Writer/Artist: Ai Yazawa
Genre: Drama, Romance
Number of Volumes: 5
Available on MangaFox: Yes
What It’s About
Yukari wants nothing more than to make her parents happy by studying hard and getting into a good college. One afternoon though, she’s kidnapped by a group of art school students working on a clothing line and calling themselves “Paradise Kiss.” Yukari suddenly finds herself doubting her life. Does she want to go to college or is she just doing it to please her overbearing mother? Over the course of just a few weeks of Yukari’s life, she falls into a whirlwind romance with the leader of Paradise Kiss, drops out of school, forms friendships with the art school kids she’d always looked down on, and has to figure out how to live her life the way she wants to.
Paradise Kiss is the kind of manga geared specifically towards women 15-44, the demographic the Japanese call Josei (which is actually just a loose term for woman/female/womanhood and isn’t officially tied to a manga subgenre, but I digress). Josei manga are a cross between Shōjo (young teen girl manga) and LadyComi (manga that lean more erotic). Often dramatic and romantic with erotic moments, Josei comics tend to show more realistic relationships in a mature way.
Within the five volumes of Paradise Kiss, the lives of five young adults are shown. Yukari is slogging through school work she can’t keep up with and a life she’s not happy with because her mother has a set goal in her controlling mind for her children to achieve. Until she meets the art school gang, she just goes along with it. But once a life beyond her prestigious school uniform opens up to her, she struggles to find her own identity and self. Through the course of the series, Yukari tries to discover what she wants while she’s pulled in different directions by the people around her.
Enter the art school kids: George, Arashi, Miwako, and Isabella. Miwako is a Lolita that’s cute as a button and talks in third person. Arashi is a punk, born of punks, and in a punk band. Isabella is a trans girl, the epitome of elegance, and the mother figure to the group. George is the leader, cold, calculating, and too damaged to help himself, let alone anyone else. Not that that stops him from entering into a passionate, albeit, ill-advised relationship with Yukari, who he recruited to be his model in the coming spring fashion show for the Yazagaku school.
Most of the story revolves around these two and their dysfunctional relationship, with Arashi and Miwako’s dysfunctional relationship coming in with a close second. These two were my personal favourite part of the series, especially as you learn more about their pasts and how Arashi forced a sexual relationship and Miwako just went along with it because she loves him.
George and Yukari are a more stylized type of romance. George is rich and Yukari is beautiful, and while the relationship is fair from the idealized romance of Shōjo manga, it’s still being idealized. Arashi and Miwako come off more naturally within the story. Their relationship is built on childhood friendship and is still immature, a lot of it based on jealousy and sex. But they work on it. Arashi changes himself instead of forcing the change on Miwako, like he’d been doing before. George and Yukari just go with the crazy, while Arashi and Miwako try to untangle themselves from it. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of layers of rape culture with the two and it makes Arashi problematic, but it’s an interesting character study.
If it isn’t obvious yet, Paradise Kiss is heavy on the drama. But there are moments of comedy with Arashi’s over-reactions and Miwako’s child-like enthusiasm. And Isabella, free of any of the teenage romance, is a sort of detached party for the readers to observe the relationships happening within Paradise Kiss at a distance. There’s levity when Isabella is around because she’s not participating in any of the angst. She’s just a quiet observer that evens the tone of the story out.
Of course the romance and the drama that unfolds in all their lives (Yukari’s especially) is what’s going to keep you reading. Seeing the characters change and learn is beautifully done in how realistic it is. George is the biggest wildcard to the realism, but he was designed to be a wildcard in everything. Things don’t go as any of the character’s planned. Is there anything truer to life than disappointment? You’ll even find yourself disagreeing with many of their choices but still have the “just one more chapter” urge to keeping going because you have to know what happens.
The weakest aspect of Paradise Kiss? I would personally say how short it is. With only five volumes, you’ll more than likely do what I did: devour the entire series in a single afternoon and be left pining for more.
Honestly though, less is more. Paradise Kiss is a slice of life manga, a contained and set amount of time to show one thing, one subject, and then end. It does what it sets out to do incredibly well, and me wanting more is just me being greedy. Five volumes told the story that needed to be told. If it had gone on longer, the character development would have been stretched too thin and the teenage angst and stubbornness would have become grating. Just talk to each other, George and Yukari! Just trust that Miwako will forgive you because she loves you, Arashi!
Give it a Chance/Leave it Be
Paradise Kiss is a character heavy drama piece and it’s not going to appeal to everyone. The word romance at the top probably left doubts in your mind. Don’t let the word scare you. Paradise Kiss is an excellently crafted manga that portrays a group of characters that feel alive. They’re not living their lives within a manga; they’re just living their lives! Their interactions with each other and the world around them will make you smile and laugh, but also make you upset and thoughtful. There’s a sort of nostalgia to their terrible teenage decisions that ring true with everyone.
However, if you are absolutely not interested in character development, or a story that only briefly offers light-heartedness from the heaviness, move on. But please, don’t pass by Paradise Kiss because you’ve turned your nose up at the romance label. You’re doing yourself a serious disservice by judging this series on its general genre alone!