Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Manga Review: Paradise Kiss

This series falls into the "I've been trying to read this for years but have had the worst luck finding it!" category of this blog which seems to be exclusively dominated by well-regraded shojo stories (heck, I've got a post from years back when I got ahold of the first volume again so that I could finish it!). I did discover reading this that I must have gotten quite far along in one of my previous attempts since there was less new material than I remembered but even if half of this was a reread it didn't diminish just how good this story is.

Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa

Yukari doesn't have any real goals in her life, just to study and get into a good college since her mother has been pushing her towards that end since kindergarten. But one day she accidentally runs into some art students who think that she would be the perfect model for their fashion show and their leader George is so charming that she can't say no. And once she agrees to this she starts to realize what else in her life she can say yes and no to and starts to experiment and figure out just what she's really passionate about doing for the rest of her entire life.

I reviewed Nana not too long ago but I ended up enjoying this much more than Nana for a couple of different reasons. I felt like Yazawa had a looser outline for Nana than she did for ParaKiss considering how much tighter this story is, while both stories were/are moving toward a definite ending Nana seemed to be much less sure of the way. The difference between these two series actually reminded me a bit of my thoughts on the two tv seasons of Honey and Clover, while the first was long and a little ramble-y at times the second felt much more focused and determined to create the same emotional impact but just do it with less time. In fact, I'd argue that the longer length has hurt Nana in that department, everything becomes so dragged out that it's hard to keep caring about the characters, even if you read it quickly like I did, and here are there fewer characters to juggle so it's easier to not only remember the relationships but it also gives the manga more time to show you how they're constantly changing and why you care.

I also liked the relationships here better, Nana felt a bit too much like a soap opera at times with it's amazing amounts of drama but here I really liked how all of these kids are still pretty young with varying levels of experience in love and giving each other the best advice they have. Some of it is actually good and some of it is not-so-good, thankfully no one ever gives each other god-awful advice with terrible repercussions, and you see characters like Yukari and Miwako really learning about themselves and their partners from these relationships and then applying it. Yukari and George's relationship is one of the more interesting relationships I've seen not because of the characters involved but because of how Yukari really breaks down who George is and what their relationship really is. That's hard to both convey and have a character do it convincingly without feeling like the writer has leaned in and simply given them the words from an outside perspective but the story never makes it feel like she saw more than she should have been able to understand. And the manga clearly shows her realizing what she should probably do and yet how it's hard because being with Geoge does make her happy, she's in love, ecstatic to be in love, but doesn't lose her mind the way a lot of characters often do in manga. Their relationship isn't an end goal but rather a central part of her life and none of this would have worked nearly as well if she wasn't also the narrator of her own story since a surprisingly amount of it is internal. I think that this is one of the clear signs that ParaKiss is actually josei and not shojo, it never denies that relationships are wonderful, heart-pounding things but it also never denies that making them work is hard and frankly that's much more interesting than the mountain of shojo stories where the confession is the end goal, not part of a larger story.

After finally having a chance to read this all the way through I fully intend to buy Vertical's re-releases of the books, my library had the old TokyoPop volumes which were okay, yellowing but still in one piece, but Vertical's editions are a bit bigger and I really want to be able to see Yazawa's art in as much detail as I can. I once read that she wanted to be a fashion designer at one point and it really shows here, all of the designs in the story feel distinct and interesting and she manages to make the Paradise Kiss brand look completely different from the Happy Berry brand, etc, something that not every artist can pull off. That detail wasn't the defining detail that kept me engaged in the story but it certainly kept me from getting pulled out the story by thinking "this doesn't look like an outfit everyone would be praising" and even the outfits themselves are representative of the character's problems in the story (not in a symbolic way either, just the way that the Paradise Kiss brand was handled made me feel like Yazawa really got how it feels to be a creative person as she totally should). I do also intend to watch the anime (and possibly the live action movie although I haven't heard very positive things about it) but after that I don't think much else of Yazawa's works have been officially translated which makes me a bit sad, I would really like to read more!