by Ai Yazawa
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
***This review contains spoilers***
Yukari Hayasaka was a typical high school student until she was scouted by the student group “Paradise Kiss” to be their model for the Yazawa School for the Arts (Yaza Arts) senior fashion show. Meeting these four friends has Yukari questioning everything about her life. The series follows these five people through their final year of high school.
At its heart, Paradise Kiss is a coming-of-age story for Yukari. The catalyst for her metamorphosis is the community formed by four Yaza Arts students. It’s the first time she sees people who are creating their own future. Yukari has always just followed the path outlined for her by her mother. The members of Paradise Kiss support and accept each other unconditionally. Their passion makes Yukari reexamine her own life.
Paradise Kiss is a meticulously crafted series. Unfortunately, it’s rare in manga to have a series where the author has mapped out the entire story from beginning to end. It’s not only the plot; the relationships are well-thought-out, too. It’s a great pleasure to see the events and relationships unfold and evolve naturally. It makes for a satisfying read with a real sense of finality.
The series has the feeling of a fairy tale. Not the light, frothy ones that get told today, but the original ones that blended a sense of reality and fantasy to create compelling, yet reassuring, stories. Realism is seen in the way George’s and Yuraki’s relationship progresses and ends. It’s further seen in the fact that Paradise Kiss doesn’t become an overnight fashion hit. The lack of a Hollywood perfect ending is part of what makes this a satisfying read.
The fantasy element is seen in the safety net that Yazawa gives her characters. Each one is attractive, talented, and from well-off families. You never worry about their futures. It’s easy to see that the members of Paradise Kiss will each succeed in the fashion industry in some way. They may not all be top name designers, but their talents will ensure they will always have a job. Yukari falls into being a fashion model and instantly finds success. Even if any of the people should fail, their families have enough money to ensure they will be taken care of for the rest of their lives.
Yazawa’s art is nothing short of amazing. She knows how to draw beautiful people and dazzling clothes. The characters all have an incredible sense of fashion. Yazawa is also able to portray a wide range of styles, and she fills this manga with incredible eye candy. Beyond just being a outstanding draftswoman, Yazawa is also an excellent visual storyteller. She has nice clean page layouts that are as well-designed as the character’s clothes.
Paradise Kiss is an engaging and satisfying series. Yazawa has crafted a manga that is subtle and mature in both storytelling and visuals. These characters come across more as college seniors instead of high school seniors. It’s a shame that the series is currently out of print. It’s a very accessible series for people unfamiliar with manga in general and more specifically the women’s manga genre. Paradise Kiss would be enjoyed by anyone who loves well-created stories.