Thursday, August 9, 2012

Paradise Kiss

Here I am again, with shelves saturated with shonen and seinen titles, reaching into mostly undiscovered territory for me. Yes, I'm trying out more "girl's manga". This time around, I'm taking a look at 'Paradise Kiss', written and illustrated by Ai Yazawa of 'Nana' fame. This series was originally published in English by the now defunct Tokyopop, and though out of print, I got my hands on it courtesy of my local library.

Yukari is a girl who is desperately tired of studying and trying to be something she is not. Her whole life, she has been overextending herself in order to please her demanding mother. Fatigued by an endless barrage of cram school and exams, Yukari yearns for something more in her life, until one day, she runs into a very strange group of people. These strange people are the workers of budding clothing line, Paradise Kiss, and they want to make stressed out bookworm Yukari into their personal fashion model. Yukari is at first very hesitant to change her studious ways, but eventually agrees and is opened up to a whole new, liberating world of fashion. For the naive, young Yukari, life as a model is a crash course in growing up. Fun and friendship are balanced by romantic woes and living on her own, becoming a model turns out to be the biggest, life changing decision she has ever made. Will this turn out to be a decision that she regrets?

The best part about this manga for me was the characters. Yukari and the workers of Paradise Kiss had really great chemistry and interactions. I think the most interesting thing about this group of characters was that they each had their flaws and it never seemed like the author was trying to get you to like them just because they are the main characters. You do like them(at least I do), but you take the bad with the good. Most notably flawed are Yukari and George, who end up getting the most focus. Yukari can be(for the lack of a better word) a real bitch. Understandably so though for how her mother treated her and raised her. She's also terribly insecure and clingy. The great thing about her though is that she catches herself acting these ways and tries to change. Sometimes she is just trying to change to please George, but a lot of the time, she is trying to be a better person for herself. That's why I like her. George is no better with his flaws. He's more than a bit of a manipulator, though this too is sort of the fault of bad parenting. He strings Yukari along and their entire relationship is a psychological war in a way, and he is the source. Alternating between overly blunt and overly secluded, Yukari spends most of their relationship trying to figure this guy out. Sometimes it seems like he tries to confuse her on purpose to be mean and have fun, but then sometimes he seems like he is trying to guide her and teach her. You see? Not only did Yukari have a hard time figuring him out, but so did I! Ultimately, I ended up liking George too. Maybe not as a person, but as a character. He is the self-proclaimed hero of the manga, but I almost think he acted more as the villain.

I'm now completely used to the art styles employed by josei/shojo manga, and I have to say, the art in 'Paradise Kiss' is probably the best I've seen so far. It's highly detailed, especially the clothing, which makes sense with it being about fashion and being serialized in a fashion magazine, Zipper. I'm a sweat pants and t-shirts kind of guy, but even I was able to appreciate the intricately designed outfits featured in this series. Another aspect of the art that I appreciated was the expressiveness of the characters and their faces. Yukari is an especially expressive character. Her mind is always racing with thoughts, and we get to see them all through thought bubbles. Not only that, but she is incredibly animated. She subconsciously acts out her thoughts with her body language, much to the amusement of other characters. And she has a very dynamic face. Always showing a range of emotions through her many facial expressions. And I think this may be something that is easily overlooked by readers, but it's not just the extreme expressions, like anger, sadness and happiness that are drawn well, but the "in between" expressions too. It's hard to notice when you are caught up in the story, but I fee like the artist took great care to show all those "in between" facial expressions.

I'm still new to the shojo/josei manga world and the romance manga world. My only other experience with a manga that is heavy on romance is 'Kimi ni Todoke', and while I really liked that innocent brand of romance, the more realistic and adult romance of 'Paradise Kiss' was a little more up my alley. In 'Kimi ni Todoke', the romance focused on the ups and downs of a budding relationship between two inexperienced and shy teens, but in 'Paradise Kiss', the romance gets into full swing quickly and we get to see the trials and tribulations of an already in progress relationship. Both types have their place, but I think I prefer the level of romance in 'Paradise Kiss'. And while I prefer the more mature version of romance offered in 'Paradise Kiss', sometimes the relationship woes seemed just as annoying and immature as the "oh, just kiss already" problems of 'Kimi ni Todoke'. I guess that the problem is less about these manga and more about me being out of their target demographics, me being a guy and all. Not that men can't enjoy romance stories. I enjoy them quite a bit. It's just really hard to find the right type and balance of romance that suits me.

This series started to run it's course after volume 4 in my opinion. It tried to shoehorn in closure for the supporting cast and make them more than just supporting cast when they were perfect just as they were. They didn't even need conflicts to wrap up, but we got them anyway... Their problems just added unwanted melodrama for me. An especially unwanted, melodramatic bit was the love triangle between Arashi, Miwako and Hiro. Not only did it push me past my drama limit into soap opera territory, but when that plot line was being wrapped up toward the end, it took a turn for the disturbing. I won't spoil things, but even with the main focus of the story being on a semi-volatile relationship, this revelation didn't fit and broke the vibe of the manga for me. Despite a few minor issues I had with the story, I found 'Paradise Kiss' thoroughly enjoyable, and at just five, short volumes, it would probably make a perfect introduction to josei manga. What's that you say? How can I recommend a manga that's out of print? No worries folks. Vertical, Inc. has rescued the license and will be reprinting this series in three, omnibus volumes starting this September.

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