Archive for January, 2011

Karakuri Odette: A Movable Feast’s rare delicacy

January 23rd, 2011
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Today’s profile: Karakuri Odette vols. 1-4
Publisher: Tokyopop
Suggested age rating: Teen 13+

This month’s Manga Movable Feast focuses on Karakuri Odette. If you haven’t heard of it before this post (and weren’t linked here from host Anna/TangognaT’s blogroll beforehand — by the way, if you’re visiting from there, welcome!), I can’t blame you. I hadn’t really heard of it before it was announced as this month’s focus, either.

It’s not one of those titles that’s readily visible on bookstore shelves — while hopping around various Borders stores around town for the ongoing “buy 4, get 1 free” manga promotion (and the occasional trip to the Ala Moana Barnes & Noble) over the past month or so, I’ve seen all of one copy of Karakuri Odette on sale … and it was a copy of volume 5, at that. Save for the equally rare (now, anyway) Sexy Voice and Robo, I can’t recall another MMF subject that’s been as difficult to track down in traditional bookstores as this one … and this series is still in print.

Fortunately, we live in a world with the Intarwebz, where one can just click on a few buttons, run a credit card and get what they want delivered to their doorstep at a reasonable price (unless, of course, you want a used copy of Initial D vol. 33 … just remember if you look at that link that shipping’s still only $3.99!). That’s how I managed to obtain five very pink volumes of Karakuri Odette. Their very pinkness, in fact, was what struck me at first: These covers just screeeeeeeeeeeeeam girliness, to the point where guys would probably feel a serious hit to their masculinity were they to be caught reading these books in public. And then I read the cover blurb — “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.” At which point I thought: Oh noooooooo, this is going to be like Chobits from the robot’s perspective, with high school hijinks thrown in. What is love? Can robots feel love and develop emotions like humans? Will we want to strangle the male in the relationship that inevitably develops for all his internal angst over falling for some sweet thing that’s running on Windows/Mac OS/Linux/other operating system of choice? Those were the questions that I already saw addressed in Chobits. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Chobits. I was just afraid of getting a pale imitation of that.

But I’ve yet to see a clunker among the series chosen for the MMF, and Karakuri Odette won’t go against that trend, either. I like to think of this dish of the Feast as being like sashimi, those chunks of pink, raw tuna that local families happily devour every New Year’s Day and during other special occasions. Sure, it may not look appetizing at first, but it’s actually quite delicious. (Umm, let’s ignore that whole mercury contamination thing for purposes of this analogy.)

What helps is that artist Julietta Suzuki doesn’t go overboard with her characters’ emotions and the situations in which they’re placed, nor does she beat us over the head with extended musings about love. Instead, she infuses everything with a sense of optimism and frivolity, gradually introducing her cast to readers and giving each character some quirky trait that makes him or her instantly endearing. Central to all this is Odette, the android who could be a real girl at a casual glance — heaven knows she has most of her classmates fooled — if not for winking nods every now and then at her robotic nature. For instance, she complains about having to lug around a giant battery as a backpack at one point because it’s so ugly. (Professor Yoshizawa’s solution, dressing it up as popular character Pixie Rabbit, is met with an equal amount of scorn.) As readers, we end up rooting for Odette because she has a way of bringing people together with her eternally positive outlook, yet also has a vulnerable side that reminds us of our own emotions. Credit Suzuki also for not fetishizing Odette, giving her a simple, yet pretty look. Boys don’t fall in love with Odette because of the way she looks (although she is pretty in her own way), but more because she’s a nice girl.

Other characters are equally grounded where they could have easily fallen into exaggerated tropes. Asao, for instance, is a guy that tries so hard to project an image as a resident bad boy, is saddled not only with the rare knowledge that Odette is an android, but also with the fact that he has a chubby, spoiled younger sister. Another of my favorites in the cast is Shirayuki, a rich yet lonely shut-in who gradually warms to Odette and her friends after she finally, albeit reluctantly, emerges from her social shell when she enrolls at Odette’s school. (A sequence where Shirayuki’s servant sends her off to school with three stereotypical girls as “classmates” — a cheerful little-sister type, a dependable and cool big-sister type and a comforting mother type — is priceless.) And then there’s fellow android Chris, who looks like he could fill the “stereotypical emotionless pretty boy” role when he’s introduced. But his internal conflicts, first with his original mission and then with his struggles with how he should respond to Odette’s care toward him, make him so much more of a fleshed-out character than that.

As for drama and intrigue, this series has its share. There’s an underlying conspiracy afoot where it would seem that a shadowy group is tailing the good professor to try to learn the secrets of his technology, but that falls to the wayside after a few early chapters. (Somehow I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up again as the series starts building to its conclusion.)  I’m also curious in seeing how the various romantic elements resolve themselves — as it stands, Asao may be falling for Odette; first-year high-schooler Akihisa is definitely falling for Odette but can’t get past (a) her inability to grasp love as of yet or (b) Asao shutting him down; Chris has some sort of whatever-androids-regard-as-”love” thing going on with Odette; and Asao’s sister has a major crush on Chris. Throw in some of the other secondary characters, and you’d probably need a flow chart to keep everything straight. It’s all in fun, though.

So if you can find Karakuri Odette somewhere — I’d recommend getting it online now, while retailers still have it in stock — I’d definitely recommend it. While I wasn’t able to get to volume 5 for purposes of this review, you can bet I’ll be reading it soon, then awaiting the concluding volume 6′s arrival in the mail.

One final note: Now that we’ve seen and loved Karakuri Odette, can someone please bring over Suzuki’s other series? Perhaps even you, Tokyopop? You can’t tantalize us with a cover tease that says “From the creator of Akuma to Dolce!” and never show us what Akuma to Dolce is, after all. That would just be mean.

A (virtual) chat with artist Kaili Mossman

January 21st, 2011
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When last we left our tale of the Liliha Library Anime Art Contest, we had seen all sorts of wonderful artwork from young artists around Oahu, along with pieces from the divisional winners and honorable mentions. What we haven’t covered yet, though, is the story of the contest’s grand prize winner — the only person not on the island, the artist whom Liliha young adult librarian Linda Mediati allowed into the contest after the artist’s dad appealed so nicely on her behalf. That would be Kaili Mossman, Kamehameha Maui sophomore, active member of her school’s drama club, and, of course, avid anime and manga fan and artist. As I was poking around on Google to see if I could find anything on her background, in fact, I found that she had entered another contest as well — last year’s Maui Matsuri manga art contest. (She won a prize there as well.)

While Kaili won’t be joining us at Saturday’s awards ceremony — she has to take her SAT Subject Test in chemistry on that day — she is getting a three-day pass to Kawaii Kon in April as part of her prize package, so hopefully she’ll be able to visit us here on Oahu then. I also fired off a few questions to her, which she was gracious enough to answer.

—–

How long have you been drawing, and what do you like about it?

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. However, I really started refining my style in third grade, when I started reading the manga my relatives sent me from Japan and began to understand the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I love drawing out my imagination and seeing it on paper instead of in my mind.

What’s your favorite anime/manga series?

My favorite anime series is Baccano! The action scenes and the comedy is great, but what I really love about it is how the characters all interact with each other.  They each seem to lead their own individual lives, but as the series goes on, you get to see how they’re all connected somehow.

My favorite manga series would definitely be xxxHolic and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles. The two are separate series, but they were both made by CLAMP and often crossover each other.  The best part is that they can both can stand alone, but it makes more sense when you read them together.

Any favorite artist(s)?

My favorite artists are definitely the members of CLAMP.  Their art is unique, full of style, and matches with the story.  They put so much detail into their work and they really have a wild imagination!  Some other artists I like are actually from DeviantArt.com, a website for artists all over the world.  Some of my favorites from that site include yuumei, cartoongirl7, Ecthelian, inma and kaoru-chan.

What was your inspiration for the prize-winning piece (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream – HI Style”)?

I drew that picture in honor of the school’s performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Shakespeare. Since I entered high school, I’ve drawn a picture featuring the cast members as the characters they played in each performance. Last year was “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and I am currently working on “A Christmas Carol.” Our director and our costume designer wanted to add a Hawaiian twist to the play, so the cast members were given rather unique costumes for a play set in Athens. For example, the fairies became hula dancers and the mechanicals became plantation workers. I played one of the mechanicals. You can see me in the upper left-hand corner wearing a mop head, holding a sign. I tried my best to make the costumes in the picture as accurate as possible. (So, yes, I really was wearing a mop head.)

How did you feel when you heard you won the grand prize in this contest?

I missed the call because I was auditioning for the school’s latest drama production (“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”) and had to turn off my phone.  When I heard the voice mail, however, I was ecstatic!!  I let out a scream and was literally jumping for joy.  I had thought that the highest I could get was third place, since there are other artists in Hawaii who are much better than me.  Winning grand prize was an absolutely wonderful surprise!  It was a terrific way to end the day.

Have you ever tried entering other art contests?

Unfortunately, the only other art contest I’ve competed in besides the Maui Matsuri art contest was this one.  I draw a lot on my own time, but with all of my extracurricular activities, such as my school’s drama productions and my daily community service, I don’t really look around for contests to enter.  A little contest once a year is good for me. ^_^

——

I also asked Kaili to offer some commentary on some of the other pieces she submitted to the competition.

“Alice in Underland”

I sketched this picture out on the way to my friend’s birthday party on Halloween. I had just listened to the Vocaloid song “Alice Human Sacrifice” and was in a rather “Halloween-ish” mood.  One of the girls at the party suggested that I make the white rabbit a zombie.  Another girl wanted a humanoid Cheshire Cat. When I messed up on the Mad Hatter’s eye, yet another girl advised that I cover it up with an eye-patch. And the birthday girl recommended black roses and thorns. With all the input I recieved from my friends, this picture could be called a collaborative piece.  :)

“Water Spirit”

Originally, this picture was going to be of Haku from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away.” However, I had no reference material during the sketching process and ended up changing it completely. At first, it was just going to be the boy and the fan, but then I thought it would be cool if I gave it a xxxHolic feel to it. That led to the koi fish on the fan and the jewels around the boy’s neck. After adding the koi fish, the background looked empty, so I added a dragon to it.  To give the picture the xxxHolic look I wanted, I extended the dragon’s tail into the fan. I also added strings of jewels to fill up empty space. It took a long time, but I am very pleased with how this one came out, even though it is definitely NOT Haku. I consider it to be one of, if not THE best work I’ve done so far.

“APH: Family Photos” (left) / “Fire Spirit”

“APH: Family Photos”: On YouTube, there is a beautiful hand-drawn slide show of the popular anime series Axis Powers Hetalia (often abbreviated APH) to the song “Anshin no Naka” by KOKIA. The heartful song and pictures left a strong sense of “family,” “love” and “memory.” I tried to capture that feeling in my picture through the different “family photos.” I tried to give the characters of America and Canada the innocent look of children while trying to portray the characters of France and England as loving older brothers. It wasn’t quite as effective as I wanted it to be, but I think it came out okay.

“Fire Spirit”: This may sound self-absorbed and proud, but I was so happy with how my “Water Spirit” picture came out, I had to continue. I knew that I wanted my new picture to have a fire theme to it, so I came up with the color scheme first. Using that color scheme, I started brainstorming what should go on it. I figured that whoever would go on it should represent a warm area. I suppose I should have used an Egyptian or a person of a similar race, but I ended up going with a native American (from Arizona, as I’ve come to think of him as). The phoenix in the background was heavily influenced by the Pokemon Moltres. The three-tailed fox on the boy’s sash thing (I’m not quite sure what it is…) was inspired by the Mozilla Firefox icon. I guess that goes to show that inspiration really can come from anywhere. I am currently working on a “Wind Spirit” picture, with a griffin, a butterfly and an Arab with white hair (inspired by Kida from Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire).

50 artists, 100 entries, 2 impressed judges

January 20th, 2011
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This week — except, perhaps, for one day in the near future, when I’ll break away to join this month’s Manga Movable Feast discussion of Karakuri Odette — we’re celebrating young artists here at Otaku Ohana. Specifically, we’re celebrating the work that local teens submitted for last month’s Anime Art Contest, the brainchild of Liliha Library young adult librarian Linda Mediati.

When Linda first e-mailed me about the contest, she also asked if I would be willing to help judge it as well — a request that I was more than happy to accept. My accomplice in assessments was Audra Furuichi, artist of the shuper-cute nemu*nemu. I was thrilled to have her join me to provide a professional artist’s perspective on the work — without her, I’m not sure I could have expressed more than “ooh, pretty.” Besides, she’s already produced four books and a whole line of popular merchandise, whereas my artistic ability on a good day resembles that of the guy who draws xkcd. At stake for the divisional winners (grades 6-7, 8-10, and 11-12) was what you see to the right: Manga-Comic Pro Sketching and Inking sets, Comic and Manga Artist Trading Cards. The grand prize winner would also receive a set of Copic markers.

… at least, that was the theory, anyway. In practice … well. What you see below is what we were faced with: around 100 entries turned in from 50 or so artists from around Oahu … and one from Maui, who Linda allowed into the contest as well.

Several library staffers who popped in to look at the entries as we were circling these tables over and over and over again echoed the same sentiment: “Wow, you guys have to choose out of these? Good luck.

Indeed, it was a difficult task. We even jokingly lamented, “How are we supposed to chooooooooose?” You know how at anime conventions, someone inevitably asks the voice actors, “What’s your favorite role out of all the ones you did?” and they answer, “That’s like asking me to pick who’s the favorite out of my children! I can’t decide!”? Similar situation. But armed with a clipboard and some yummy chocolate-covered cookies — and, for me, my trusty we diligently made our rounds and made note of our favorites. Here are some of my favorites, starting from the entries from sixth and seventh graders.

Where there certainly were a fair share of fan art pieces submitted — as you can see by the drawing of Goku below and to the right, as well as the fragment of a Bleach piece that we’ll get back to in a little bit — I was pleased to see a number of pieces that looked like they were original characters — for example, this trio of portraits that look like they could come from a fully fleshed out manga down the line. (Didn’t get the name of the artist who did these, sorry.)

… although there was also this drawing of Calvin by Jin Hao Lin. And that’s perfectly fine, too.

Emily Tashiro did both of these pieces below, but Audra in particular liked the one on the left, “Practicing His Sword Skills,” for the soft white line effects that you can see when you look closely at the picture and really study it.

We move next to the table with the work from students in grade 8 to 10 … and to be honest, while Audra and I picked a winner for the grade 6-7 division reasonably quickly, this was where things really started getting difficult. For starters, Kira-Ann Hayashi turned in this cute piece that I liked for its Hawaiian flavor.

Since this was a Liliha Library art contest, it’s only natural that we should feature a Liliha Library-based art piece, this one drawn by freshman Diandrea Sagisi-Buxton.

The bottom trio of pieces in this next shot came from Simone Lai Shinde. My particular favorite: the piece in the middle of the frame, “Fireflies,” for its color scheme and delicate line work. At top is a piece by Erica Machida.

Sufficiently awed, we made our way to the final table, the 11th and 12th grade division, where we were immediately confronted with art like these two pieces from Kaci Takara. And we commenced being blown away once more. One of the things I love about anime-inspired art is how artists take traditional fantasy tropes and add a certain Asian flavor and elegance to it, making the images pop off the page.

It’s a style we saw over and over again, like in this piece from Schyler Lai Shinde …

…or these pieces below from Jhonalyn Cuestas. And quite frankly, it never gets old.

We thought some of the best work on this table, however, came from Chery Wong. While many of the other entrants used more traditional media (pens, pencils, markers) and some also used digital media for their work, Chery’s entries looked like they were done using watercolors. We based our awards on single pieces, but if we could take more than one piece into account, the two in the foreground definitely would have been considered.

And then there was this piece, which I particularly liked because … well … it’s Earthbound. And everyone loves Earthbound. Except, perhaps, for whatever powers that be that are preventing it — and other games in the series — from being re-released stateside. Meanies. (Also didn’t catch the name of the artist on this one, sorry.)

In the end, we couldn’t just reward one grand prize winner and three divisional winners. We also picked several honorable mentions and added stuff to the prize pot — I donated some extra review copies of anime, while Audra enlisted the help of Kawaii Kon to contribute T-shirts. The grand prize winner’s package grew to include some other things from Kawaii Kon and myself as well.

Here are the divisional winners:

Grades 6-7: Nicole Nguyen, “Bleach in Hawaii” (shown with the honorable mention, Jasmine Wong’s untitled Pokemon piece.)

Grades 8-10: Madeline Bess, “My Faves Fan Art.”

Grades 11-12: Chery Wong, “Folding Cranes.”

And the honorable mentions:

Grade 8-10: Joelle Takayama, “On the Roof.”

Grade 8-10: Marin Yoshino, “Miimii Works.”

Grade 11-12: Kimberly Ing, “FairyTale Tea Party.”

Grade 11-12: Schyler Lai Shinde, “Monster Hunter.”

Which leaves us with the grand prize winner, whom you met for the first time in Cel Shaded today — Kamehameha-Maui sophomore Kaili Mossman. Her work really stood out from the moment we started arranging the various entries on the table. Several of her pieces could have taken the grand prize, really, but only one could be The One.

Check back here tomorrow, when I’ll have an expanded interview with Kaili as well as additional samples of her work. Because it’s just that good.