REVIEW: PARADISE KISS VOLUME ONE
Where all things are perfect and poisonous...
Reviewed by Christopher Butcher
Story and Art by Ai Yazawa
English adaptation by Anita Sengupta
184 page trade paperback
Published by Tokyopop Press
Quality is often no indicator of either popularity or of profitability – it’s not always the fastest runner that wins the race. On that note, the best shojo manga on the stands is probably Ai Yazawa’s PARADISE KISS.
Shojo is a long-lived and many-storied genre of manga, and it encompasses a great number of themes, characters, and did I mention stories? It’s sort of an embarrassment of shojo riches here in North America at the moment. And thanks to the popularity of the big-name series like CARDCAPTOR SAKURA (and really the entire CLAMP oeuvre…) and KODOCHA, we get access to some of the more off-beat and just plain off-kilter shojo being produced today. The first volume of PARADISE KISS is nothing if not off-kilter.
PARADISE KISS is the story of Yukari, a high-school senior just trying to study hard and get into a good college. Fortunately for her, fate intervenes to take her away from her staid and static life. Punks, transvestites, and darling blue-haired boys in pinstripe suits introduce her to glamour and high-fashion, which she takes to with an enthusiasm that surprises even herself. As we move from the outside into the world of the Paradise Kiss fashion club we’re treated to a truly entertaining cast of supporting characters, a number of mature themes you don’t see in decades-old books like SAILOR MOON, and a realistic, compelling, and slightly frightening romance. The best love is a little scary…
The love at the center of the story is centered on Yukari and one of the fashion students, George. She’s about as straight-forward and plain as you can get, and he’s got blue hair, wears pinstripe suits, and has had a number of questionable relationships in his past. He’s passive-aggressive, rude, manipulative, and at the same time utterly captivating to Yukari. The two are drawn with an incredible chemistry whenever they’re in the same panel together, and you find yourself drawn into the same dilemma that Yukari faces; George really is a jerk, but you want them to get together.
Speaking of the art, it’s incredibly crisp and clean with excellent use of toning effects throughout. The characters all look gorgeous, but still very contemporary and iconic. The storytelling as well does away with gutters – those are the spaces between the panels – and instead opens up the art, creating a somewhat claustrophobic feeling (the hustle and bustle of modern Japan) with very readable artwork. But particularly cool is the attention paid to the clothes of all of the characters. Whether it’s the rag-tag punk attire of Arashi, the frilly baby-look of Miwako, or the amazingly detailed outfits that Yukari and Isabella wear, the artwork shows an attention to detail that I don’t think I’ve seen in a manga before. It grounds the whole piece in the present day, making it seem like a just-possible wonderland right around the corner.
I mentioned on it earlier, but another one of the contemporary touches that really makes the series work are the families that surround each of the characters. While the good, wholesome boy that Yukari is meant to fall in love with has a hard-working mom and pop, the rest of the characters come from very different and realistic families. Yukari has a very strained relationship with her (single) mother, Miwako lives with her older sister and helps out by babysitting her niece, George’s parents are divorced, and nearly entirely absent. I think a lot of the readers this book is aimed at will be able to relate to the situations that the characters find themselves in, even while the glamorous settings and whirlwind romances might seem a universe away.
This is the best shojo manga I’ve ever read to be completely honest with you. From the moment I read the first installment in the late/lamented SMILE magazine, I was completely hooked. Sure, it endeared itself to me with extensive quotes from Velvet Goldmine (one of my favorite movies), but it compelled me to continue reading thanks to it’s wonderful art and realistic characters and settings. It may not be as friendly-looking as the grinning doe-eyed protagonists that litter the covers of most shojo manga, but the edge and glamour of PARADISE KISS make for a much better read in my books.
Christopher Butcher is High Priest of PreviewsReview.com
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