MMF: The Isabella Appreciation Society

There are a couple of new MMF contributions to mention today, and both take time to bestow some praise upon Isabella, the “elegant transvestite.”

Over at The Manga Curmudgeon, David Welsh dusts off a 2005 column on Paradise Kiss and freshens it up with some new thoughts. I love his insightful take on Isabella’s function in the story:

I was initially a bit annoyed by the suspicion that Isabella, the elegant transvestite, would stay too far in the background, looking lovely and composed and not doing much of anything. And while it’s true that she gets the least amount of time in the spotlight, well, somebody has to be the grown-up in this crowd. Isabella is the quiet, reassuring eye of a storm of self-reinvention, and it makes perfect sense. Isabella has already reinvented herself to her own satisfaction, so who better to nurture her works-in-progress friends?

In our weekly Off the Shelf column at Manga Bookshelf, Melinda Beasi and I focus our discussion on the characters of Paradise Kiss. Although our feelings about George and ability to sympathize with Yukari differ, we both agree that Isabella is terrific:

MICHELLE: I think with Ai Yazawa there’s always a distinction to be made between characters who are excellently developed, three-dimensional people with fascinating flaws and characters who are one’s favorites by virtue of being just plain likeable. In the latter category, for example, I would place Isabella. She’s warm and nurturing, and completely devoted to George for accepting her as she is. If I had a problem, I’d like to pour my heart out to her while she made me some tasty stew.

But in terms of a character that one could simply talk about for days, I think I’d have to go with George. He’s maddening and unpredictable, but man, those moments when he looks hurt and vulnerable really pull at one’s heartstrings. It’s easy to see why Yukari fell for him.

MELINDA: It’s interesting that you bring up these two characters specifically, because I have such contrasting feelings about them. Isabella is my favorite character in the series by far… Not only is she a wonderfully warm and nurturing character, as you mention here, but she’s also the one who is best able to see the truth about everyone else, unhindered by insecurity or personal bias.

Additionally, she’s just about 100% responsible for my ability to like George, which took a hell of a long time to develop, to be honest. It took me several times through the series to get over my deep intolerance of George’s refusal to take responsibility for his role in the lives of others, and it was only Isabella who was able to convince me that George’s unquestioning, immediate acceptance of her true self made him worth reconsidering… If it wasn’t for Isabella, though I’d have to concede that George is an absolutely fascinating character, I wouldn’t like him at all.

For more on Paradise Kiss, visit the MMF Archive.

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