Paradise Kiss 1

July 21, 2015

Ai Yazawa – Vertical – 2012 – 5 volumes
the original is 5 volumes, this edition is complete in 3 volumes

You know, I’ve had this site forever (almost eleven years, which is practically forever on the internet), and I’ve never reviewed Paradise Kiss on here.  This series means everything to me.  Somewhere, buried in the massive confines of this site, there is an embarrassing essay where I talk about why that is.  But basically, this came out when I was 18, had just started at an art academy, and could identify with Yukari in every way except for the fashion model stuff.  At the time, there wasn’t a whole lot of shoujo manga in English, and this series blew my mind.  There was a year’s wait between volumes 4 and 5, and it NEARLY KILLED ME.

I’ve never reviewed it here because it’s so personal.  I didn’t pick up the Vertical editions either, because it felt like cheating on my tear-stained Tokyopop copies.  But I recently bought it out of guilt, since I love this type of series and Vertical was trying to publish them awhile back.  I bought all the others (Sakuran, In Clothes Called Fat, Pink, Helter Skelter, Utsubora), but didn’t support one of my favorite series of all time?  Well, here we are.

The vertical editions are nice.  I like the cover designs on this a lot more, but for the purists out there, the purple original Tokyopop editions are what the Japanese volumes look like.  I can’t comment about the translation or typography, since I’m naturally curmudgeonly when it comes to change in my favorite things, so I’m not a good judge.  There are color pages in the fronts of the volumes, featuring illustrations of ParaKiss dresses on dressmaker’s dummies.  But the original color pages aren’t replicated in the manga itself, which is a shame.  There’s a long color sequence in a chapter here, featuring color illustrations of all the characters.  The end-of-volume bonus pages are also missing… which… eh, may be for the best.

I still like the story quite a bit.  Yukari is studying for college entrance exams at an elite high school and college prep school, but is overwhelmed.  She isn’t very good at studying, and doesn’t know what she wants to do in college.  She doesn’t really have any friends or hobbies, aside from studying.  She’s scouted off the street one day by a pierced, spike-haired punk and asked to be a model for a school fashion show.  She refuses, but is intrigued by the lives of the fashion designers, who include Arashi (the one who saw her first), the small and cute Miwako, gorgeous and mysterious Isabella, and the eccentric team leader George.  They make clothes in their studio under the label Paradise Kiss, and Yukari matches their image perfectly.  They want her to model their outfit in the school fashion show.

The art school students are so different from anything in her everyday life, she begins straying more and more to their studio.  She becomes friends with Miwako, and begins to fall in love with George.  But she lies to her mother constantly about what she’s doing, and continues to put up the front of a failing exam student.

One of the things I like about this series, as a manga fan, is that it puts a little bit of a twist on the usual shoujo relationship.  George seems like a very smooth, handsome love interest, but his eccentricities make it necessary for Yukari to think for herself, which she doesn’t like to do.  While she builds George up in her mind, after a minor incident one day, he basically asks her if they ought to get together, and she basically says yes, and they agree to meet the next day.  When George doesn’t call, Yukari gets upset and calls him to tell him off.  He acts confused.  He thought she was going to call when she was done with school?

And it goes like that.  Yukari keeps trying to blame George and the others for her not studying, for the fact she’s lying to her mom and staying out late, and for the fact that falling in love with George is basically changing her life.  George and the others continually remind Yukari that she’s making all these decisions herself, and nobody is forcing her to spend their afternoons together, hang out with them, blow off cram school, or lie to her mother.  The others are actively trying to get Yukari to study, while Yukari keeps blowing them off with various reasons why she can hang out with them.  George can be a little cold… in one scene, when Yukari looks upset when things get hot and heavy, George asks her why, and she basically tells him she’s upset because he brought her there.  When George reminds her that she’s capable of making her own decisions, she slaps him and they get into a fight.  George probably could have reassured her a little more here, but he’s right when he tells her he’s not the type to shelter her and make all the hard decisions for her.

Basically, rather than sweeping Yukari off her feet and leading her into a new, happy life, George is forcing Yukari to look at the choices she’s making and ask herself if that’s what she really wants.  If it is, she can walk into the new world on her own two feet.  But she’s the only one who can set her priorities.  What a healthy message.

This is too long already, but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the art.  Yazawa’s artwork is GORGEOUS.  In a series about fashion designers, what the characters are wearing is important, and not only do they constantly appear in new outfits (each character in their own style), Yazawa illustrates it all gorgeously.  All the outfits are detailed, and she puts so much love into the hairstyles and jewelery, too.  All the characters are fairly unique-looking (except for Miwako and Mikako, who are sisters and are supposed to look the same), and almost every page is worth lingering on to absorb the detail.  She sometimes uses photos as backgrounds, which I recall taking some getting used to, but I think it kind of matches the funky mood of the series.

Take it for a spin, if you haven’t already.  I try to recommend it constantly, and I’m so happy it’s available in a new edition again.

edit:  I wrote this review two months ago, but it’s 11 years today when I first started this site.  I can’t think of a more appropriate series to post.