NANA Project #9

Melinda Beasi, Danielle Leigh, and I have completed our penultimate (for now!) edition of the NANA Project over at Comics Should Be Good. You can find that post here.

Volumes seventeen and eighteen are full of drama, most notably when a tabloid prints a story about Nana’s long-lost mother and when Shin, lost after the end of his relationship with Reira, makes a real mess of things and derails Blast’s first big tour. Nana accepts the agency’s suggestion to go solo, pledging to bring in even more fans so that Blast won’t go bust, but even as she embarks on this path, buoyed by dreams, it’s becoming clear that whatever happens to send her running away to England will be happening very soon.

And yet, I didn’t find these volumes as depressing as I have others in the series. I suspect this is because Hachi is by Nana’s side. She attempts to prevent the publication of the story about Nana’s mother, and when she fails, rushes to Nana’s place and stays with her over the New Year’s holiday. The relatively new character of Miu, Yasu’s new girlfriend, also grew on me in these volumes with her ability to see the truth about people. She instantly, for example, realizes that it’s Hachi who’s really the strong one.

In the future (or present) timeline, Hachi receives a mysterious package with clues to Nana’s whereabouts. It seems Hachi’s faith in her is the only thing keeping Nana alive, and that she needs to be found, pronto. The series goes on hiatus after volume 21, so I’m hoping that happens within the next three volumes!

Review copy for volume seventeen provided by the publisher.

Let’s Get Visual: The Verklempt-Makers

MICHELLE: It’s time for another installment of Let’s Get Visual, the monthly column in which Melinda Beasi and I attempt to better understand the visual aspects of manga!

This month we’re looking at scenes that have impacted us emotionally. Personally, I had always assumed that a sympathetic reaction to an emotional scene was due purely to my empathy for the characters and whatever they happen to be feeling. Having learned more about an artist’s bag of tricks, however, I began to wonder if the creators weren’t somehow influencing readers to respond in the desired way. To that end, Melinda and I have each picked a scene that made us verklempt and will attempt to look at them from a more critical perspective.

Melinda, why don’t you start us off this time?

MELINDA: Sure! Well, as you know, my original idea when we were talking about this column was to focus on romantic imagery, so I’m going to still go in that direction for my, uh, verkelmptedness.

NANA, Volume 6, Pages 123-125 (VIZ Media)

The scene I’ve chosen comes from volume six of Ai Yazawa’s NANA. Here, Nobu has finally gotten up the nerve to confess his feelings to Hachi, though she’s still involved with Takumi. What I think is especially brilliant on Yazawa’s part, is that she’s managed to create real romantic tension while keeping the characters physically apart, but without the kind of melodrama that might typically involve.

The symbolism seems obvious. The two are standing at the edge of the jetty (maybe less dramatic than a cliff, but similar in feel), separated from each other by the solid sections of the structure. So they’re both out on a limb (metaphorically) by just being there, though circumstances keep them from getting too close. Yazawa sets this tone immediately by establishing their position in the very first frame.

Recognizing the tension of the situation, Hachi tries to lighten the mood, but Nobu’s got a mission, so he gets right to the point. He doesn’t draw things out at all. There’s almost no anticipation, and the dialogue is fairly sparse. Still, with little more than a few camera angles and some subtle body language, Yazawa manages to create a deeply affecting scene, more romantic, even, than in the next volume when the two actually get together. It’s beautifully done and really shows off her powerful talent for romance.

MICHELLE: Oh, that’s such a good point regarding the jetty and their position on it! I totally did not notice that when I read this volume. What strikes me is how different the darkness in this scene feels from the oppressive use of screentone we saw last month in your pick from Tokyo Babylon. For me, the darkness here reinforces the feeling that, for this moment, these two might as well be the only people in the world. I swear, too, that I can almost feel a night breeze when I look at that first page. Perhaps it’s the wide angle used, which emphasizes openness and yet utter solitude.

MELINDA: The night breeze is absolutely there! The flutter of Hachi’s skirt, the still-visible clouds creating a coolness in the air… it’s all there! The wide shot at the end reinforces this too.

And while one might think that it’s the dialogue that makes it romantic (Nobu does say “I’m in love with you.” right at the end, of course), I think the real testament to Yazawa’s skill here is that, even if you take all the dialogue away, the scene reads the same. Take a look:

MICHELLE: It does! I bet if you tasked someone with filling in the dialogue with no knowledge of the series, they would still get the basic gist right, even if they missed some of the specifics of Hachi’s attempt to lighten the mood. Her mute, blushing shake of the head stands out more this way, as well.

MELINDA: This is what makes great comics, in my opinion. Obviously dialogue is important, but Yazawa really lets the artwork tell the story here, and it’s so powerful. This is probably one of my favorite scenes in the whole series.

So what verklemptotomy have you got up your sleeve?

MICHELLE: Well, you’ve probably heard people say, in regards to One Piece, something like, “Wait until you get to volume nine! That’s when it really gets good!” Heck, I have said this, because I think that it is true. For today I’ve chosen the scene that, for me, is the emotional crux of this pivotal volume.

One Piece, Volume 9, Pages 199-200 and 202 (VIZ Media)

At this point in the story, independent and avaricious Nami has been keeping secrets from the other members of the Straw Hat pirates. She is in over her head, trying to deal with an enormous problem on her own, and even though Luffy doesn’t know the specifics of what’s going on, he still wants to help. Here, we finally see Nami break down and finally ask for his assistance, and I swear that this scene gives me goosebumps. I love stories about someone finding the place where they belong, and that’s really what this scene is all about. We’ll see this again when another solitary, wounded woman joins the crew—it takes time to let down one’s guard and accept Luffy’s offer of unquestioning acceptance, and the notion that the crew really becomes a family is an important theme for the series.

Artistically, Oda depicts Nami’s state by putting her in a pose in which she appears almost literally weighed down by her burdens, and also by drawing her very small. It’s a wide angle, and she’s trying to hide her despair, but on the second page she finally allows herself to be open with Luffy and communicate how much she needs him, which is where we finally see the true extent of how upset she is. Of course, Luffy agrees instantly, and the loan of his treasured hat silently communicates many things, like, “You are trusted,” “You are valuable,” and, perhaps most important when up against a powerful foe, “Don’t worry; I’ll come back.”

The final image is one of my favorite pages in the entirety of One Piece. There we find that the other members of the crew have just been waiting for word from Nami. They are all there, ready and willing to come to her aid, and the change in Luffy’s expression in that final panel just says it all: “Nobody messes with a member of my crew.”

MELINDA: I agree, it’s that final bit, the strong demonstration of the support Nami’s got behind her that really punctuates the scene. I think what really strikes me, too, as someone who hasn’t yet read past the first few volumes of the series, is how powerfully Oda uses what is really a very cartoonish art style to create this emotional impact. Luffy’s so goofy, even down to his rubber-man powers, yet there’s nothing goofy at all going on here. Even his “shwing”-y little jump feels weighty in this scene.

MICHELLE: I must admit that I did not scan page 201 because it’s a full-page illustration of Luffy bellowing “Okay!!!!!” in a rather unattractive manner, but otherwise, you’re quite right. Oda’s style takes some getting used to at first, but long acquaintance with the series will reveal that he has crafted a story far more in touch with its emotions than most shounen fare.

And, you know, I suspect this scene would work equally well with all the dialogue stripped away.

MELINDA: I expect you’re right!

MICHELLE: So, in the end, I think it’s fair to say that artists are emphasizing certain elements of emotional scenes to influence a reader’s response, but it doesn’t come across as outright manipulation. That’s probably not even possible. I know we’ve both read series in which the artist tried very hard to wring pathos from flat and lifeless characters to no avail.

MELINDA: Yes, that’s really a great summary of what we’ve seen here, Michelle. Both Oda and Yazawa display their real skill through their subtlety, even though most might not characterize either of these series as “subtle.” They use their artwork to do most of the heavy lifting, so that they don’t have to tell us everything through dialogue, which would be much more obvious and much less effective. That’s their real craft.

MICHELLE: I concur. I raise my Coke in salute to them both. Well done.

The Return of the NANA Project

I’ve reached a point with NANA where, instead of wanting to write a review all by my lonesome, I save all my thoughts for the always-enjoyable roundtable discussion with Danielle Leigh and Melinda Beasi. Their perceptions of the work cause me to look at it in new ways, and it’s a testament to the depth of the story that we’re on our eighth column and still haven’t run out of things to talk about!

This time we discuss volumes fifteen and sixteen and touch on subjects like the commercialization of Blast’s sound (and how this affects their fan base), Yasu’s motives regarding Nana, Nana’s complex desires and Ren’s surprising ability to ennumerate them, “Why don’t they just break up already?”, the importance of Nobu in Nana’s life, and several unspoken comparisons between Nana and Hachi’s current relationships and how they pan out in the future.

You can find that discussion here! Don’t forget to help us decide on our next topic (since we’ve only five volumes of NANA left) by leaving a suggestion in the comments!

Review copy for volume sixteen provided by the publisher.

NANA Project #7!

So very much happens in volumes thirteen and fourteen of NANA that one could easily expend 1000 words on plot synopsis alone. Hachi grows somewhat stronger, Nana sustains some painful blows, several of the fellows aren’t on their best behavior, and some peripheral characters grow in importance. In a way, this feels like a new phase in the series, and these two installments aren’t as heartbreaking to read as some others have been.

Danielle Leigh, Melinda Beasi, and I discuss these volumes in more depth in our seventh entry in the NANA Project series at Comics Should Be Good. Check it out!

MMF: Weekend Edition

The Paradise Kiss MMF is winding down, but there are still some new contributions to highlight.

Proving once and for all that manga isn’t just for kids, Derik Badman shared his academic paper, “Talking, Thinking, and Seeing in Pictures: Narration, Focalization, and Ocularization in Comics Narratives,” for which he used Paradise Kiss as an example:

Were I able to spend the time, the shifting focalizations of Paradise Kiss would prove a fertile ground for further investigation. In contrast to the previous examples, this manga uses more wide-ranging effects of focalization and ocularization in regard to a larger number of characters, but it is all enclosed in the retrospective internally focalized narration of Yukari herself.

Meanwhile, at Manga Kaleidoscope, Zoe Alexander’s review focuses on the relationships but doesn’t forget about the clothes! Here, she talks about a scene that makes her cry every time and I am right there with you, Zoe!

I also really liked the symbolism behind the clothes. To George, every design he makes holds an important memory to him, so for him to allow Yukari to wear them shows just how much he really loved her, despite the way he treated her at times. The scene near the end, where Yukari realizes that he’s left all his designs to her even though they’ve broken up, makes me cry every time. It’s his way of saying “I love you,” and so uniquely George.

Jason Green, Sarah Boslaugh, and Erin Jameson contribute to a great panel discussion on Paradise Kiss at PLAYBACK:stl. I particularly like this bit about the order in which Yukari asks herself some fundamental questions:

The end of high school always leaves one awash in feelings of “Who am I? Who do I want to be? Where do I want to go to college? What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” And Yukari is confronting those same issues, but through the lens of someone who basically upheaved her entire life by quitting school, changing friends, leaving home, and becoming a model—before she started asking herself those questions. It’s only natural in those circumstances to ask yourself “Am I becoming who I’m meant to be, or am I only doing this because of this weird new environment I’ve plopped myself into?”

At Slightly Biased Manga, Connie has posted an essay about the way she identifies with Yukari, the protagonist of Paradise Kiss. I had remembered she was a fan, but when I visited her site to read her reviews, I noticed there weren’t any. “Strange,” I thought. Here, she explains why that is:

I’m no fashion model (in case you couldn’t guess). I didn’t rebel in the way that Yukari did. I never went on to have the spectacular life that Yukari lived (proving that even the most sympathetic manga have to have some element of wish fulfillment). But every time I picked up a volume of that series, it made me cry. It still does, and I have never reviewed any of it, because it’s just too personal. The character emotions and the things they deal with in their lives are spectacular, Ai Yazawa is an excellent writer, and I was of the right age when I read this, but all the same, I still really feel this one.

Lastly, Jason S. Yadao posts to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser urging readers to check out Paradise Kiss. He concludes with these words:

Yazawa just has a way of crafting wonderful, down-to-earth gritty situations for her characters to deal with—see NANA, her current series, for proof of that—and I can’t recommend it enough.

Forsooth!

For more on Paradise Kiss, visit the MMF Archive.

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.

MMF: Another Day in Paradise

Each day brings more terrific musings upon a terrific series! Today, we have three!

At Manga Xanadu, Lori Henderson has posted a review of the first volume and makes a nice comparison of her own initial avoidance of the series and Yukari’s preconceptions about the members of Paradise Kiss.

Just like with NANA, I was pulled into this series from the first chapter and hooked by the characters. Their complex relationships really draw you in, as does the enigmatic George. It’s easy to get just as caught up in his games as Yukari does. Like Yukari, I made the mistake of judging this title by its outward appearance. I’m glad the MMF gave me a push to check out this series. I’m now looking forward to reading more and seeing the fashion come into play, as well as where George and Yukari’s relationship will go, or if it will last.

Sean Gaffney’s take on the series is up at his blog, A Case Suitable for Treatment. If you’re curious about the series’ publishing history, Sean’s got you covered, though he does plenty of enthusing, as well. Here’s a sample:

It also features one of the great supporting casts in manga. Each of the six characters I’d call leads (Yukari, George, Arashi, Miwako, Isabella and Hiroyuki) are well-written characters with their own lives and problems, and the manga succeeds very well in avoiding a typical shoujo pitfall of having everyone be there to facilitate the heroine’s romance. Partly this is because they’re all so interesting in and of themselves (it’s arguable that the Arashi/Miwako/Hiroyuki subplot is more fascinating than Yukari’s), but partly because for once, this is a romance you may not want to see helped along.

At Comic Attack, Kristin has posted her review, which takes the extra step of discussing the anime as well as the manga. It’s a fun and lively read, and I think my very favorite bit is this passage about George:

Now we can talk about George. As a character, he’s hard to beat. George is cold, cruel, arrogant, and emotionally warped. As a romantic partner he’s about the worst guy you could find, but as a character he’s incredibly fascinating. And, despite how twisted he can be, he’s actually pretty great for Yukari. He makes her grow up and take control of her own life. It doesn’t really happen in the nicest way, but sometimes a swift kick in the ass is what you need. For that, he’s perfect. But beyond that?

For more on Paradise Kiss, visit the MMF Archive.

The Paradise Kiss MMF is Underway!

The Paradise Kiss MMF has just begun, and some fantastic submissions are already coming in!

Ed Sizemore at Manga Worth Reading has posted his thoughtful take on the series, which includes this observation on the role of realism in the story:

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.

Hisui and Narutaki of Reverse Thieves have contributed a fascinating discussion about one of the series’ supporting characters, entitled Hiroyuki: One Point on Two Triangles. I’m so glad someone devoted some consideration to this character, who ended up having a much greater purpose than I’d been expecting.

Hiro is an unexpected linchpin in the complicated relationships of Paradise Kiss. He is the foil, the good guy, the guy that got away, the childhood friend, and the first love and he occupies a spot in two completely different triangles of love… In many ways the girls, Yukari and Miwako, don’t realize the triangle exists; they are so focused on their current love affairs that there is little room for another. But George and Arashi are a different story. Their insecurities brightly manifest because of Hiro, each reacting to the threat, one with feigned indifference and the other with jealous anger. They both believe Hiro is better for their respective love interests than they are, and even the reader, as much as we fall in love with George and Arashi, [worries] they might be right.

Lastly, my review of the series has also gone up, and it’s probably the longest thing I’ve ever written. Perhaps it’s gauche to quote oneself in a post of this type, but I admit a fondness for this paragraph:

Any human emotion you can possibly think of is present in Paradise Kiss. Characters are seen at their best and at their worst. Some achieve their dreams, some come close, and some must resign themselves to helping others achieve theirs. It’s not a particularly happy story, but it’s not a particularly sad one, either. The overall feeling I take away from it is one of hope. After all, even though things sometimes don’t go as you planned, “nothing will happen if you don’t believe in your own possibilities.”

For more on Paradise Kiss, visit the MMF Archive.

Paradise Kiss 1-5 by Ai Yazawa: A

Like Yazawa’s later series, NANA, Paradise Kiss is the story of a normal girl who wanders into the path of young people with ambition, becomes invested in seeing their dream come true, and must ultimately find her own path to happiness.

The Basic Story

Yukari Hayasaka is a hardworking high school student who has never been in trouble. Since early childhood her main preoccupation has been studying, trying to please her demanding mother by getting into desirable private schools. She has largely proved to be a disappointment in this area, and though she has managed to get into a prestigious high school, she finds it difficult to keep up with the coursework and worries about her college prospects. One day, as she’s crossing the street, she’s spotted by a suspicious pair—a punk with safety pins in his face and a man in drag—and carried back to their “studio.”

The punk (Arashi), the crossdresser (Isabella), and the diminutive pink-haired Miwako explain that they are students in the fashion design class at Yazawa School of the Arts and need a model for their project for the school festival. Yukari is disdainful of these “freaks,” and storms off without any intention of helping them. On her way out, she drops her student ID, which is found by George Koizumi. It’s George who’s the leader of the group of students—they’re working as his support staff—and he’s determined to get Yukari to agree to model his elaborate design.

Yukari bristles at his suave and confusing attentions, but all the same must admit to herself that before this moment, “I was just running with blinders on through a dark tunnel, heading toward a light at the end. But that light was only a portral to a vast, empty, and lonely space.” Yukari is weary of days spent memorizing dates and formulas, and eventually comes to be impressed by the skill and dedication of the Yazawa students, who create clothes under the label “Paradise Kiss.” She also grows more and more intrigued by the engimatic and inscrutable George, and by the end of volume one, not only has she agreed to the modeling job, she and George share a passionate kiss.

Preparations for the festival continue while Yukari and George’s relationship deepens and evolves. This is the first time Yukari has ever been part of anything, and she’s eager to contribute in any way she can, despite the repeated urgings from the others that she shouldn’t be slacking in her studies. George, meanwhile, grows frustrated by her tendency to blame all of her problems on other people—she has to study because of her mother, but she can’t concentrate on studying because of him—and asks, “Where is your drive and determination in all of this?”

In order to be the kind of independent woman George prefers, Yukari runs away from home and stops attending school so that she can begin working and figure out what she wants to do with her life. George continues to encourage her to make her own decisions and she assures him she’ll take responsibility for the fallout of her actions. This advice, coupled with a convenient opportunity to model for Miwako’s sister (also a designer), helps launch Yukari on the path of becoming a model, something that eventually becomes a dream and a goal so important to her that she’s willing to make any sacrifice to achieve it.

The Characters

A story about the metamorphosis of an unhappy schoolgirl into a successful model might be intriguing under any circumstances, but what really makes Paradise Kiss special are the layered and flawed characters. Yukari, for example, is stubborn and full of prejudices as the story begins, traits largely inherited from her overbearing mother. While she’s able to overcome these for the most part, a deeper level of influence results in a fixation with winning that brings down the group when the festival doesn’t go as planned and in insecurities that lead to ugliness when she’s confronted with other people who are important figures in George’s life. Her journey from unhappy high schooler to fulfilled adult woman is hard-fought, believable, nuanced, and satisfying.

The supporting characters are quite interesting, too. My favorite of these is Arashi, who is initially quite nasty to Yukari, but eventually begins to respect her and even become somewhat protective. He’s got some pretty vicious insecurities of his own involving a love triangle between him, Miwako, and their childhood friend (and Yukari’s classmate), Hiro. The root of this unease is only unveiled in volume five, and though I’m glad this storyline sees some resolution, it would’ve been nice if a bit more time could’ve been spent on it. Hiro, too, plays a far greater role than I initially expected, and serves to temper Yukari’s rebellious impulses.

It’s inevitable, though, that a hero designed to compel and fascinate the heroine would also do so to his audience. George is a fantastic character. At first, readers don’t know if he’s simply toying with Yukari or is really serious about her. He doesn’t call when he says he will, forgets dinner engagements, and claims on more than one occasion to be an “equal opportunity lover.” In bits and pieces, though, we begin to see not only how much he truly cares for Yukari, but his very real vulnerabilities. He’s so insistent that Yukari decide everything on her own, for example, because his mother, mistress to a rich and powerful man, constantly blames her lover for all of her unhappiness. He doesn’t want Yukari to feel that way about him, so he always avoids making the first move, even when it’s something that he wants to happen, because he doesn’t want to be blamed for her misery down the line.

Although he’s drawn to Yukari’s spirited personality, the way they interact also makes it difficult for him to confide his feelings and worries to her. For that, he turns to Kaori Aso, a fellow designer for whom he had feelings but who never took him seriously. The first moment Kaori appeared, I groaned inwardly, thinking she’d be just another last-minute love rival, but I must say I ended up liking her a lot in the end. Even though Yukari is the protagonist, it was really interesting to see George interact with an ambitious girl who is less reactionary than Yukari; I couldn’t help but think that she would be a better match for him.

Why Ai Yazawa is Awesome

There are so many emotionally resonant moments in this series that it would be impossible to list them all. Yazawa captures so many stops along the formation and disintegration of relationships that I feel she simply must have gone through this kind of thing herself. I’m not only talking about the exhilaration as Yukari and George connect for the first time, but also some of the problems that ensue later on in their relationship.

I recall, for example, a scene between Yukari and Hiro in volume three. She hasn’t been to school in a while and he’s worried about her. He’s the one who makes her realize that she’s trying become the kind of woman who isn’t influenced by others because she was influenced by George’s preference. Yazawa absolutely nails the desperate panic of someone who doesn’t want to hear another verbally confirm their own innermost doubts and insecurities. “Shut up already!” she shouts. “Just leave me alone.” Still, she knows that everything he said is true.

Too, there’s the heartbreaking moment that occurs after Yukari has behaved horribly to Kaori and earned George’s displeasure for treating someone so important to him so shabbily. Desperate to close the sudden gulf between them, she submits to being nothing more than a sex toy, all the while thinking, “Nothing can be done. I’m this way no matter how long it’s been. And you’ll probably be that way forever.” That’s such a painful and true realization—one I think all couples must eventually face in one way or another—and it’s ultimately the issue that causes their relationship to dissolve. It’s not that they don’t love each other, because they do. It’s just that when they get together, they end up becoming someone they don’t much like. This doesn’t stop them from wanting to cling together, especially when faced with the scary prospect of following a dream alone, but they don’t give in to the temptation, knowing that it would ultimately result in misery for both of them.

This ties in with how well Yazawa presents the ambitions of all of the characters coupled with the realities of what lies ahead. Oh, Paradise Kiss gets their moment of triumph, alright. The school festival chapter is probably my favorite in the series because of how happy everyone gets to be. Yukari realizes that George is incredibly nervous and the time has come for her to be strong for someone else. As a result, when she takes that runway, she is radiant. His overwhelming and sincere gratitude when she returns from her turn on the runway is one of the most touching moments in the series. The series really could have ended there, but Ai Yazawa is not interested in deluding her audience with happy endings.

Despite how well it goes and how beautiful the dress is, the vote is based on audience judging and the victory is awarded to someone else. No boutiques will buy their clothes, and only one dress—accepted on consignment because of Miwako’s famous sister—ever sells. George must face the fact that his tendency to ignore trends and design whatever he feels like is not an economically viable option, and briefly considers giving up designing altogether until Kaori, and not Yukari, makes it possible for him to continue to create according to his own preferences.

In the End

Any human emotion you can possibly think of is present in Paradise Kiss. Characters are seen at their best and at their worst. Some achieve their dreams, some come close, and some must resign themselves to helping others achieve theirs. It’s not a particularly happy story, but it’s not a particularly sad one, either. The overall feeling I take away from it is one of hope. After all, even though things sometimes don’t go as you planned, “nothing will happen if you don’t believe in your own possibilities.”

Paradise Kiss is published in English by TOKYOPOP. All five volumes are available. Note: the first printing (with the pretty purple covers) contains a couple of significant errors that appear to have been corrected for the second printing (with the less pretty white covers). I’d recommend setting aside aesthetic concerns and procuring the latter.

For more on Paradise Kiss, visit the MMF Archive.

MMF: An Introduction to Paradise Kiss

Paradise Kiss is a five-volume josei series by Ai Yazawa that originally ran in Zipper, a Japanese fashion magazine. It’s the story of Yukari Hayasaka, a stressed-out high school student who has always done what was expected of her and has never had a dream of her own. This changes when she meets the members of Paradise Kiss, a group of fashion design students who ask her to model their creation for a school festival. Initially predisposed to think them freaks, she’s soon won over by their determination and realizes how good it feels to be part of something creative.

While Yukari decides to pursue a career in modeling rather than follow the path set forth by her demanding mother, she also falls in love with George, the unpredictable and difficult-to-understand leader of Paradise Kiss. Their romance is a tumultuous one, but they support each other, too, with Yukari helping to make the festival a success and George challenging Yukari to stop blaming others for her problems and show some initiative of her own. But what will happen when the pursuit of their dreams threatens to take them in different directions?

The story’s richly drawn characters, with merits and flaws aplenty, have been commented on by several reviewers.

From Da-manta-ray:

“I did like the fact that [Yukari] had more realistic flaws than what you see in other manga: she starts off prejudiced to the bohemian-esque lifestyle of George and the other Yazawa Art school students, but really, she just wants an escape from the world that’s trapped her in this small box and narrow-minded way of living.”

From Melinda Beasi:

“All of the story’s characters are very real people and very much human, with all that entails. They are mostly nice, a little bit broken, occasionally cruel or selfish, but also capable of real love and kindness… The supporting players are no less rich, which is particularly impressive in a series this short… What makes these characters feel so real, despite their lesser “screen time,” is that every time they appear, bits of their offscreen lives are carried along with them. They do not exist simply as people for the main couple to interact with, but very obviously have their own full lives, with their own dreams and ambitions, some of which are only hinted at in the story itself.”

A manga about fashion requires oustanding art. Thankfully, Ai Yazawa’s style is well-suited to answering that demand.

From Johanna Draper Carlson:

“The unique art is well able to capture all these varied styles accurately. The approach ranges from elegant and detailed to sparse manga shorthand concentrating on emotion. The gorgeous fashion images, inspired by classic magazine illustration styles and evoking an era of elegance, are woven throughout the story.”

From Dawn-sama:

“Let’s start with the obvious points: the art in Paradise Kiss is superb. If the story doesn’t suck you in, the art will. Ai Yazawa has an elegant, sophisticated pop style and she pays meticulous attention to detail. As expected, the outfits in this fashion manga are very chic and stylish, and the fashion designs from the characters range from elegant to downright odd to Elegant Gothic Lolita. The character designs are excellent. I thought the designs of the major characters really matched their personalities, and considering their personalities, this ends as quite a feat.”

In addition to being a romance, Paradise Kiss also functions as a coming-of-age story, and poses a lot of questions that face many on the cusp of adulthood:

From Johanna Draper Carlson:

“What is the difference between love and obsession? How can you love someone you hate and hate someone you love? Is love a good thing if you become so consumed by it that you make yourself sick? … In the bigger picture, how much of who we are is who we pretend to be?”

If this series sounds appealing to you, you’re welcome to join in on the Manga Moveable Feast! Our feature on Paradise Kiss will run through next Sunday, August 1. All you need to do is e-mail me a link to your contribution (or the review itself, which I can post here on your behalf). You may also wish to join the Google Group for updates, conversation, and an opportunity to vote on nominees for future feasts!

Archive in progress.