Paradise Kiss, Vol. 3

By Ai Yazawa. Released in Japan by Shodensha, serialized in the magazine Zipper. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc.

The cover of this final volume of Paradise Kiss features Yukari, looking gorgeous in that vaguely ridiculous way that haute couture always does, with butterfly wings on her back and roses on her breasts, staring off towards the camera looking like she’s about to cry. It could almost be one of her model shoots, except that none of them really want that kind of emotion – they want happy, relaxed, “wow, I want to be like her so I will buy this product” Yukari – or, when she’s modeling with George, “Wow, I want George so I will be like her.” Yukari is best in modeling when she’s self-assured and casual, which is the exact opposite of her teenage years and her relationship with George.


There was a point about halfway through this volume when I’d really had it up to here with Yukari, as her self-loathing, jealousy, and highly wrought emotional state all come together at once with the arrival of Kaori, George’s old classmate and friend. Not only is she the one girl who seems to have resisted his advances – but she’s become successful, seems to have her act together, and also manages to be the one to advance the plot (and George’s career) when George himself is unable or unwilling to. And yet she’s not with George – and neither is Yukari, as after this scene I think George has realized that being with her as a couple is bad for both of them individually.

Yukari has realized this too, of course, but wants desperately to cling to what she has anyway. We’ve all been there – it’s our first love, so we’re determined to make it work even when there’s all sorts of evidence that it won’t. It’s hard to let go. In addition, it’s all too easy to let fear and self-hatred put things in a holding pattern as well. This is Arashi’s issue, who can’t understand why Miwako doesn’t hate him, especially as she knows she still loves Hiro. Of course, it’s because she loves Arashi, and is trying hard to make things work. They, unlike George and Yukari, have a relationship where they’re better people together than they are separately. Arashi’s still bad with words, but his inviting Hiro to the shrine visitation speaks volumes.

Of course, just because the two leads aren’t a good couple in the long run didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of love and affection there. George’s final gesture to Yukari is typically grandiose, but also shows how much she really meant to him, even if he didn’t always communicate it properly. It could be argued that the epilogue is a bit overly happy – Yukari is successful as a model and actress, George is designing Broadway shows, Arashi and Miwako have a kid – but that’s pretty much exactly what we want from the series. This was about a group of overambitious, overemotional overachievers. They crashed and burned in their teenage years, both in love and in the ParaKiss brand, but it only gave them more strength. Yukari gets told at one point, worrying about embarrassing herself on a catwalk, “Well, yeah, you’re gonna do that, all models do at first.” By not giving up, and keeping that drive for success and happiness, Yukari and her friends earn the right to their shiny happy ending. Even if, like Yukari, you’ll tear up a bit as well.

Paradise Kiss, Vol. 2

By Ai Yazawa. Released in Japan by Shodensha, serialized in the magazine Zipper. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc.

The second volume of Paradise Kiss continues Yukari’s journey into the glamorous world of modeling, even though it’s also about finding that you can’t simply drop everything and start a new career with nothing to fall back on. It’s also about her growing feelings for George, and realizing that a relationship with him is likely going to be far more difficult than becoming a top model. And of course it’s also a josei manga by Ai Yazawa, even within its pages. George is put out that the plot changed in between chapters, he’s chided for reading the manga and seeing Yukari’s inner monologues, and Yukari even gets in on the act, noting that she’s the heroine and can control who the hero is by who she falls for. It does seem a bit odd having her break the fourth wall along with the others. Yukari is the one that’s supposed to be the grounded girl among these flighty artists.


But Yukari’s image of herself is changing. Miwako helps her land a modeling gig that her sister is designing for (more Neighborhood Story cameos, as fans once again whine that this never got licensed), and she pulls it off quite well. She then uses that contact to get in touch with an agency that wants to promote her. Yukari’s upbringing has basically stomped her self-image into the ground, so there’s a constant feeling from her of waiting for the other shoe to drop. But no, she is really good at this. The words of praise and encouragement from everyone but George help as well, and set up the emotional climax of this volume, where she reconciles with her mother and agrees to return to school (but still model). It’s great stuff.

The problem, of course, is that she’s also fallen for George, hard. And while he clearly has a desire to see her succeed, mature, and become strong, he also does not given her any sort of support or encouragement – at least not explicitly. Yukari has a tendency to overthink everything, so pairing her with a man who’s almost impossible to read is frustrating enough. But you get the feeling that, unlike the rest of the cast, if Yukari were to fail or not measure up to George’s ideals, he would simply move on. He doesn’t emotionally connect, unlike the rest of the cast. We do get more scenes here of Arashi and Miwako’s relationship troubles, and the fact that he’s still jealous and fearful of Hiro. They are both easy to relate to. George is not.

(Poor Arashi is also the only straight man in a cast filled with outlandish characters, and you can see that it exhausts him. This is why he needs to make up with Hiro – he’d finally have someone to take the pressure off.)

George is an incredibly popular character. He’s handsome, dashing, trying to be a good lover (physically, at least – and he’s not the best at that either, as is lampshaded in a conversation between him and Isabella). But he has no interest in the give of a give-and-take relationship, and thus is the sort of guy you like to read about but would hate to deal with in real life. The one time in the volume that he really seems to open up to Yukari is when he’s talking about the clothing that he’s designed. Which is great for a manga that runs in a fashion magazine, but, like Yukari, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. In the meantime, though, no one can deny that this is a glorious soap opera, well-told.

Paradise Kiss, Vol. 1

By Ai Yazawa. Released in Japan by Shodensha, serialized in the magazine Zipper. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc.

I had already done a review/overview of this series for a Manga Movable Feast a while back, but now we have Vertical’s new re-release with larger trim and a new translation, so it’s time to give it another look. Which I honestly don’t mind, as this is such a terrific series. I won’t be talking too much about the technical details – the larger size makes the asides much easier to read, I do note. As for the translation, it’s definitely different, and there are pluses and minuses to both. I do prefer Arashi not sounding like Johnny Rotten, though.

The cover and chapter pictures, by the way, might give away a bit of the plot: Yukari becomes a model. But then, most of you probably guessed that as it’s the premise. Yazawa has an eye for fashion and posing, and it all comes to the fore here, with many long, lingering shots of outfits and fabric, and even the rudimentary drudgery of sewing beads is made to look glamorous. Paradise Kiss is a colorful, vibrant place. By contrast, Yukari’s life is as stark and black and white as the manga itself – we barely get to know anyone besides Hiroyuki at her school, and her attention is so quickly distracted by George and company that her diligence to study is in doubt. (Notably, the entire PK group urge her to keep studying, and constantly ask if she has to hit the books. They’re all good students, and don’t want to be seen as the reason she isn’t. It’s Yukari’s own fault that she winds up blowing everything off all the time.)

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – I really like Hiroyuki, and I’m glad to see how he interacts with Yukari and the others. The sequence where Yukari drags him to meet Miwako is painful but very well done – and Yukari, as many ‘well-intentioned’ folks seem to do, immediately realizes she’s made a mistake. That said, it worked out well in the end, even if what we mostly get from the story of Miwako. Arashi and Hiroyuki is of things left unfinished – by forcing a choice onto Miwako, Arashi has unwittingly left everything more open-ended than it should be. This will come back to haunt him in future volumes…

A word of warning to those who hate it – this manga is rife with metatextuality. The non-Yukari cast constantly talk about chapters, page placement, etc., reinforcing the fact that Yukari is not only entering the fashionista world of Paradise Kiss, but the manga ‘world’ as well. There are also several references to Yazawa’s shoujo manga Gokinjo Monogatari, which starred Miwako’s older sister, Mikako. Mikako makes a cameo, and a few other characters also show up. Don’t worry if you’ve never read the (unlicensed) prequel; the references actually serve to better flesh out the characters, and show that this isn’t just a story that began once Yukari entered the scene.

Did I forget to mention George? I did. Hi, George. I’ll have more to say about him in my next review. In the meantime, Paradise Kiss has attractive, vibrant characters, gorgeous and striking art, and a wonderfully wicked sense of humor. I’m incr3edibly happy that it’s back in print.