Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Palette of 12 Secret Colors, vol. 1

The story: On the island of Opal in the South Seas, color magicians cum artisans known as "palettes" manipulate colors and are paired with the island's treasures -- brightly colored, tropical birds. Our main character, Cello, is a student at the municipal school that trains palettes. But, with all the trouble Cello experiences, will she ever become a professional palette?

The volume opens with Cello's troubles in moving on to the next grade in school because of her incompetency and dealing with various birdnappers. Of course, Cello helps save the birds from their would-be kidnappers with her newfound skills of long-distance color manipulation. We also meet Dr. Guell, the school's doctor, who frequently helps Cello out, as she often gets stained with the colors she works with.

Reaction: I loved the tropical setting of Opal and the inspiration for its name, as an opal is seemingly white, but comprised of many colors. The mangaka Nari Kusakawa has created an interesting twist on the use of magic -- as palettes can only manipulate colors -- and, at first glance, a fun world.

Deep thoughts: This is an amusing shojo story. But, the thing that kind of irked me was the more-than-meets-the-eye relationship between 23-year-old Dr. Guell and the 16-year-old Cello. There's the implication that he thinks of her as more than "just" a student. Of course, this is all brushed off with sarcasm on Dr. Guell's part and nothing comes of it, but it still bugged me.

Artwork: Honestly, the first chapter was a little rough around the edges -- in the initial panels where Dr. Guell is introduced, his face is oddly shaped. Also, this being a story about color-manipulating magicians, it definitely suffers from not being in color. Only the cover gives us an idea of just how colorful Kusakawa's Opal is and that's to the story's detriment in some ways.

Also, when color is being manipulated out of a bird and onto an object, screen tones are used. It took me a little while to figure out what was happening because of its use. Then again, maybe I was just a little slow on the uptake?

The verdict: If only... While this book has many strong points going for it -- a well-meaning and determined heroine in a brilliantly realized tropical setting -- I couldn't get past the ambiguous relationship between Cello and Dr. Guell. I think if Kusakawa had focused more on Cello and her friendship with her best friend, Mousseline, and less on the undefined relationship with Dr. Guell, I may have liked this a bit more.

Overall, though, this is a good story and I'll continue to read it to see if it improves. The Palette of 12 Secret Colors is available in the U.S. from CMX.

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