Greetings readers! If you’re a ComicAttack native, you may be wondering, “Kristin, what is the Manga Moveable Feast?” Well manga fans, it’s something you should be paying attention to! Each month the manga blogging community chooses a title for everyone to look at. It’s sort of like a book of the month club. Everyone can participate, and the host site cycles between bloggers. Content can include essays, reviews, podcasts, video blogs, anything that focuses on the title or an aspect of the title (like a central theme, or a personal interpretation). David, the Manga Curmudgeon, hosted the first MMF for Sexy Voice and Robo. That was followed by Emma, Mushi-Shi, To Terra, and The Color of… trilogy. The title chosen for June is, as you can see, Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss over at Soliloquy in Blue. So this review is going to be a bit different than usual. This will be my first real time participating (previously I submitted old reviews of the Mushi-Shi anime and live action film) in MMF, and I’ll be talking about both the manga and the anime versions of Paradise Kiss. But mostly I’ll be talking about George’s awesome, sexy hat collection.
Just kidding. Although he does wear some awesome hats. There are many things to talk about in ParaKiss – love, passion, ambition, dreams, finding oneself, fashion, purpose. When I read a story like this, my inner romantic takes over, so I’ll mostly be dissecting the relationship of the main characters, George and Yukari. I’ll also, as I mentioned, talk about the differences between the manga and anime. Really, I should probably get ambitious, and start comparing everyone to Shakespearean characters or something…but I’d rather just talk about the story and characters on their own. Let’s get started, shall we?
How about we start with a quick synopsis of the story. High school senior Yukari Hayasaka has spent most of her life studying hard to please her mother with good grades and by getting into good schools. Her mother wants her to attend one of the best colleges. Yukari has no real goals or dreams of her own. On her way to cram school she is accosted by a young man with spiky hair, safety pin piercings, and strange clothes, who asks her to be a model for a fashion show. Caught off guard, she faints in the street, and is taken back to Paradise Kiss, a basement bar renovated into a fashion studio where a strange group of fashion students make high style clothes. After an outburst where she claims she has no time for such a frivolous hobby, and the young man, Arashi, berates her for looking down on them, she runs away, leaving her student ID book behind. George, the designer for Paradise Kiss, likes her image, and pursues her for the show. Yukari soon learns that this group of strange kids her age are pursuing their own goals and dreams with a greater passion than she ever put forth for anything her entire life. Wanting to spend more time with them, particularly the adorable Miwako, and finding herself being drawn in by George, Yukari agrees to be their model. The decision will change the course of her life, and bring the reader (or viewer) on a wild ride of passion and broken hearts.
During the course of the story, Yukari fluctuates between being a strong and independent young woman, and being manipulated by her feelings for a boy. She often claims that she doesn’t want to change herself for a guy, but the entire story is her changing herself to appeal to George’s sensibilities. Before she meets the ParaKiss crew, Yukari is coasting along, doing little more than following the path her mother has set out before her. She has no goals or dreams of her own, and she has spent most of her life studying for test after test, and trying to keep up in a school that she barely managed to enter. She has a crush on a boy named Hiroyuki Tokumori, but basically doesn’t have the confidence to even talk with him. To someone who has spent her whole life studying, the ParaKiss gang appears to be goofing off with some silly hobby. She soon realizes how incredibly poorly she misjudged them, and that it is she who hasn’t been doing anything with her life. For about a week she experiences the life they’re living, has a wild affair with George, and changes the course of her life. She learns how to dream, how to be passionate about something and proud in her work, her confidence rockets, she makes new friends, and she experiences love and heartbreak.
Now we can talk about George. As a character, he’s hard to beat. George is cold, cruel, arrogant, and emotionally warped. As a romantic partner he’s about the worst guy you could find, but as a character he’s incredibly fascinating. And, despite how twisted he can be, he’s actually pretty great for Yukari. He makes her grow up and take control of her own life. It doesn’t really happen in the nicest way, but sometimes a swift kick in the ass is what you need. For that, he’s perfect. But beyond that? Their relationship is incredibly passionate. Yukari is his muse, and their love affair relies heavily on that. As a romantic, of course I want this incredibly passionate love to continue. But as a rational being, it’s obvious how harmful the relationship is, and if they had ended up together in the end, it would have been an entirely different type of story, instead of the one we love. So not only is George a wonderful and complex character, he’s essential to the growth of our heroine. Now, I said before that George is a cruel person. Cruelty and plain meanness are different things to me. George isn’t mean spirited. He expects a lot of people, but he cares about those he loves, and those who support him. But because he expects so much of people, and knows exactly what he wants, he can be quite cruel when people don’t measure up. He wants Yukari to be independent not only because that’s the type of woman he likes, but because he wants her to be a better person for herself. You can argue up and down that he’s trying to change and manipulate her into a different person, but he never pushes her into anything. Every choice she makes is her own. She is certainly swept up by him, but the experience makes her stronger, and she comes away with a much clearer vision of herself. I don’t mean to say that he never attempts to manipulate her. He’s really quite cruel on occasion, testing her, pushing her. The most impacting moment happens while Yukari is living with George, and trying to join a modeling agency. She needs her parents’ permission to join, but she doesn’t want to go back home because it means being away from George, and she’s worried it will hurt their relationship. This shows some weakness on her part, but she wants to discuss it with George. George, having heard about her modeling venture second hand, comes home and bypasses the discussion she wants to have with him by having sex with her. The next day he’s brutally cold toward her, and we find out that he wanted to see if having sex with him was more important to her than becoming a model. Ouch. To Yukari’s credit, she doesn’t slap him in the face over that like I probably would, and she makes the decision on her own.
In the end, they go their separate ways. George decides to go to Paris to try his hand at couture, but Yukari wants to stay for her career and so she can attend college. They come to the realization that, although they obviously love each other (George leaves her his most precious possessions, after all), they’re simply not good for each other. Yukari becomes very jealous when an old friend of George’s visits, and sees an ugly and unexpected side of herself that she despises. Of course, George despises it, too. In the end, she can’t change for him, and he can’t change for her, and they both realize that together. In Yukari’s words: “I can’t bring myself to extend a hand to a guy who tells me it’s my life…then always breaks away from me and won’t share his feelings and worries with me. George should live the way he wants. And I’ll do what I want, too.” In George’s words: “All we do is push our desires on each other. That’s why we’re not good together.”
The type of relationship they have can’t exist. When Yukari tries to lose herself in love with George, he despises her for it. But if she grows independent from him, there’s no relationship. Yukari struggles with this throughout the series. She becomes frustrated when her work makes their relationship almost non-existent, but when she puts it aside for him, he lashes out at her cruelly. George doesn’t want a woman who would sacrifice any part of herself for him. Of course, Yukari’s final decision is exactly the right one in George’s mind…but by then, it’s too late. It just tears a hole in my heart to watch them fall apart.
It’s hard to recommend one medium or the other. The manga certainly carries the story and characterization better, but it’s difficult to deny the beautiful animation and colors that are in the anime. It’s hard for me to recommend only the manga, when that means missing out on seeing Yazawa’s fabulous fashion creations in glorious color, even at the expense of characterization, which is one of the most important things to me in any medium. Though it should be noted that while the story and designs are Ai Yazawa’s, director Osamu Kobayashi’s unique vision is present in the animation style. With five manga volumes, and twelve anime episodes (across three discs), it isn’t difficult to experience both versions, so I would definitely suggest doing just that, if you’re able. The anime follows the manga fairly closely (it even contains some fourth-wall breaking similar to the manga), but the final episode is a rushed summary of the entire final volume. You miss out on a lot of character growth, all around, by choosing the anime as your only medium. George’s S&M tendencies are basically ignored in the anime, and the Hiro/Arashi/Miwako story line is plowed through like they’re just a background element. The show does have one of my favorite anime opening credit sequences, with a fantastic song called “Lonely in Gorgeous” by Tomoko Kawase that fits the story lyrically, accompanied by a fantastic animation sequence, which makes me want to watch it every episode rather than skip over it.
The quality of the animation is excellent, as is the music. The voice acting…. The Japanese voice overs work well. The English voice acting isn’t bad exactly, but something feels very off about them. It’s difficult to describe. For example, George sounds a little sleazy in English. His Japanese voice is colder and crueler. On the manga side, Arashi talks in British slang for some reason. I assume the translator wanted him to emulate British punk rockers, but it comes across pretty silly. There are some nice DVD extras, like interviews, clean credits, trailers, art galleries, and a film of a wonderful event where Yukari’s Japanese voice actress wears a real life creation of the contest dress.
If you’d like more Ai Yazawa, Nana is excellent. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the anime myself, but that was enough to know it’s great. Personally I’m rather taken with Kagen no Tsuki (Last Quarter), which is a three-volume series that is incredibly romantic and heartbreaking. There’s an excellent live action film adaptation (excellent in that it’s a good film, though there are several divergences from the manga) that stars Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill) and Hyde (L’Arc-en-Ciel). Paradise Kiss was published by TOKYOPOP from 2002-2004. It’s rather hard to find these days, unfortunately. With Nana (Viz Media) doing well, it would be great if TP would release the series as an omnibus. The anime was originally licensed by Geneon, but the license has since been transferred to FUNimation. The most recent release was a thinpack collection in 2009.