The Palette of 12 Secret Colors, Volumes 1 and 2
written by Nari Kusakawa
The main industry of the island of Opal is color: its birds sport beautiful colored plumage, and specially trained technicians, called palettes, have the power to extract those colors and transfer them to cloth, jewels, and other objects.
Cello, the main character, is training to be a palette, but she’s having a hard time, and she is forced to repeat her freshman year after accidentally turning herself and her teacher pink on her final exam. However, Cello also has a power that none of the other palettes possesses: She can change colors at a distance, without touching the birds.
The story of Cello and Yoyo, her magic bird, seems straight out of a folktale: Cello’s father caught a fish with an egg in its belly, and when the egg hatched, the bird inside saw Cello first and imprinted her as his mother. Because the birds are a valuable resource on Opal, Cello was instructed to care for Yoyo, and when she was old enough, she started training to become a palette.
Cello’s partner in her adventures is Dr. Guell, the school doctor, who looks like he is barely out of high school himself. In addition to correcting Cello’s color mishaps, Dr. Guell is becoming her friend, and the two have a small flirtation. The romantic part is kept light, and Cello and Dr. Guell are more partners in mischief than partners in love.
These two volumes include a variety of different types of stories: A crooked merchant tries to kidnap the birds, using Cello as a decoy and taking Dr. Guell as a hostage; Cello uses her powers to create the illusion of snow for a set of winsome triplets; Cello and Dr. Guell use color to foil a crooked coin toss; a prince from a foreign land comes to visit and stirs up a bit of jealousy on Dr. Guell’s part before he figures out the prince’s secret.
This is a sunny, optimistic series. The characters are all pleasant, if a bit goofy, and even the bad guys are not particularly menacing. The second volume ends with an unrelated story that has a somewhat different tone, about a girl who rescues someone from drowning and ends up in the middle of a murder and robbery plot. The story is unrealistic and handled quite lightly, but it is a bit darker than the sunny adventures of Cello and Yoyo.
Kusakawa is the creator of several other popular manga, including Omukae Desu (about a boy who helps bring souls to the afterlife with the help of a giant bunny on a motorcycle) and The Recipe for Gertrude. Her art is loose and sketchy, with a minimum of detail, and in this series she keeps the tones bright, as befits a sunny tropical island.
The Palette of 12 Secret Colors is light entertainment at its best, serving up a bit of adventure and some slice-of-life comedy in a delightful island setting.-- Brigid Alverson