Paradise Kiss 4: Childhood Friends

Something didn’t occur to me until just now as we dive further into Paradise Kiss: we’ve never seen Yukari’s “ordinary day”. Most stories, particularly those that follow a monomyth structure, usually have this “ordinary day” at the beginning, where we can see what the main character’s life is like before the adventure starts. This gives us a frame of reference for how the character’s life is about to be turned upside down, be it by hatching a dragon or meeting someone new. But we haven’t gotten your typical “ordinary world” with Paradise Kiss. There’s maybe two pages in the beginning of the book that focus on Yukari’s thoughts before she gets spotted by Arashi and Isabella, and taken to their studio.

And yet, without a typical ordinary day sequence, we get a good sense of what her life is like. School, then cram school, all the while wondering what she wants out of her future. I think the strangeness of going to the studio and meeting George and his crew would have been better emphasized by showing this ordinary day, particularly for non-Japanese audiences, but it’s not necessary.

I only noticed this because chapter four is the first time we actually see Yukari at school, but we know from her narration that school is one of the biggest stressors in her life. We also – finally – meet Hiro Tokumori. Tokumori is one of Yukari’s classmates, and she has a big crush on him. In the first chapter, Yukari accidentally leaves her student passbook in the studio, where she happens to have a picture of Tokumori. She is

mortified at the thought that George might have seen the picture.

However, the day at school doesn’t last long, and we don’t see much of Tokumori. What I like about the Paradise Kiss studio crew is that, even if they haven’t had much screen time yet, I can already see some of their inner worlds, Miwako’s in particular. But not so with Tokumori. I’ve read the entire Paradise Kiss series before this, and honestly…I can’t remember a thing about his personality.

At this point, Tokumori’s presence and the photo is really only there to show Yukari’s budding attraction to George, though she won’t admit it yet, and probably doesn’t know it herself. It turns out George never saw the photo of Tokumori, and Yukari’s incredibly relieved. Here we see the beginnings of a conflict that has nothing to do with the fashion show. Yukari has a big crush, and she doesn’t want George to know about it. As I mentioned in my last entry, a good romance should have some realism to it, and this is exactly it.

After school, Yukari goes back to the studio, though she hasn’t decided yet whether she wants to model or not. She receives 20180625_102741133643277095666020.jpga shock after interrupting Arashi and Miwako making out on a pool table in the studio. Even though Yukari has stopped looking down on the art school kids by now, there’s still a gulf between her and them. It’s not that she’s shocked at the making out, that would surprise most people. But rather, Isabella, who is transgender, helping Miwako button up her shirt after.

While Miwako and Arashi are both pretty comfortable with Isabelle, Yukari can’t help thinking of her as a man, and it’s one of those things that gets brought up a couple times in this volume. To her (and Yazawa’s) credit, Yukari doesn’t say anything hateful to Isabella about her being transgender. Right now it’s just something she’s geeked out about, but as the series progresses, that strange feeling Yukari has towards Isabella fades away, and soon Isabella’s gender identity isn’t an issue for her.

Embarrassed about the situation, Yukari offers to go out and get tea for everyone, and Miwako tags along. While they’re alone, Miwako asks Yukari about the photo of Tokumori in her student passbook, incorrectly assuming that Tokumori is Yukari’s boyfriend. As it turns out, Miwako, Arashi, and Tokumori used to live together in the same apartment. When I first read this, I assumed that they meant the same actual apartment, but now I realize that they could mean just the apartment building. It’s not entirely clear.

I only recently learned that before Paradise Kiss, Yazawa published another manga, Gokinjo Monogatari, which follows Miwako’s older sister, Mikako. Gokinjo Monogatari may answer some of the questions I have about Miwako’s and Arashi’s past, but I’ve yet to read it.

As far as the childhood friends turned lovers trope, I don’t hate it, but it’s not my favorite, either. I just don’t see it as all that realistic, depending on the age of the characters. I can buy high school sweethearts who fell in love, parted ways, and came back together. But I don’t think falling in love with your childhood friend that you’ve spent most of your life with is that realistic. Part of this is the Westermarck effect, which hypothesizes that children who live closely together during their early years will not find each other attractive as they grow older, seeing each other more as brothers and sisters than potential mates. Like most social theories, it can’t be proven or disproved, so I would like to offer up one of my own:

You just get sick of each other.

When you spend almost all of your days with one person, there are times when you’re going to get tired of each other. You’ll get irritated and fight, and need to take a break, be it for a few hours or a few days. It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about each other, it just means you need a break. This happens with friends, siblings, lovers, just about anyone who lives in constant close contact with another person. Often, the root cause of many of the fights I had with my sister were just because we’d spent too much time together.

This is actually addressed in the manga, when Arashi and Miwako are going through a rough patch. Miwako is concerned about Arashi’s silence, and he just tells her that when you’ve talked to someone else almost every day of your life, at some point you’re going to run out of things to say. The usual cutesyness of the childhood friends trope gets undercut by the problems in their relationship, one of which is the love triangle between Miwako, Arashi, and their childhood friend, Tokumori.

Most of the chapter is dedicated to Yukari getting to know Miwako better, and her shared past with Tokumori. Miwako is quickly becoming my favorite character in the book. While referring to herself in third person drives me crazy, she’s adorable and chipper, like a ray of technicolor sunshine. Between Arashi’s brash attitude and Yukari’s cynicism, Miwako brings some joy into an otherwise dramatic series.

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Paradise Kiss 3

I’m still working on the question of “is Paradise Kiss objectively good?” as I read through this book. To be honest, I’m liking it a lot more than I thought I would. One thing that I forgot about romance manga, though, is that the plot and character development tends to move more slowly than, say, an action or fantasy manga. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Romance isn’t just about the main characters falling in love, or the steamy scenes everyone looks forward to. They’re about attraction, longing, and the tantalizing conflicts that make the relationship seem impossible.

A good romance needs nuance and realism without leaving behind the fantasy: of a gorgeous man stealing a kiss, or a smile from that mysterious woman on the train, or that meet-cute in the book store you’ve always secretly wanted.

The third chapter of Paradise Kiss shows us the first real interaction between Yukari, and her future lover, George. At least, first interaction where Yukari isn’t freaking out.

The slow pace feels relaxing and real as they meet “by chance” in the library, though Yukari later learns that George had planned it. There, she starts to see another side of George, one that wasn’t apparent when she herself was being swept away – literally – by the other characters who want Yukari to model for them. In this one-on-one setting, Yukari starts to see George’s ambition and work ethic. She’s also envious that George knows what he wants to do with his life and has a dream, while Yukari isn’t sure what hers really is.

Yukari’s inner conflict about not knowing what she wants to do is very relatable. Like many people, she’s done what she’s been told: good family, good background, go to school, prepare for college. This hasn’t made her happy, and she doesn’t know, exactly, what will. She doesn’t know what her passions are. It’s an uncomfortable place to be. If the Paradise Kiss students are shining stars, Yukari is a white dwarf.

The real significance of this scene is that Yukari shares her troubles and feelings with George. Before, we’ve only known about them through her narration, and she’s moved to tears because George wanted to listen to her problems. Which kind of makes me wonder, what kind of lonely life does she have, where George is the only person who wants to listen to her?

Paradise Kiss 2: Meet the Cast

The second chapter of Paradise Kiss gives us a proper introduction to George, Yukari’s love interest. Yukari had left her student passbook at the studio, and George takes Yukari to his high school with the promise of returning it. Yukari is more than a little freaked out when he picks her up, especially after George’s cryptic promise to take her to “Paradise”.

In this chapter we learn more about our cast, and I was a little surprised to find that I actually liked Yukari this time around. When I first read this years ago, I thought she was just a downer, who spent most of her time complaining and being stand-offish. Now I understand her character better. She’s a young woman who’s uncertain what she wants to do with her life, but knows that she wants something more than what she has now. Everyone can relate to that.

George, on the other hand…I never liked George. When I was younger, he struck me as too arrogant to be truly likable, and too forward with Yukari for me to be comfortable with. At the moment I can’t cast judgement on the romance aspect of their relationship, as it doesn’t start until the end of the book, but I can still say that his arrogance remains intact, and I still don’t like him for it.

Then there are the others in “Paradise Kiss”, the fashion studio that George and his friends run. This chapter focuses on Miwako and Arashi, with the pattern designer Isabella out of the spotlight. As much as I hate the way Miwako talks (culturally relevant, yes, but still annoying), I can’t help but like her. She’s bright and sunny and struggles with her own insecurities as an artist. For example, Miwako’s older sister is also a fashion designer, and Miwako wanted to follow her sister’s footsteps. However, Miwako also says that she’s not talented enough to be a designer. Everything she designs comes out looking too much like something her sister would make, and she doesn’t have an artistic style of her own.

That one stung a little bit. When I was a kid, I wanted to do everything my sister did. I grew out of that, but I still admire my older sister and look up to her in a lot of ways. But I also understand Miwako’s self-doubt, especially as I’m trying to make a career for myself as a writer. You’re worried about finding an original idea, or everything sounds the same, or comes to close to a book you’re reading. It can be a struggle to find your own voice. Miwako has kind of given up on doing just that, but is still dedicated to helping George and making clothes.

Then there’s Arashi. My question is: is he supposed to be British? Like, a British punk? He frequently says “blimey” and his dialogue is written to evoke a vaguely English accent. But he’s Japanese, right? I don’t recall any backstory where Arashi went to England for a study abroad, or anything like that…

That said, Arashi’s speaking patterns may have something to do with dialect, regional language differences. These are details that may be a bit confusing when translating a manga from Japanese too English. For example, in one translated manga I read, a Kansai dialect was written to sound like a country accent, or slang. Is this just Tokyopop’s way of trying to do that?

As for the character  himself…Are you British or not?!when I picked the manga up for the first time, Arashi was the character I really wanted to like. I loved his punk look, especially the safety pin lip ring.

But he’s rude and abrasive, though at the time I allowed his perceived hotness to make up for that. Now that the hotness factor has faded for me, he’s just a jerk. Miwako, why are you dating him? You could do so much better.

Paradise Kiss 1: Welcome to Paradise

There’s been a theme in the books I’ve been choosing for this blog. You may have noticed it: “Here is a book from my youth that I liked, does it still hold up?” While the answer changes depending on the book, I’m taking a slightly different approach to this new series. Because instead of taking something I loved, I’m taking a series that I didn’t really care for, but probably should have.

Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa is, to me, the Cowboy Bebop of the shojo genre. I’ve heard it praised to high heaven for its art style, the story, the characters, and clothes. Definitely the clothes. I am led to believe that it is objectively good.

But, like Cowboy Bebop, I really didn’t care for it, and was a failure of an otaku for that reason. However, when I watched Bebop when I was older and in college, I enjoyed the show much more. I first read Paradise Kiss at age fourteen, borrowed from my older sister, who loved the series.

Now I’m going to dive back into the world of high fashion and teen drama, while keeping two questions in mind:

  1. Has Paradise Kiss improved with age, specifically my age?
  2. Is it objectively good?

Let’s get started.

One of my main hang-ups about Paradise Kiss when I was younger was that I really didn’t like the main characters, Yukari and George. I remember them being both pretty stand-offish and arrogant, and it doesn’t take long in the first chapter for Yukari to show how judgmental she can be. But I was surprised at how similar we are in the first panel.

20180604_102709.jpgIt’s not just Yukari’s cynicism that I can relate to, though I have that in spades. But as I’m writing this, I’m living in a large city for the first time in my life. Getting anywhere is a terror, and what would be a five minute drive at home takes a good fifteen minutes here. It’s full of lines and crowds, which can be really anxiety producing for someone like me. I’ve lived here for the better part of a year now, and there are still aspects of it I haven’t gotten used to. And I will never, ever like city driving.

Maybe I really did need to be older to enjoy this. Older and grumpier.

Another thing that I like about this book, for the most part, is the art. It’s very stylized and different from a lot of the manga I was reading at the time. I really like that it’s more “mature” looking and the characters’ eyes don’t take up the majority of their faces. Flipping through the pages of this book, there are only a couple things about the overall art style that I don’t like.

The first is the hands. Close-ups show the hands to be long and knobbly, which fits with the style. I just can’t get over the giant monster hands.

The second thing that bothers me is the character Miwako’s lips.

Terrible photo quality is terrible

They’re emphasized in a way that they’re almost cartoonish, and I can’t figure out why. At first I thought it was to show that she’s wearing lipstick or makeup, but Yukari doesn’t get fish lips when she has make up on.

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My final issue with the book’s art is the panel layout, though that’s probably not Yazawa’s fault. Tokyopop, the publisher, is notorious for shrinking panels or cutting them, which is what most likely happened here. Furthmore, Paradise Kiss was originally published in a magazine, which would have given the artist more room for spacing out her panels. Shrinking it down to book size, unfortunately, makes the pages look crowded.

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Storywise, Paradise Kiss moves pretty quickly. It ought to, as it’s only 5 books long. We’re barely introduced to Yukari before she is accosted by Arashi and Isabella, two members of the titular Paradise Kiss fashion studio. Yukari is so shocked she faints. They take her to their studio, where they ask her to be their model. The ball’s a’rollin’. I could complain that the story moves a bit too quickly, except Yazawa does a great job of characterizing Yukari even in this fast-moving introduction. We also meet Arashi, Isabella, and Miwako, whose first impressions are likewise true to their characters as well. And at least this way we don’t have to get dragged through the introductory period of “Yukari is unhappy with her life and wants something more.” We get that right away, and learn more about her as the first chapter progresses.

As manga go, though, I’d say this one is not for beginners. This series is heavily rooted in Japanese culture, and if you’re unfamiliar with it, some of the significance of the story can go over your head, or drive you crazy. For example, Yukari is constantly worried about studying and getting into a good college, and complains about all the pressure on her. This isn’t uncommon for most high school students, but here it’s brought up to the level of melodrama…if you read it as an American. But Japanese students are under an insane amount of pressure to keep good grades and go to good schools. There are entrance exams not just for college, but high schools, junior high school, and even elementary schools. When I studied the Japanese language in college, my professor told us that there was a saying in Japan: if you get five hours of sleep, you fail; if you get four hours of sleep, you pass. While I can’t tell you how true this proverb is, it does show the high expectations placed on students.

Another thing that was driving me crazy until I looked it up was Miwako’s speech. She never says “I”, but always refers to herself as “Miwako”.

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I really couldn’t figure out why she was speaking this, and I’ve it done with other young female characters before. I suspected that this was a way for Yazawa to portray Miwako’s innocence or childishness. After a few minutes of Googling (Read the answer here!) I learned that women under thirty in Japan will refer to themselves by their first name rather than a first person pronoun. However, they would only do this in informal and private settings, like home, but not at school, and not with strangers. So Miwako referring to herself as “Miwako” also shows her character, but not in a way that I expected. When she calls herself Miwako, it tells a Japanese reader that she’s comfortable in the studio, and that she’s friendly enough to use her first name around someone she’s just met. To an American like me, it just sounds weird until I learned the deeper meaning.