Paradise Kiss (Manga series) by Ai Yazawa
Posted September 1, 2010on:
After professing my love for shorter casual reviews, here’s a super long, more formal review. My exuse being I wanted to put in some cultural tidbits. Look for the italics.
Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa is the story of Yukari as she survives her senior year of high school. It’s the perfect length at five volumes: short enough that you can read the whole thing in one day, but long enough that you get a completed storyline that finishes well. Yukari is your typical Japanese high school student – school, cram school, chores, homework, repeat every boring day, spend weekends at the library studying for college entrance exams. She’s been crushing on handsome Hiroyuki for years, and maybe, finally, this year, she might get up the guts to ask him out.
Japanese cultural tidbit: Especially in the larger cities, University entrance exams are a BIG DEAL. Much bigger deal than ACTs or SATs in the United States. Many high school students sign up for cram classes that meet a few days a week including Saturdays.
One afternoon Yukari is approached by some very strange looking students who half demand, and half beg her to help them. Thus we meet Isabella, Miwako and Arashi, who are all seniors at a fashion and textiles specialty high school. Their senior project involves a highly competitive fashion project led by their team leader George, and they need a fashion model for the show. Miwako explains their fahion line is called Paradise Kiss, and they feel Yukari would be a perfect fashion model for their show. Will she help them?
Japanese cultural tidbit – It is not unusual for students to attend specialty or private high schools away from their families. If the student doesn’t board at the school (or if the school doesn’t offer boarding), parents will often pay for a small studio apartment or a shared apartment space for their child near the campus.
Yukari has no idea how to respond. How dare these strange artsy students (safety pin through the lip? pink hair? platform boots??) expect her to drop everything just for them? She’s got cram school, exams, and these flighty art students want her help? She says no, and storms out.
The next day, Yukari realizes that not only was she ridiculously rude to the fashion students, but she’s left her student ID passbook at their studio. Returning to the studio for the passbook will give her the opportunity to apologize. But after school, an attractive young man driving a jaguar introduces himself as George. He offers to drive her back to the studio for her passbook. George says what he thinks, appears to have not a care in the world, and is insanely hot. Everything normal Hiroyuki isn’t. Hiroyuki is safe and normal, and destined for a harmless life. George is somewhat of a badboy, but he’s just so interesting, so unusual, so intriguing that Yukari can’t stop thinking about him. George has so much freedom in his life, something Yukari feels she will never have.
Suffice to say, Yukari says she will be their fashion model. The Paradise Kiss gang gives her the western nickname Caroline, and they start work on an elaborate beaded dress designed for her and only her.
The more time Yukari spends in the Paradise Kiss studio, the more she comes to respect these students. They may not be the “traditional’” students like she is, they may not be giving up sports and friends and dating for cram school like she is, but they work incredibly hard, and are passionate about their creative endevors. So passionate in fact, that Yukari begins to question why she is going to cram school to attend a university she doesn’t care about about to study something she doesn’t care about for the goal of getting a job that she doesn’t care about in a field she’s not interested in. The Paradise Kiss kids are doing something they love, so they can work in a field they love.
Ai Yazawa tidbit – Yazawa is known for a highly detailed and highly fashion centric style. Lots of make up, lots of peircings, lots of platform shoes, punk and gothic looks. She studied fashion before getting into manga, and her love of fashion shows through her artwork. Her artistic style includes angular faces, lots of ornamentation, and male characters may look feminized. Her manga usually takes place in the real world (no SF, no fantasy, no magic, no paranormal stuff), highlighting characters between the ages of 15 and 25, and her series often have crossovers.
And the more time she spends with them, the more she falls for George. George spoils her, compliments her, tells her she should make her own decisions about her life, he invites her back to his apartment. But at the same time, he doesn’t return her calls, and seems to be flirting with other women, and other men. Does he care for her? Is he just playing her?
Caroline needs to choose – cram school and what’s expected of her, or Paradise Kiss and the fashion show. Hiroyuki the safe match, or George, who she has completely fallen head over heels for, although she knows she can’t keep up with him.
Paradise Kiss isn’t all fun and games, and Ai Yazawa often puts some seriousness in her works. In this series, teenagers are dealing with some pretty adult situations – sexuality, high school drop outs, some psychological abuse, heartbreak, broken families, and a handful of others. As usual, Yazawa balances out the serious with plenty of funnier moments. This series certainly isn’t for children, but I’d think it appropriate for ages 15 and up.
Ai Yazawa really spoiled me with Paradise Kiss, and this has become one of my favorite series. I wish she had done more of it, but it’s also nice to have a story with known ending.
Downside – Paradise is currently out of print, and nearly impossible to find. I suggest Abe. There is a Canadian British translation and an American translation floating around. I’ve noticed some of the slang terms and jokes are different.
Manga tidbit – in Japan, Manga are usually published one chapter a time in serialized magazines that specialize in manga and manga culture. Once the manga is published in volume form, the artist will often add additional asides as “extras” at the end. Unusually, Paradise Kiss was serialized in a magazine called Zipper (Think Madmoiselle with more music articles and a punk edge), a young women’s fashion mag. Being in Zipper brought Paradise Kiss to a new audience and helped to define “fashion” as a subgenre of shojo manga. Don’t be suprised if you see Ai Yazawa characters reading Zipper!
Already a fan of Paradise Kiss? A live action film has been given the green light! I can not wait to see George in the flesh! Maybe if the film does well, ToykoPop will reprint the manga.