The Palette of 12 Secret Colors 1 by Nari Kusakawa: A-

From the back cover:
On the island of Opal live the world’s most colorful birds. The birds have attracted a school for aspiring “Palettes”—wizards who have the ability to borrow color from one object and paint its qualities on to another. Young Cello has the potential to be a great Palette, but she just can’t seem to control her power. As the end of freshman year approaches she’s on the verge of failing, so she’s going to need all the help her bird Yoyo can provide.

This is the story of Cello, a sixteen-year-old studying to be a Palette, or artisan with the power to control colors. It seems like a silly skill to have, but the volume shows different ways in which it can be useful. Cello is smart and aces the written assignments, but her practical abilities need work: she has the unique ability to manipulate color from a distance, but not the fine control required to craft the fine goods that fetch high prices from outsiders. Her problems with control result in her being splattered with color pretty frequently, requiring multiple visits to the infirmary to see the young school doctor, Dr. Guell.

In the chapters that follow, she and Guell foil two separate attempts to steal the village’s precious birds and also supply some fun for some little girls’ birthday. It’s true that these adventures are episodic, but they really don’t feel that way because they’re not pointless. In the wrong hands, I’d dislike the chapter with the random little girls, but Kusakawa uses it to reveal details about Guell’s background as well as to illustrate what a kind person Cello is.

I also like that romance is not the focus of the story. Cello has definite goals that she’s working towards and acquiring a boyfriend is not among them. That said, there are a few subtle moments that hint that she and Guell are starting to at least admire and appreciate one another.

What I love most, however, is Yoyo, Cello’s bird. I love Koh from Silver Diamond because he talks and is amusing, but a lot of Yoyo’s cuteness is because he is silent. He’s clearly intelligent, but must get his point across mutely. One of the most endearing things he does is kick Cello (cutely, I swear) every time she thinks or says something self-pitying or overly self-critical. I heart him.

Kusakawa’s distinctive artistic style is the same here as in Two Flowers for the Dragon, and I find it quite appealing, though the evolution of Dr. Guell’s appearance between the beginning and end of the volume is pretty major. It’s interesting how different the settings are for the two stories—Two Flowers is set in an oasis in the middle of a desert, while Palette takes place on a semi-tropical island, complete with palm trees and lush vegetation. Also, I really, really love the covers to this series. So much, in fact, that I’m gonna have to link to them. There’s an online preview at that site as well, if your curiosity is at all piqued.

The Palette of 12 Secret Colors is published by CMX. Four volumes have been released so far, with the fifth due on February 18, 2009. The series recently ended serialization in Japan and is complete at six volumes.

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