This story doesn’t need that kind of melodrama to survive. It was so much more than that when we were just watching Odette learn how to be human.
MICHELLE: Definitely. I reviewed volumes four and five together and liked the former—which focuses largely on Odette’s friendship with sheltered rich girl, Shirayuki—much more than the latter. I wonder whether you share my affection for Shirayuki. I was quite impressed that Suzuki-sensei introduced a new significant character into the cast so seamlessly. She functions as a kind of Sawako, actually. Someone who has shunned human contact and so provides Odette a friend who is also experiencing some commonplace things for the first time.
MELINDA: I do like her quite a bit, yes! Though I’ve felt that since Shiayuki started attending school with Odette, the author has conveniently ignored her condition, for the most part. We’ve watched Shirayuki go through some rough times, but I can’t recall anything that’s actually had to do with the fact that she hears people’s thoughts whenever they touch her. It was supposedly this huge, terrifying issue that had cut her off from her family and society, but now that she’s in society, it seems to have ceased to exist, at least to any significant extent. So what was the problem again? I like the character, but maybe she really didn’t need that trait to be the person the author wanted to write.
MICHELLE: Yeah, I noticed that, too. And I wasn’t sure how she initially concludes Odette will never lie to her based solely on the fact that she can’t hear Odette’s thoughts, either. I think you’re right that that trait wasn’t necessary and probably Suzuki realized it, too. It must speak highly of my fondness for this series that I, usually such a stickler about plot continuity and the like, am willing to forgive and forget the mishandling of Shirayuki’s ability just because I like the character so much.
MELINDA: And it’s funny, you know I generally don’t care all that much about such things, so you know it all must be really, really obvious. :D Still, I’ll forgive this series nearly anything because I just really like Odette. She’s a wonderfully written character, and that’s something that hasn’t changed in the slightest over the course of the series so far. In fact, I’d say some of the best writing involving her happens in volume five, when she’s struggling over her irritation with Chris. In those moments, she’s both authentically human and authentically not at the same time. It’s brilliantly written. And while I wish the writing was more consistent, I’m not actually unhappy.
MICHELLE: I wonder, since you read Suzuki’s Kamisama Kiss first, do you prefer it over Karakuri Odette? It’s a later work, so will probably be more polished (it’s hard to tell from the single volume that’s been released in English so far) but I’m not as captivated by its lead as I am by Odette. Hopefully that will change in time.
MELINDA: I think that it’s really too early to tell. I’m very attached to Odette, and I barely know Nanami at all. I will say that one thing both series have in common is their sense of humor. This is actually something I wanted to be sure to bring up here, because despite the fact that Karakuri Odette is, in many ways, a standard high school shoujo series, the humor grabs me more than most. There was one bit of dialogue, for instance, that delighted me so much, I stopped to write it down. It appears near the end of volume three, when Odette has coerced Asao into going on a double-date with her at an amusement park. Startled at Odette’s choice of date, her friend Yoko asks, half jokingly, whether they need to worry that Asao (who has a reputation for fighting) might “snap and get violent all of a sudden.” Odette responds earnestly, “It’s okay. I’ve never seen any part of Asao snap off.” It’s the tiniest thing, but I actually laughed out loud. The series is full of moments like that.
MICHELLE: It is! The interaction between Odette and the Professor is frequently amusing, as well. And it’s all humor born of the characters’ personalities and not based at all on “oh, the wacky android doesn’t understand our ways” gags or something.
MELINDA: Yes, you’re absolutely right. Even the line I mentioned, which is certainly a symptom of Odette’s inexperience with human idioms, is not overplayed. The laugh is there, but it isn’t telegraphed in that goofy gag kind of way. It’s the simplicity and honesty of it that makes it so funny.
MICHELLE: I agree. :)
So, I talked a little about what I’d like to see in the final volume. What would you like to see happen?
MELINDA: This is probably going to sound like a cop-out, but with occasional exceptions, I try to avoid expecting specific outcomes when I read. In general terms, I’d like to see some kind of satisfying conclusion for Odette (whatever that might mean), and for Chris and the Professor as well, since I’ve become quite fond of the three of them. As long as it feels like an ending, though, I’m not feeling too picky about it. Sure, a romance is always nice, but problematic in this case, as you’ve pointed out. So I think I just want to see it come to a real stopping point–one that’s hopefully positive for Odette.
MICHELLE: I can’t quarrel with that!