Paradise Kiss

Paradise Kiss

PARADISE KISS

Watched via fansubs/DVD

WHITNEY

CRYSTAL

PLOT: Paradise Kiss is based off of a manga of the same name, by one of my favorite manga-ka of all time, Ai Yazawa. Her series tend to border between shoujo and jousei and focus on the arts and being a young adult traveling into the real world.

This short series compacts all five volumes into a single season, which as Crystal mentions, works quite well if a bit abruptly. The biggest downside to the brevity is the shorted amount of time we get with secondary characters. It doesn’t really hinder the main story arc, but it would have been nice to see them a bit more.

So what is the main premise? Yukari is a typical high student who is driven by her parents and society to be the best in her class at all costs and is never given any recognition for her work, but to step it up a notch. She gets scouted by a local fashion school, to model, and is quite reluctant to join on account of disappointing her family. Of course this is where George comes in with his charm and whisks her off her feet, which is just the type of temptation Yukari needs to finally break free from her previous stressful life.

Aside from Yukari’s turbulent romance with George, the plot focuses on the students of Yazagaku fashion school who are aiming to create their own fashion brand “Paradise Kiss” and include their design in the school fashion show, hopefully to win the chance of traveling abroad and become a somebody in the fashion world. All of their future dreams are focused on this project, and it is their desires and Yukari’s budding friendship with them, that finally make her committed to making the show a success.

PLOT: Paradise Kiss follows Yukari, a high school student, as she breaks free from her parent-dictated life of studying for a good college and begins a career in modeling. While walking down the street one day, Yukari’s scouted by some students from the local fashion school who want her to model their dress at an upcoming show. Yukari starts out looking down on these teens who dress weirdly, but eventually she comes to admire their passion and finds her own passion for modeling.

Of course, that can’t be the entire plot of Paradise Kiss. It has a lot of sex and romance between various characters, including childhood relationships that have gone dormant and unrequited loves. Two of the main characters, Miwako and Arashi, are already in a steady relationship, but Yukari finds herself pulled between her old crush, Hiroyuki, and the enigmatic George, who runs the group of fashion students. Naturally, there are a lot of growing pains for Yukari as she figures out who’s the best match for her and where she wants to go in life, but I found the ending of the series to be very satisfying and optimistic, though it might not fit in with what other viewers had in mind.

When compared to the manga, this adaptation trims a lot of the fat and skips along quite quickly in a short twelve episodes. The first time I watched this, I thought that was too quick, but upon rewatching I think it keeps the show from stagnating with Yukari’s wobbly growth. There are a lot of sudden cuts and weird scene transitions, all of which add to the show’s artsy feel without being overwhelming. As a whole, Paradise Kiss is an excellent snapshot of the uncertainty of high school and the glamour of fashion, with just enough character development to really shine.

I like that this series kind of focuses on how inadequately most teenagers are prepared for their futures after high school. It’s almost like an Alice in Wonderland approach, with her stumbling upon a bigger world she never knew existed before.

SETTING: Ai Yazawa brings glamour to everything she makes, and the setting is no exception. While we see Yukari’s and George’s schools from time to time, a large portion of the series is spent in the group’s “atelier”. Even the descriptions have to sound artsy… So, in this studio, they have everything required to work on their fashion designs. It’s actually kind of humorous, because if you think of the group dynamic, this is in a lot of ways just like your typical after school club room type series. Somehow though, Paradise Kiss pushes past the dull-drum of the trope, and elevates it so it seems new, fresh, and exciting.

The fashion and glamour of the series constantly creates a more mature vibe to the characters and plot. You get rather wrapped up in the fantasy of it all, which works excellently with the romantic aspects. What really brings you back down to earth is when the story focuses on the two schools and you see how these students are still just that, young developing individuals playing at being adults.

Y’know, if you think about it, this really is an after-school club story at its core, but it has so much more flair than most shows of that genre. Plus, the Yazagaku students are playing for higher stakes than most high school club members.

SETTING: Though this series takes place in a standard high school, the addition of the art school keeps it fresh. The students all work at an atelier called Paradise Kiss, which is also the name of their fashion line-in-progress. This atelier is a fashion student’s dream, with antique sewing machines, art on the walls, impressive fabrics all around, and a bar where the characters can make tea. I loved every minutes spent in this setting, and it’s almost as gorgeous as the clothing the students make.

The other great piece of Paradise Kiss’s setting is George’s Jaguar E-Type, which is the first image you see in the show’s opening. Jaguar E-Types are widely considered to be the sexiest cars ever, and the car is a visual shorthand for George’s money, style, and sex appeal. I’m not even a car person, and I swoon a little every time that car appears on the screen. I think this car stands on its own to build up the viewers’ image of George, but if you know anything about cars, his E-Type just adds to your knowledge of his power, pride, and money.

CHARACTERS: I really dislike the two main characters of this series. Which I suppose is a wonderful thing, because it means I was able to have an emotional connection with the show.

Yukari is dumb. I suppose it can’t be unexpected, after all, she is a young adult, who has been driven to not stand out in any way nor to think for herself. She’s so naive to the world that she falls right into George’s traps. The best part is that through her hardships, you get a real impression at the end that she’ll finally make her dreams her own and pursue them with her own ambitions, for herself. I’m a little bent out of shape that she had to realize her passions through a man, but at least she evolves them to the next level on her own.

I dislike George. In fact, I think the only reason why I slightly dislike Yukari is because of how much of a hold he had on her. To say he’s manipulative is an understatement. He uses his good looks and charms to get whatever he wants. Though even his deepest desires seem to be locked away for no one to get a glimpse at. Sure he’s mysterious and good looking, but what I appreciated the most is how this series didn’t bother to glorify this type of character, or their relationship together. Sure you get the first glimpse into the expected romance, but then you see how the fantasy starts to unravel. Ai Yazawa is the best at making and breaking relationships and characters to show what’s going on in the inside. Which of course just makes me love George and their relationship despite myself.

The other three members of the group are Miwako, Arashi, and Isabella. The former two are a couple and serve as a foil to Yukari’s relationship. Despite that they still have their problems which stem from their youthful insecurities. I enjoyed their relationship as well as that between Isabella and George. Their childhood friendship helps to round out George’s character so that he isn’t just a man whore.

Way to slut shame George. :/ There’s a lot more to his character than just chasing after pretty girls, and while he’s definitely not good for Yukari, he does help her figure out what she wants out of life.

CHARACTERS: This show has a cast that’s full of characters I like and relate to on multiple levels. First of all, there’s Yukari, who’s suddenly pulled off the street and told she’s beautiful enough to be a model. Though this is a pretty standard fantasy, I’m more intrigued by her realizing what she really wants to do and abandoning her original plan of going to a good college and entering the workforce.

George is a more complex character for me, as he’s that perfect example of an asshole that I can’t help but be drawn to. He definitely has his issues, but he’s well enough developed throughout this show for me to still like him by the end of it, despite everything he does. Though I do like asshole characters, I like them better when they’re well developed and tempered by real emotion, and in that area George succeeds. Plus, he’s just so gorgeous.

Miwako and Arashi, the pre-existing couple, are also fun to watch, and I appreciate that their relationship’s explored so that the viewers can realize how relationships take real work, even when you click as much as they do. However, I also love the fourth art student in the show, Isabella, who’s a trans woman. I can’t get over how great it is for an anime to show a trans woman in a positive light without making fun of her, and for that Paradise Kiss gets major points from me. George also gets respect for sticking by Isabella when they were children and she was just beginning to express her transgender identity.

The remainder of the cast fit into their standard roles (Hiroyuki as Yukari’s straight-laced crush, Yukari’s mother as a grade-obsessed tyrant), but Paradise Kiss goes beyond that to develop each of its characters as real people who have gone through difficulties that made them who they are. Even George’s bitch of an ex-model mother gets developed! This show would’ve been good with just the main cast, but the depth of the side characters makes it really stand out from other anime.

I also really enjoyed the childhood friendship between Isabella and George. You can tell they really are each other’s rock and will always be linked together.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I just love Ai Yazawa’s designs, characters, clothes, backgrounds, all of it. You can tell she has a strong passion for detail, art, and fashion. There are a lot of series that feature outlandish clothing for the sake of it, but I really feel that the over the top outfits work with the storyline to enhance it. The designs really work to transform this show into something beyond just being an after school club. There is something fantastical and other worldly about the atelier and everyone within it, almost like a wonderland of fashion.

The humor in Paradise Kiss is punctuated with wacky faces and expressions which seem a bit abrupt if you aren’t used to watching anime. I wouldn’t say that it hinders the anime, but I don’t think it strengthens it either.

Paradiss Kiss also uses a lot of computer rendered animation in order to really highlight the glamour and step it up a notch, this is especially seen in George’s car and in the opening sequence. It might look really well done, but it kind of cheapens this regular animation sequences. There were definitely times where I thought the character models were a bit off. It wasn’t so bad I couldn’t tell who was who, but it did break up the flow of the story a bit.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: From the art style to the animation, this show is artsy and gorgeous. Paradise Kiss’s manga ran in the fashion magazine Zipper, and the character designs are appropriately striking. The manga-ka Ai Yazawa knows just how to make characters that are lanky without being too twiggy, big-eyed without looking like caricatures of old shoujo manga. Each character was designed with a separate image in mind, and no one shares face shapes or hairstyles. Even the eyes are beautifully detailed in a way that harkens back to shoujo traditions while still creating detail with intricate, fashionable lines.

To match with the characters’ aesthetic, the animation studio Madhouse pulled out the stops to make the show match artistically. The opening mixes animation with real-world photographs, while the ending renders the characters as wild, cartoonish figures dancing crazily to Franz Ferdinand. When the show cuts between scenes, figures like stuffed animals parade across the screen to weird sounds. All of these elements layer on top of the show’s flawless, detailed animation to make something very visually appealing. I can’t think of many shows as pretty and artsy as Paradise Kiss, and it definitely stands out among the anime I’ve watched.

Haha, I don’t know if you caught what you said, but the characters actually are quite “Twiggy”. Okay, bad joke.

OVERALL: Ai Yazawa is one of my favorite manga-ka. I don’t think Paradise Kiss was her strongest work, but it has very universal themes and works great for a one season show. This series take the typical tropes we’ve all seen before and reproduces them in a way where we don’t even realize that’s what we’re watching.

The characters are charming and unique, if a bit odd, and of course a bit flawed. What would a show be without some fabulous character development?

I don’t think this series would work too well for those just starting out, but it’s a great little romance and slice-of-life series about art and fashion. I totally agree with Crystal, once you’re done watching this, go and watch Nana. I’d consider it Ai Yazawa’s masterpiece.

OVERALL: To me, Paradise Kiss is a reminder of how great anime can be when it breaks free from all of the formulas. Its being a josei series may help with that, as it’s much more mature than many shoujo series when it comes to its perspectives on sex and romance. These adult perspectives build on top of the show’s visual and character-based successes to make a series that I can both love and respect as an adult. Given how many shoujo and josei series falter as I age, I appreciate how strong Paradise Kiss is on so many fronts. If you haven’t watched it, get to it! And then you should go look into Ai Yazawa’s later series Nana.

FINAL SCORE: (8/10) FINAL SCORE: (9/10)
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