Paradise Kiss is a josei manga by legendary mangaka Ai Yazawa that was first published in English by Tokyopop back in the early 2000’s. The manga was a huge success, both in Japan and abroad, and has been adapted into a popular anime series. The license to the manga was picked up by Vertical Inc., who re-published it with new translations several years ago. Now, in honour of the manga’s 20th Anniversary, they’ve released a new edition that collects all 5 original volumes into a single omnibus with a larger trim size and several lovely colour pages included at the front.
I kind of missed the boat on Paradise Kiss back when it was originally released, so this edition is my first exposure to this classic manga. I’d heard a lot of praise for the series over the years, so I’ve been interested in it for some time and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a try. Having not read any of the previous editions, I can’t comment on which version is the best one to buy, but, if you haven’t read Paradise Kiss yet, I can assure you that this series lives up to the hype.
Yukari Hayasaka is a senior in high school studying for college entrance exams who is feeling oppressed by her mother’s high expectations and the drudgery of school work. She has no motivation, beyond trying to please her mother, and isn’t sure what she wants to study when she gets into university or if she even wants to go at all. That’s when she meets a group of kids attending Yazawa Art School who have created their own indie fashion label, called Paradise Kiss, and who want her to be their model for an upcoming fashion design competition. She initially refuses, thinking they’re just goofing around and not wanting to waste her time when she should be studying, but Yukari is won over when she meets George, the team’s handsome and eccentric designer, and ultimately agrees to help them. As she becomes friends with the Yazawa Art kids, Yukari realizes how hard they are working to achieve their dreams and starts to question her own directionless life. She also finds herself falling hard for George, who pushes her to take more responsibility for her situation. Yukari resolves to become a strong and independent woman and decides to pursue modeling as a career, but in her haste to try and change, she winds up rushing into an adult world and a relationship with George that she might not be ready for.
Paradise Kiss is a coming-of-age story for Yukari, and the other teen characters. Yukari spent a lot of time trying to meet her mother’s expectations, only to fail to achieve the level of academic success that she demanded, despite having worked very hard. Yukari managed to get into a good school, but she came to resent studying and her grades began to slip. Once she saw how passionate her new friends were about pursuing careers in fashion she felt inspired to stop avoiding her problems and take charge of her own life. But when she tries talking to her mother about participating in the fashion show and how she doesn’t want to take the college entrance exams, Yukari’s mother refuses to listen and in a fit of anger Yukari decides to run away from home. She thinks she is demonstrating her resolve to become her own person, but in reality this demonstrates that she has a long way to go before she becomes a person capable of fully taking responsibility for herself.
Yukari is experiencing her first brush with love, thanks to George, and just starting to learn what she wants out of life and she makes plenty of mistakes as she takes her first stumbling steps into adulthood. She wants to be a more free and independent person, in part for herself but also because George has made it clear that he likes strong-willed girls who think and make decisions for themselves. So Yukari is paradoxically trying to be her own woman so that she can change herself to be more in line with his ideal. Her desire to try and impress George causes her to behave recklessly and she leaves home with no plan as to where she is going to stay or how she is going to support herself. In spite of wanting to be independent, Yukari winds up having to rely on her friends in order to have a place to live. She manages to get a modeling gig through a connection and discovers that she enjoys it and decides that she wants to become a professional model, but then realizes that she needs parental permission in order to sign with an agency. Yukari’s rash decision has now put her in an awkward position and if she’s serious about modeling she’s going to need to go back and talk to her mother again, but she’s hesitant to do that after their big fight.
That’s when Yukari meet’s George’s mother, a woman who made a series of poor decisions in her life but who constantly blames others for her problems, and Yukari realizes that she has just been running away from her own troubles. Yukari goes back home and tries talking with her mother again and, now that she has a clearer idea of what she wants to do and has shown the lengths that she is willing to go to in order to be heard, her mother is more willing to listen. Yukari is also able to see how worried her mother has been for her and realizes how much her mother actually cares for her. Because Yukari has matured thanks to her experiences, she now sees how much the two of them are actually alike and she and her mother are able to achieve a better understanding of each other, even if they continue to butt heads at times. This shows how much Yukari has grown on her journey to becoming a young woman. She has also become noticeably happier and a more understanding person as she has gained more control over her life and found direction. A far cry from the irritable and judgemental girl she was at the start of the manga.
But she still has a lot to learn when it comes to love.
The romantic relationship between Yukari and George is unique in lot of ways, and in order to discuss it I am going to need to reveal the ending of Paradise Kiss, so feel free to skip this paragraph if you don’t want to read any spoilers. Yukari and George’s relationship stood out to me because it’s a rare example of the core romantic pairing in a manga being a bad relationship that is actually acknowledged as being bad by the text. There are plenty of romance stories out there that feature unhealthy relationships, but often the signs that the relationship is bad-news are romanticized or, if the story does acknowledge that there is a problem, the couple usually manages to resolve their issues pretty easily. Not so in Paradise Kiss. Yukari and George are never quite able to connect with each other in a healthy way and while they do recognize that they are hurting each other, they’re never able to improve their relationship. They care for each other, but both Yukari and George are just teenagers struggling to figure out who they are and decide what path they want to take in life. Neither of them is ready for a serious relationship. George is the love child of a wealthy man and his mistress, and his mother blames his father, and George himself, for the fact that she gave up her career after she became pregnant. As a result, George doesn’t want to accept any kind of responsibility for anyone else and constantly tells Yukari to make her own decisions, but he also wants to be in control of their relationship and gets mad when Yukari doesn’t tell him about important things going on in her life. Yukari tries to become more like the type of girl that George thinks he wants, but she is insecure about their relationship and this makes her jealous and emotional, which just serves to push him away. Despite getting mad at her for keeping things from him, George doesn’t discuss any of his personal struggles with Yukari either and frequently looks down on her because her personality reminds him of his mother’s. When Yukari discovers that George is planning to give up his dream of becoming a designer for a more stable career, so that he can support his mother in the event that his father dies or cuts them off financially, Yukari isn’t able to council him or comfort him because she’d too upset by the fact that he had told his friend about his decision but hadn’t told her anything. Both of them fail to be there to support the other in their times of need and, while they both love each other, part of the process of growing up that they need to go through is accepting that they just aren’t right for each other. The manga ends with George deciding to move to Europe to chase his dream of becoming a designer after all, and he asks Yukari to come with him, but she refuses. It breaks her heart, but she has her own goals and knows that they wouldn’t be happy together. George moves away, but leaves Yukari all of the outfits he’d designed for Paradise Kiss and that she’d inspired him to make as a sign of his feelings for her. The two never reunite. Yukari becomes a successful model and actress and George achieves his dream of becoming a famous designer. Yukari eventually finds new love with a friend who’d been there to support her throughout the series, but she still treasures the clothing she received from George. It’s a bitter-sweet ending to a romance story, but a healthy and realistic one that I was ultimately happy with. You can want a relationship to work with your whole heart but sometimes that just isn’t enough. But just because a relationship fails doesn’t mean that the relationship wasn’t important to you or that your love wasn’t real. Sometimes you just have to recognize when something isn’t right for you and move on.
Paradise Kiss features a great cast of side characters in addition to our troubled leads. Isabella is a trans-girl who wants to become a pattern maker and is one of the other members of Paradise Kiss. While she didn’t get as much focus as some of the other characters, I was impressed with how well the manga handled her character, considering that this series started in 1999. Isabella and George are childhood friends and after Isabella confessed to him that she had always felt like a girl George made a dress for her, sparking his love of fashion and inspiring her to start living as her true self. There’s a very touching scene towards the end of the manga where the butler that has raised Isabella tells her that he’s proud of the lady she’s grown up to be. This definitely caused me to tear up while I was reading it.
Miwako is another member of Paradise Kiss that I really liked. She’s a cheerful girly-girl who becomes best friends with Yukari and their relationship is really cute. Unfortunately, she’s dating the fourth member of Paradise Kiss, Arashi, and this is where we run into my one major complaint with the series. Arashi and Miwako also have a troubled relationship and I am not as satisfied with where it goes as I am with where Yukari and George end up. Miwako and Arashi grew up in the same apartment building together along with another boy who also liked Miwako. For her part, Miwako cared for both of them equally but she ended up dating Arashi. Despite the fact that Miwako is committed to him, Arashi has an inferiority complex and is jealous and controlling of her. Occasionally his behaviour is even abusive and I feel strongly that they should have broken up. Miwako had to forgive a lot in order to be with Arashi and he still couldn’t trust her and behaved like a complete asshole. Arashi does recognize that he has acted terribly towards her and by the end of the series he manages to work through some of his issues and starts to do better, but in my opinion it was far too little too late. I really don’t understand why Miwako would want to be with this moody jerk and I feel like the themes of the manga are somewhat undercut by having them stay together.
As Paradise Kiss is a manga about aspiring fashion models and designers, and was originally published in a fashion magazine, the outfits the characters wear are all amazing and varied, with each character having a signature style. Arashi has a punk look, Miwako prefers cutesy outfits with lots of accessories and Isabella always wears elaborate makeup and looks like she just walked off the set of a period drama. George likes to dress in flashy suits and the clothing he designs for Yukari to wear tends to be sophisticated but with a dramatic flair. Ai Yazawa’s art is truly beautiful and expressive; I could really feel the emotions the characters were experiencing coming off the pages. This manga is a visual treat from start to finish.
Paradise Kiss is a classic for a reason; it’s a work that presents the messiness of growing up and the intoxicating feelings of first love in all its confusing and chaotic glory and creates something beautiful in the process. It’s an emotional, funny and moving story with a satisfying and mature ending and I am so happy that I got the chance to read it after having missed out for so long. If you haven’t read this series yet it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of josei manga.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10.
For more information on this manga, visit Vertical Inc.’s website: http://www.vertical-inc.com/books/paradisekiss.html
What did you think of this manga? How do you think the manga compares to the anime? Let me know in the comments.
Also, be sure to check out some of my other Josei manga reviews”
- An Incurable Case of Love Vol 1 Review
- My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom (Manga) Vol 1 Review
- Little Miss P Review