Written/Drawn by Ai Yazawa
Genre: Teen Romance, Fashion
What’s in it?: Pretty Boys and Cute Girls, Funky Clothes, Models, and the Struggle of College/High School Life
Ultra long review!
Paradise Kiss is a small, renovated studio run by four students from Yazawa School for the Arts – notorious for its outlandish curriculum and the “nut bags” who attend. Style and fashion sense are what make the grade at Yaza Arts, but all of that is far removed from the no-nonsense, study-all-the-time world of Yukari Hayasaka. Until the day she happens to pass Arashi, the punkish Anglophile of ParaKiss, in the street. He thinks Yukari’s bitchy waif look is just the sort needed to model ParaKiss clothes, and with the help of the willowy drag queen, Isabella, brings her to their studio. Yukari quickly makes her lack of interest plain, but when George, the “Boss Monster” of ParaKiss, lays eyes on her photograph, he decides to give the red thread of fate a yank. Yukari’s world may never be the same.
Before I start on the actual review part of this review I’d like to point out that I would have never given this book anything more other than a glance if it wasn’t for my very good friend who waved the first volume in front of me whilst grinning and saying something like “I love this new manga I got! It’s so different and cute! And I absolutely love Arashi!”. Then I got reading it and rather than just being ‘upped’ to my favourites list, it skipped right onto my best list and has remained in the same spot along with Mars by Fuyumi Soryo. Simply put, I fell in love with this title immediately after about reading the first 100 pages. I give most of the credit to the sheer originality of the scenario: a cram school student coerced into modeling by four eccentric fashion design students. However, the gorgeous Art Deco style is equally charming; I love the way the renovated hide-away has French wrought-iron chairs, and boughs of silk ivy decorate the bathroom. And the characters are so unbelievably captivating.
In volume one we meet all the unconventional members of Paradise Kiss when prep school student Yukari Hayasaka finds herself the object of their modeling desires. Though many a young girl might leap at the chance to model, Yukari’s got other stresses on her mind and a desire of her own to get away from the seemingly freakish Arashi, Miwako and Isabella. Miwako is determined to make friends though, and Yukari find herself christened “Caroline” (a sophisticated name worthy of a model) despite her initial rejection. Enter George Koizumi, the enigmatic designer. One glance at her picture and George wants Yukari. But does he want her to model or for something else? What George says can rarely be taken at face value, though it’s a given that George, pointy objects and Arashi should not be in the same room. Yukari (a.k.a. Caroline) is positive she wants to be as far from Paradise Kiss as humanly possible, but the more she thinks about it, the quicker her heart beats. And the more she talks with the Yaza Arts students, the more she believes that maybe they’re the smart ones. After all, they’re the ones living their dreams.
Grouchy, stressed, and unsure of herself and others, Yukari Hayasaka has become one of my all time favorite manga protagonists. By the end of the volume, I wanted to be her. Not because she can transform and punish people in the name of the moon; not because she’s the idol of her school; not because she’s the quiet girl whom the school “hunk” has developed a liking for; not even because she gets to wear clothes designed by George. I want to be her simply because I can relate to her so well. Japanese prep school may be half a world away, but pressure and the expectations of others are things we all have to deal with in our lives. To see Yukari battle with those obstacles, is to feel an immediate bond. To see a modeling job fall in her lap is the stuff of daydreams. To see her struggle to determine whether Paradise Kiss is an opportunity or a disaster waiting to happen is manga worth reading.
It’s addictive story-telling at the very least, and Yazawa (the manga-ka, not the school) brings it forth with supreme skill. Her ability to express emotion through facial expressions is some of the best I’ve seen to date, my favorite from this volume being Yukari’s “I don’t need a man” moment. Yazawa’s interpretations of super-deformed characters are likewise hilarious. She eschews typical big-head, small-body chibi in favor of stick thin mini-characters with big eyes and mouths, and best of all, mood-hair. I love every line of Yazawa’s drawings. The characters are impossibly thin and long (with the exception of the too cute for words but very short Miwako), and they all have a flair for individual style. I find I am as fascinated with what they’re wearing as I am with the story. The effort that goes into the outfits and the choice of screen tones is clear to see, and it’s easy to believe that Yazawa spends most of her time chained to her desk. In my opinion, it’s all done so exceedingly well that Paradise Kiss would be fun even if it didn’t have a word of dialogue. Not that I want the dialogue removed from Paradise Kiss. I find the writing to be excellent, though how much of that is Yazawa, and how much of it is the work of translator Anita Sengupta I really can’t say. All I know is that what is presented here feels like genuine (if more Japanese than American) dialogue, and I’m loving every line of it. The comedic timing is flawless, and the characters have great speech patterns that fit their personalities.
I’m having an all out love fest with Paradise Kiss, so much so that I’m being extremely forgiving with the things I don’t particularly care for: the Photoshop filtered pictures occasionally used for backgrounds; the missing word on page 90; and the sporadic page numbers usually 20 to 30 pages apart. I am just so enamored of the bizarre romance brewing, the love triangle of the lesser characters, and the great fashions that all the nit-picky stuff seems inconsequential. Better to laud the good work Tokyopop has done with the English adaptation of this title: it’s presented in the original right-to-left format; they’ve kept the hysterically funny Bonus Stage with the Space Channel 5 motif; and they’ve capped it all off with a wonderful essay by Steve Diabo. All in all, it’s one of their better efforts.
Physical short comings aside, I LOVE this manga. If I could make everyone go out and buy ten copies, I would. It’s one of the best I’ve read in a long time, and I strongly recommend that it be added to the manga reader’s list of “must buy.”
Yukari: Yukari is the daughter of a very expectant mother. Throughout her life she has been living her mother’s agenda, trying to meet up to her mother’s expectations. Her one goal (to get into college) is set just to please her. After giving it much thought, Yukari decides to model for ParaKiss. She hides it from her mother for fear that she will be scolded for not trying hard in school. Yukari has a very childish nature, and says things she doesn’t mean to. She doesn’t think before she acts, in other words she’s very spontaneous. Like her mother, she is spoiled and expectant, but unlike her mother, she wants to change. She’s very determined, and goes for something if she truly desires it.
George: George is the head designer of Parakiss. Ever since a young age he has been designing as a hobby. He is the son of a father who is extremely rich (not to mention a womaniser) and an irresponsible mother, an ex-model, who feels that she should have never given birth to him. Because of how well-off he was, he lived in his own very expensive apartment and was able to feed well into his hobby of clothes designing. George is a perfectionist. He has a vision and follows through with it. He is spoiled and wants to be spoiled by others. He has his own way for loving Yukari, which often causes conflicts. Sometimes he may say the wrong things, but he truly has good intentions.
Miwako: Miwako is the solitary female member of Parakiss. She does the sewing. Miwako is very cute and always cheers Yukari up. She’s very conscious of others and is greatly concerned about all of her friends. Her father’s photographer and her mother is a famous mangaka artist. Since they are away on business, she resides with her older sister and her husband. Miwako is not as innocent as she appears; however, she has that childlike quality that always makes you want to hold her hand. She’s very true to herself and loves dishing out compliments.
Arashi: Arashi is a guitarist as well as a member of Parakiss. His punk attitude balances the happy/bouncy attitude in the group. He lives alone in an apartment, though sometimes returns to where his parents live. His mother, father, and older sister are all musicians. Sometimes he is quick to temper and may seem too harsh. Deep down he really cares, however, and the soft spot really shows through when it appears. He’s got the red-head flair. He’s very possessive of Miwako.
Isabella: Isabella is a very sweet cross dresser as well as a member of Parakiss. Although “she” may look like a beautiful woman, don’t be fooled: it’s a guy. Not much is known about Isabella, except that when he was really young he always thought of himself as a girl at heart. George, who has been a classmate of Isabella’s since elementary school, helped him to bring out his feminine side more by giving him dresses that George designed personally. Although a bit bashful at first, Isabella became used to it and accepted his feminine-ness. Isabella is very sweet and has always shown concern for Yukari, although sometimes seeming a little bitter. He really can be sweet, and sometimes it’s hard to tell he’s a guy.