After School Nightmare 1 by Setona Mizushiro: A-

From the back cover:
You have just awakened to find your darkest secret revealed to a group of people who would do anything to destroy you: your classmates! That’s what happens to Ichijo Mashiro, whose elite school education turns into the most horrifying experience of his life when he’s enlisted to participate in an after-hours class. The only way for Mashiro to graduate is to enter into a nightmare world where his body and soul will be at the mercy of his worst enemies. Can Mashiro keep the lifelong secret that he is not truly a “he” nor entirely a “she”—or will he finally be “outted” in the most humiliating way possible?

Mashiro Ichijo (also confusingly referred to on the back cover as Ichijo Mashiro) is first-year high school student with a big secret—although the top half of his body is male, his lower half is female. For some reason, despite concrete evidence that Mashiro possesses ovaries, he was raised as a boy and is trying hard to maintain that identity. Mashiro has never discussed his body with anyone, but one day he’s approached by a school nurse he’s never seen before. She not only knows all about his secret, but assigns him to a special after-school class that involves entering a dream with five other classmates. If he succeeds in completing an unknown task, he’ll graduate from the school. It’s all very strange and immediately made me think of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

The identities of the other students in the dream are not immediately known to Mashiro, but he’s able to figure some of them out in the course of this volume. The other students’ appearances change while in the dream, as they take on forms that symbolize their real heart. His cute classmate Kureha, for example, takes the form of her five-year-old self on the day she was sexually assaulted by a strange man. Others are more bizarre—one girl has neither face nor heart, another student is a bundle of arms and hands—but Mashiro himself doesn’t change much, beyond wearing a girl’s uniform, because he thinks that his own body is already the most distorted thing of all.

The students are tasked with finding a key, and often inflict injury upon each other while in search of same. Mashiro decides that he will protect man-hating Kureha and help her graduate, since the dream experience is so traumatic for her that she doesn’t even attempt to play the game. While he’s trying hard to fulfill this manly role, his insecurities still run deep, and he’s convinced that the reason he couldn’t stop the black knight (later revealed to be antagonistic classmate, Sou, who is inexplicably obsessed with Mashiro) from slicing up his uniform and revealing his body is that he’s really a girl. Mashiro equates being a girl with weakness, which makes me wonder if that’s what he’s been placed in this class to overcome.

Although the dream sequences are fascinating, the truly compelling part of this story so far is Mashiro’s desperation to be something he’s not sure he is. He begins a relationship with Kureha, but right before their first kiss, panicked thoughts of “I’m about to kiss another girl!” flit through his mind. Kissing her is something he should do, he convinces himself, but when Sou later inflicts a kiss upon him, Mashiro is torn once more. Mashiro clearly feels something for both of the others—a need to protect Kureha and a grudging interest in cruelly enigmatic Sou—but each option symbolizes a particular gender identity, and Mashiro is presently as incapable of choosing between them as he is of definitively seizing an identity for himself.

This dramatic and captivating first volume serves as an excellent introduction into the series, and I’m eager to read more.

Although I am tardy, this review is part of September’s Manga Moveable Feast. To read what others have to say about After School Nightmare, check out this post at A Case Suitable For Treatment.

Yotsuba&! 2-8 by Kiyohiko Azuma: A

The theme of this month’s Manga Moveable Feast is a Kids’ Table featuring discussion of Yotsuba&! and other kid-friendly manga. Here is my take on the former; be sure to check out this week’s Off the Shelf where Melinda and I will talk about the latter!

My opinions on these seven delightful volumes of Yotsuba&! can be summed up as: “Yep, still awesome!” I really don’t have much to add to what I said in my review of volume one. Yotsuba is still wide-eyed and exuberant, there are still many laugh-out-loud scenes and lines of dialogue, and I still teeter on the edge between wanting Yotsuba to stay as she is forever and wanting to see her grow up. Instead of a straightforward review, then, I thought I’d share my favorite moments in each of these volumes.

Volume two:
Yotsuba encounters frogs, pools, and cake in this volume, but my favorite chapter is entitled “Yotsuba & Vengeance.” Inspired by a movie her dad and Jumbo are watching, Yotsuba whips out a water gun and “kills” them both, then changes characters and swears to avenge them. She promptly goes next door and squirts her neighbor, Mrs. Ayase.

Mrs. Ayase: Aaaah, I’ve been murdered!
Yotsuba: Yep.
Yotsuba: Ah, where’s Ena?
Mrs. Ayase: Huh? Aren’t I supposed to be dead?
Yotsuba: …
Yotsuba: You’re half alive.

Hee! After providing the requested information, Mrs. Ayase is squirted again and told, “Now you’re full dead.”

Volume three:
One thing you really begin to notice with volume three is continuity between chapters that renders them not entirely episodic. At the end of volume two, Yotsuba’s neighbor, Asagi Ayase, returns from her a trip to Okinawa with souvenirs for her family and some goodies to share with Yotsuba. This makes Yotsuba want to give Asagi a souvenir, too, but you have to go somewhere first to do that. So she goes to the park and looks around and finally finds a four-leaf clover, which she proudly presents to Asagi. When Asagi and her friend proceed to drive off, Yotsuba waits impatiently for their return, certain she will be brought another souvenir at that time. My favorite moment of this volume occurs when Asagi returns, seemingly empty-handed. It’s a really great example of nonverbal storytelling and I especially love what Yotsuba does with her hands.

Volume four:
For some reason, volume four feels especially slice-of-lifey to me. Yotsuba has a plethora of amusing reactions to the things she encounters, as per usual, but my favorite chapter involves a simple trip to the grocery store to buy ingredients to make a “regular delicious” meal. I love, too, how Yotsuba takes the lesson that the smaller cart is “for kids” and applies the same reasoning to things like quail eggs and (presumably) cherry tomatoes. Plus, that hamburg steak that they’re having for dinner sounds super tasty! (I’m much more dubious about the konnyaku.)

Volume five:
Although volume five is home to the classic chapter “Yotsuba & Danbo,” in which Yotsuba interacts with a cardboard robot without knowing her neighbor’s classmate is inside, my favorite chapter is actually “Yotsuba & Rain.” Maybe I’m just partial to episodes in which Yotsuba and her dad run errands together, but this has the two of them venturing out into the rain to return a DVD. After Yotsuba fails at the art of umbrella, assures the clerk that the dolphins jumping “like boing” were awesome, and sings a little song to the amusement of another patron (“We are all living! And living is pain!”), she wraps up her afternoon by accosting random strangers and asking if they’ve tried taiyaki. The whole chapter sums up her character, and her relationship with her father, very well. The one sour note in this volume is the introduction of Yanda, a coworker of Yotsuba’s father, who essentially gets his kicks out of antagonizing a five-year-old child.

Volume six:
The most significant thing to happen to Yotsuba in volume six is that she gets a bike. This leads to a variety of cute scenes, but the best chapter is “Yotsuba & Delivering,” in which Yotsuba attempts to catch up with a school-bound Fuuka on her bike—which she is not supposed to be riding without an adult present—in order to share some delicious milk with her. I love the duo of panels in which we see first a corner with simply the “gara gara” (rattle) sound effect of the bike, and then the same corner after Yotsuba has finally made it around. In general, Yotsuba seems a little more restive and mischievous in this volume, disrupting Ena when she’s doing homework, eating her father’s eclair when she knows she shouldn’t and then going next door in search of a replacement, et cetera. Azuma really captures kid behavior so well. Even a child as charming as Yotsuba has impulse control issues and then resorts to sneaky means to cover up afterwards!

Volume seven:
One of the things I enjoy most about Yotsuba&! is seeing how she thinks, especially when she’s trying to solve problems. In the chapter “Yotsuba & Errands,” rather than ask another customer at a convenience store to help her get down a Cup Noodle she can’t reach, she asks for something long. The customer finds a fluorescent bulb that suffices and watches, stunned, as Yotsuba uses it to bat the noodles down from the shelf. There’s also a lot of great nonverbal storytelling in this volume, particularly in a chapter in which Yotsuba, Fuuka, and Fuuka’s school friend attempt to make a cake, whimsically taking periodic breaks to express their cake-making feelings through interpretive dance.

Volume eight:
Although I adore Yotsuba’s reactions to the various things she encounters at the cultural festival being held at Fuuka’s school as well as her stint riding atop Jumbo’s shoulders, my favorite chapter is “Yotsuba & the Typhoon.” From its opening page, on which an awestruck Yotsuba is seen through a rain-splashed window, you know this one is something special. The goodness continues when Yotsuba insists on going next door and dashes out to frolic jubilantly in the downpour. Her father is aghast at first and then surrenders to the moment himself. I’m happy that he’s the one who tries to see things the way Yotsuba does, especially since the neighbors don’t want to join on the fun. The chapter is capped off by a perfect page of nonverbal storytelling as Yotsuba tests the hypothesis that if she were to go outside and open an umbrella, she’d fly away.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Yotsuba&! binge. What’s more, this series has tremendous reread potential—more, perhaps, than any other series I can think of—so I’m sure I’ll enjoy returning to it in future.

What are some of your favorite Yotsuba&! moments?

Review copies for volumes 2-6 provided by the publisher.

For more of the Kids’ Table MMF, check out the archive at Good Comics for Kids.

MMF: That’s a Wrap!

The Paradise Kiss MMF has now come to a close. Thank you again to everyone who participated—each contribution was a pleasure to read, and their quality made my job as host both easy and fun!

Tune in next month when we’ll be doing something a little bit different with the MMF: a kids’ table! Our main course will be Yotsuba&!, but we’ll also be feasting upon a variety of tasty (and kid-friendly) side dishes. The festivities will be hosted by the team at Good Comics for Kids, so be sure to keep an eye on their blog for details.

The complete archive for the Paradise Kiss MMF can be found here.

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.


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!

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Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa

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