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REVIEW: Manga Review: High Fashion and Coming of Age:...

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Paradise Kiss, by Ai Yazawa. Published by TokyoPop. 5/5 volumes released. Retail: $9.99. Rated OT 16+ (sex scenes, but only showing what you’d see on network TV.)

 

“The basement store was removed from the main road by a maze of side streets. To reach it, one had to go down a flight of stairs to the cute little door. Sweet exotic scents filled its every corner, as if someone was making candies in a Chinese import store. Dizzying music pulsated and bounced off the loud pink walls. There was an old bar and a pool table, and three sewing machines. It was like a secret hideout. They called it their studio.”

 

Dear Readers,

Welcome to Paradise Kiss.

Haute couture, a bitter but studious high school girl, a group of misfit designers, one of the most fascinating and frustrating heroes I’ve met in manga. All of these add up to a coming of age story that will hit home with most of us, even while taking us places we’ve never been.

The mangaka is Ai Yazawa, probably the most popular writer of manga for young women (josei) in Japan right now, and deservedly so. She writes books that are closer to chick-lit, and more adult than many series out there, both in subjects and the way she handles them.

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Her art style reminds me of a mix of punk and art nouveau, with pop art of the sixties thrown in. It changes from ornate dà©cor to beautifully delicate line drawings of her characters from frame to frame.

Paradise Kiss is one of her older series (she also writes NANA, a current favorite josei title of mine and millions of others). It’s fairly short, at five volumes, and all of them are in print in English.

Yukari is a typical grade A high school student, in love with a boy she’s too shy to talk to, spending all her time studying for upcoming college entrance exams because that’s her mom’s wish. She’s also full of anger, but doesn’t stop to think about why. One day on her way home from school she encounters a group of strangers who think she’d make the perfect model for their year-end design competition, and very strange they are: A punk with chains and pins in his face, a beautiful willowy transvestite with a penchant for 40’s style clothing, a child-like woman whose face has nothing to do with her age or experience.

They need a model, but she needs to study and has no time for their games, and she storms off, accidentally dropping her school ID. She needs the school ID. It’s her misfortune that the fourth stranger of the bunch, George, picks it up. George is… handsome, exotic, an unknown, and she’s fascinated and annoyed at the same time. He seems to be everything she is not, free from all of society’s constraints, self-confident, fashionable, popular. Her attraction to him, to their utter difference, and her need for the ID pulls her toward their little group.

I love this scene, where George “happens” to show up at the library Yukari is studying at, and proceeds to draw her in despite herself. The way she portrays the flirtation shows Yazawa-sensei’s skill (remember, start on the right and read left).

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Yukari gets to know each of the characters, to understand why they made the choices they did, and why their dress is so important to them. It becomes important to her. She starts to rebel, spending time away from her books, helping them, wanting to be a part of it. There are fights at home, questions at school, questions from her friends about what she’s doing, what she really wants, and she’s sitting in the middle trying to figure it all out for the first time in her life.

Through it all they try to make this impossible dress, the culmination of all their dreams.

Eventually Yukari finds out that perhaps she didn’t want what she thought at first, or even second. But one thing is sure, she’ll never forget what happened those few months when she changed from a girl into a young woman.

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I loved this manga. I put off reading it for a long time because I had no interest in fashion, and the tall thin characters seemed a bit odd. But once I picked it up I found myself dragged into the characters’ stories. They seem stock from a basic description, but Yazawa-sensei gives them all distinct, well-rounded personalities. They’re all very human, and the story grows out of their foibles and their strengths, and is told with a self-referential humor that made even awkward moments very funny.

I could relate to all of them on some level. I think older teenagers could too, if you’re comfortable with them reading about a girl experiencing her coming of age, including her first sexual relationship. The relationship is an honest one, both sweet and bitter, with some hard times, and some things that will remain treasured memories for all of Yukari’s life. It’s the way it was for many of us, I think. Which is why I think you don’t have to be a teenager to love this one. A.

Sincerely,

ジェーン
(Jān)

reads any genre as long as the books aren't depressing. Her preferred reads these days are in manga format and come from all manga genres, but she especially likes romance, doubly so when there are beautiful men involved. With each other. Her favorites among currently-running English-translated manga series include NANA, Ze, Ouran High School Host Club, Junjou Romantica, Blood Alone, Vampire Knight, Skip Beat, Silver Diamond and anything by the holy triumvirate of BL: Ayano Yamane, Kazuma Kodaka and Youka Nitta, including any scribbles they might do on the backs of napkins.

26 Comments

  1. Jane
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 12:50:45

    Where do I buy this?

  2. Jan
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 13:58:10

    Any bookstore should have it. But I linked the cover to justmanga.com, which has them all at slight discounts.

  3. Jayne
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 14:10:47

    Yukari looks a little manic in the two page excerpt you posted. Is she wrapped tight enough?

  4. Jan
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 14:22:39

    XD, they’re all a bit manic at times. They’re teenagers.

    But that’s part of Yukari’s character here, at the very beginning. She’s straightlaced and reacts wildly inappropriately since she finds George and his friends to be very disturbing. As she gains in self-confidence and relaxes a bit, you see a gradual change in the way her character is drawn through the series.

  5. nath
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 15:12:25

    I’ve been putting off reading this manga as well… just because I don’t really like the drawing style, but I think I’ll start reading it :P (been running out of things to read :P) thanks for the review!

  6. Jan
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 15:24:47

    I didn’t like the style at first, but it grew on me. I love it more in NANA, which doesn’t seem so cluttered. But re-reading this for the review I have to wonder if the clutter was in part a reflection of the Paradise Kiss people and their studio and their baroque designs.

  7. Keishon
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 17:34:33

    I bought it – started it and put it down – very busy manga for me. So is NANA meaning that it’s dialogue rich and very busy for me. I found my copies at my local Comic Book store because B&N didn’t stock them. Sigh. Excellent review as always, chica. Thanks.

  8. Vernieda
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 18:39:32

    B&N might not have it in stock since it’s an older title and in my experience, their manga shelf space is rather limited. Borders, though, will probably have it still.

    And if not, there’s always Amazon.

    I originally read this manga when it first came out in English (with the old covers) and the art does take some getting used to. At that time, it was marketed towards the shoujo audience since there wasn’t (and arguably, there still isn’t) a Western josei audience. Overall it is a good series and definitely worth reading, though I did have some issues with the fifth volume — the overall pacing and in particular, Arashi and Miwako’s relationship.

  9. Jan
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 18:58:23

    I bought it – started it and put it down – very busy manga for me. So is NANA meaning that it’s dialogue rich

    Sorry to hear that Keishon. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I recommend something to you. Er, if I recommended Ouran High Host Club you’ll want to avoid that.

  10. Jan
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 19:10:26

    At that time, it was marketed towards the shoujo audience since there wasn’t (and arguably, there still isn’t) a Western josei audience. Overall it is a good series and definitely worth reading, though I did have some issues with the fifth volume — the overall pacing and in particular, Arashi and Miwako’s relationship.

    The appeal might be a little broader now since the anime started its release with some fanfare a couple months ago. And NANA’s English run may cause people to search out her other titles. I actually found it through NANA.

    What issues did you have? If you can talk about them without too many spoilers. I guess that might be tough.

  11. THE NAUGHTY BITS » Listening To The Net
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 19:33:39

    […] Author does these mega bitching Manga reviews. I have the utmost respect for their selection because believe you me you would not want to see my […]

  12. TeddyPig
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 20:08:36

    I popped out a Manga Mix for your Manga reviewing greatness.

    Enjoy!

  13. Keishon
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 20:22:28

    Jan, I didn’t mean that my thinking they are dialogue rich was a bad thing! Never that, no. They are just not fast reads, that’s all. Sorry! Your greatness as Teddy Pig said, you rock. Rock on.

  14. Jan
    Apr 10, 2007 @ 20:32:20

    Everyone needs Teddy Pig’s Manga Mix to read Paradise Kiss by. It fits the manga perfectly!

    Thanks guys!

  15. Vernieda
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 05:15:53

    The appeal might be a little broader now since the anime started its release with some fanfare a couple months ago.

    I do agree with that. I remember when Tokyopop re-released them with the new covers. I’m still of two minds about that, because I’ve never cared for their habit of coloring interior illustrations and making them the actual cover. But the newer ones are definitely catchier than the original.

    Re: the fifth volume’s pacing, it’s been a few years since I read the series but I remember thinking it felt rushed. I didn’t expect it to be a long series like some of my friends did (a bunch of us were reading the manga at the same time and had a kinda-discussion group about it). I might feel differently about it now though, if I went back to reread it.

    As for Arashi and Miwako’s relationship… My main quibble with it — and this is no fault of the story, just my own knee-jerk reaction — is how they got together. I admit it kind of horrified me and at the time I’d read it, I recall being very frustrated that it’d passed through the readership without comment while everyone had fixated on the resolution of Yukari and George’s relationship. In my eyes, Arashi forced Miwako to make a choice and the manner in which he did it really didn’t sit well with me at all.

    I hope that’s not too spoilery. I’m conscious that a lot of people here haven’t read it so I don’t want to taint their reading experience, if they choose to pick it up.

  16. Jan
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 05:49:09

    I remember thinking it felt rushed. I didn’t expect it to be a long series like some of my friends did (a bunch of us were reading the manga at the same time and had a kinda-discussion group about it).

    Ah, you know, I was thinking maybe that’s why I find it easier to enjoy NANA than, say, Keishon, because for a while I’ve been following it chapter by chapter as it comes out in the monthlies. It’s easier to absorb in small pieces, and every page is dwelled on and enjoyed. It is a different reading experience than reading the tankoubon.

    I was uncomfortable when I read about the start of Arashi and Miwako’s relationship. I was wondering if that was what you meant. I’ve gotten kind of used to it since in shoujo pushing someone down, to use their term, is a way of expressing uncontrolled love. But it’s not for us English readers, and I too felt disappointed that it had been used. It’s the primary reason I haven’t read the prequel to the series yet that concerns their relationship and probably that scene, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf.

    Note for anyone reading this: This incident is just referred to in Paradise Kiss. It happens before the start to this series, and occurs between two secondary characters.

  17. Vernieda
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 07:07:47

    I’ve gotten kind of used to it since in shoujo pushing someone down, to use their term, is a way of expressing uncontrolled love. But it’s not for us English readers, and I too felt disappointed that it had been used.

    It is indeed a convention of the shoujo romance genre and is one of the traits that bothers me the most. I will admit that shoujo, as a whole, and shoujo romance, as a whole, is typically not for me though. I’m more of a older shounen/seinen manga girl but there are a few josei titles coming out later this year from new publisher Aurora that look interesting. That said, I absolutely adored Fuyumi Soryo’s Mars.

  18. Jan
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 07:29:16

    For some reason I’m more able to read something like that in a Japanese manga than I am in an English-based story. I think perhaps it’s because I understand that culturally their signals are different, and by that I don’t mean real life, but their visual keys in manga show them that some acts are acceptable in a fantasy way when we wouldn’t find them that way at all.

    I heard about Aurora, but only looked into the BL they’re releasing. Got any specific recommendations for their josei titles?

    I read pretty much everything, manga wise, except for little kids’ stuff. Although there are a couple of little kids anime series that are just too darned cute to pass up. *grin* But most of what I read is BL and shounen, mainly Jump titles of the latter. Shoujo and josei are great if I can find something that interests me. CMX carries some good titles. I really like Cipher, Seimaden and Emma. And of course Eroica. I’ll be reviewing Cipher sometime soon.

    If you ever feel like recommending anything though, feel free. I’m always looking for good titles to read. I love old school and new.

  19. Keishon
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 08:06:45

    Have you read Mars yet? You should review that one.

  20. Jan
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 08:36:00

    I read it a couple years ago. I’ll need to re-read it first, but I’ll review it. That’s a good one to move up on the list. I was thinking though, that next I’ll do one that’s always recommended to women but that I hate, so that people can avoid it if they’re just poking around. I mean FY, of course. Or actually this would be for after my next review, which is already written.

    I’ll go dig out Mars…

  21. Vernieda
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 08:42:51

    Oh FY. That one was recommended to me too when I first started watching anime (at the time, the English manga market was not was it is now) and wow, after a few episodes, I came out thinking my friends had lost their minds. I definitely steered clear of the manga when it was finally licensed.

  22. Jan
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 09:09:12

    I bought the entire anime set of FY when I first got into anime, and I finally watched it last fall. I made myself sit through the entire thing. It never got better. I have to be honest and say I’ve not read beyond the first couple volumes of the manga, and that was skimming. I wanted to know if it was different, because I thought maybe that explained the popularity. But it was not. So it gets reviewed. I know there wasn’t a lot of shoujo around in English when it came over, but sheesh, I know crap when I see it. If that had been my first shoujo, I don’t know if I would have recovered.

  23. Vernieda
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 09:29:39

    You know, come to think of it, I think FY was the first shoujo anything I’d been exposed to.

    This might explain a lot.

  24. Teddy Pig
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 10:48:45

    Anime heaven for me: my original sparkle cover DVD’s of the Bubblegum Crisis series.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubblegum_Crisis

    1. Tinsel City – The Knight Sabers are hired to rescue a little girl from a group of kidnappers, but the girl is far more than she seems…
    2. Born To Kill – A friend of Linna’s threatens to expose Genom secrets that led to the death of her fiancé, but Genom plans to silence her, first.
    3. Blow Up – The Knight Sabers attack Genom Tower to put an end to the machinations of Genom executive Brian J. Mason.
    4. Revenge Road – A racer modifies his car into a weapon of vengeance against the biker gangs of Megatokyo, but the car soon develops a mind of its own.
    5. Moonlight Rambler – A killer is draining victims of their blood, but this is no vampire. And what do a pair of escaped love-doll androids and the D.D. super-weapon have to do with it?
    6. Red Eyes – A group of fake Knight Sabers are ruining the group’s reputation, leading to a fight against a returning foe.
    7. Double Vision – A singer with a vendetta comes to Megatokyo, and brings some heavy firepower with her.
    8. Scoop Chase – An ambitious technical scientist and an aspiring reporter both plan to make their names at the expense of the Knight Sabers, and Nene is caught right in the middle.

  25. Vernieda
    Apr 11, 2007 @ 20:22:50

    Oh wow, someone who’s seen the original Bubblegum Crisis OAVs. Which of the Knight Sabers did you think was the boomer? Sylia?

  26. mycatzdead
    Dec 07, 2013 @ 06:51:20

    @Jan:
    I think it was meant to make you feel uncomfortable, I don’t think it was meant to be romantic at all. I thought it was realistic, I mean those kind of things happen and I really don’t think he is really a bad guy but that was definitely a terrible thing.
    It really wasn’t trying to glorify it, this is just how Ai Yazawa is, she isn’t afraid to go there and I quite like the reality she produces.

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