Paradise Kiss 10 + Omake

Well, it’s finally time to wrap up Paradise Kiss.

The final chapter is also the shortest in the book, but I’ll start with the cover page.

Isabella more appearances
Me too, Isabella. Me too.

I remember liking Isabella’s character the first time I read through Paradise Kiss. Isabella was the first transgender character I was aware of who wasn’t treated as a punchline. One of my favorite side stories showed her shared childhood with George, when she was being raised as a boy. The first dress George made was a gift for her, and helped her find her identity as Isabella. Throughout the manga she shows herself to sweet and caring, and has a deep bond with George, sticking with him through thick and thin.

The first volume focused mostly on Yukari and Miwako, so there wasn’t a lot of room for Isabella this time around. But this cover page almost makes me want to continue reading Paradise Kiss just to see more of her.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen in this book’s final chapter. But we do see Yukari start to grow up. Up to this point, she’s idolized her crush, Tokumori. But in this chapter she starts to see his flaws, too, and realizes he can be mean and petty. Instead, she turns her attention towards George, waiting for him to call her.

Except that she pretends that she’s not. This is another instance of “so high school”: acting like you’re not waiting for him to call, or pretending that this guy isn’t in your mind all day. When they finally do meet up, Yukari shouts at George for making her wait and for not calling, and George gives her a chance to back out of modeling. Tears running down her face, Yukari says that she’ll keep working, and she and George finally share their first kiss.

There is a lot of high drama and angst, and Yukari and George’s relationship ultimately doesn’t last. But it’s still rather sweet: your first kiss, and your first love. That’s also pretty high school, but in a good way.

The last section of this book is the “omake”, or bonus. Omakes are sometimes at the end of a manga volume that might show behind-the-scenes creation, or just have the characters being silly. What caught my attention, though, was just how dated it was. There’s a reference to the Sega Dreamcast, discontinued in 2001, and Geocities, closed in 2009.

Time waits for no man, I suppose. For no man, and no manga.

Paradise Kiss 9: So High School

This chapter reminded me why Paradise Kiss is a great series for high schoolers, and  no one else. After her close call with George, Yukari meets back up with Miwako, who’s been crying and is clearly upset.

Something struck me about Paradise Kiss here, which makes it stand out from other drama/romance manga. The “Ordinary World” portion of the story is barely there.

In a lot of manga, particularly shojo manga, the first chapter is normally dedicated to showing the protagonist’s every day life before her world is turned upside down by a handsome stranger. This usually includes friends, family, and school life, if she has one. But Paradise Kiss doesn’t give us that introduction. It starts with Yukari running into Arashi and Isabella by chance, and goes from there. We don’t really see what her life was like before this.

Then again, we don’t really need to. At the start of the manga, she doesn’t have much personality, but develops as a character over time, with the help of her colorful new friends. Her backstory unfolds throughout the story, and here it focuses on her crush on Tokumori. Later books will also explore Yukari’s relationship with her demanding mother, and the rest of the characters’ pasts as well.

Here we learn that Yukari is a good friend, even if the only person in her “ordinary world” we’ve seen her interact with is Tokumori. When she sees that Miwako’s been crying, she wants Miwako to tell her about what happened, even if it’s something that Yukari won’t like to hear.

As Miwako explains the love triangle between her, Tokumori, and Arashi, the only thing I wrote in my notes was, “so high school”.

I don’t think that teenagers are too young to fall in love and have deep and meaningful relationships, or that relationship drama magically ends when you graduate. What tipped the “so high school” balance for me wasn’t just the drama, but Miwako’s idealization of Arashi and and Yukari’s naive advice to her.

For some context: when Miwako lived close to both Arashi and Tokumori, she fell for both of them, and they fell for her. Arashi demanded that she choose between the two. After Miwako chose Arashi, he said that he never wanted her to see Tokumori again. Arashi’s already shown himself to be rude and brash, and we can add “jealous” and “possessive” to his list of negative traits. These are traits that Miwako could have romanticized. He’s jealous because he cares so much about her, while ignoring the other implications of his jealousy.

20180729_1843315851879524899115920.jpgYukari doesn’t help much when it’s her turn to give advice. She admits that she’s probably the worst person to give Miwako advice on her love life, and when she does, it sounds like…well, it sounds like it’s ripped straight of a shojo manga.

In this situation, it’s the blind leading the blind, and with no other experience to build on, they both have to let their emotions be the guide.

And that is why this is “so high school”.

Paradise Kiss 8: Frozen Yogurt of Romance

The eighth chapter of Paradise Kiss begins and ends with shots of Miwako and her talk with Tokumori, but for the most part focuses on the budding relationship between George and Yukari. I mentioned before that I don’t like the way George goes out of his way to get under Yukari’s skin, and Yukari explains exactly why.

Yukari hits the nail on the head with her narration:

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There’s an ambiguous zone between flirting and an actual relationship, and being stuck there indefinitely is maddening. George is keeping Yukari there because it’s fun for him to see her flustered, even if he does actually like her. George is the frozen yogurt of boyfriends:

tenor

Yukari decides to take control of the situation, rather than let George keep manipulating her. She challenges him in a way that kind of sounds…well, just as bad as George’s attitude.

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As they are about to kiss, George gets a call, and answers his phone instead of paying attention to Yukari. This was a pretty telling moment for the character: he cares about fashion and his work more than he cares about her. This is also a great moment of foreshadowing. Spoiler alert for an almost twenty-year-old* manga: George and Yukari do not have a happily ever after. In the end, they drift apart, focusing more on their careers than each other.

Chapter 8 was short, and I don’t have a snappy way to end this, except to say that George is a heel, but so is Yukari.

 

Paradise Kiss 7: The Trouble With George

Chapter 7 begins with Yukari going Tokumori to get tea, and (unbeknownst to him), reunite with Miwako. As they head to the cafe, George passes by them, and doesn’t say anything. Yukari doesn’t know what to think of this, and spends a page just trying to figure out why George ignored her.

Some of Paradise Kiss has gotten better since I’ve gotten older, but not this scene. Yukari over-analyzes George’s non-reaction to her as only a teenage girl can. I would know. I used to do it, too. What might have been relatable to me ten years ago is now just annoying, and it makes me glad that I’ve matured beyond that mentality. Well, mostly.

Tokumori notices Yukari acting weird, and asks her if something’s wrong. This leads to a discussion about school and their futures, and Yukari learns that Tokumori has the same doubts that she does. Yukari is surprised by this, and her reflections confirm my suspicions that this is actually the first real conversation she’s had with him.

Lazy editing job is lazy.

This is a strike against Yukari in my book. Through this read-through, I found that I liked her because she had her own doubts, along with a fairly cynical attitude that often matches mine. But idealizing someone without even trying to talk to them, this “love from afar”, just seems so immature.

When Yukari and Tokumori meet Miwako at the cafe, the two childhood friends are reunited in…a very awkward fashion. Yukari hadn’t warned either of them that the other would be there, wanting it to be a surprise. She hadn’t taken into consideration that Tokumori may have had feelings towards Miwako when they were younger, but that Miwako had chosen Arashi over him.

Yukari makes her escape from the awkward situation, leaving Tokumori and Miwako by themselves to catch up together. She decides to head, of all places, to the Paradise Kiss studio. There she runs into George, who tells her he didn’t greet her because he was jealous of seeing Yukari with another guy.

At this point, I’m sure that Yukari’s attraction to George is largely because she’s the only guy she’d been able to speak candidly with so far. Arashi is nothing but rude to her, and her relationship with Tokumori is distant at best. He also balances Yukari out in some aspects. He has passion and drive, whereas she is full of doubt and uncertainty. In fact, that’s the key difference between Yukari and the Yazawa Arts students: Yukari doesn’t know where she wants to go, but they know exactly what they want in their futures.

The end of this chapter marks the beginning of a possible relationship with George, but it feels rather superficial. This is maybe the fourth time we’ve seen Yukari and George talk to on another, and most of those conversations have been about modeling for the fashion show. He treats her more as a vehicle to showcase his work than as a person.

I’m trying to find the right words to explain just why I don’t like George, but I think what bothers me most about him is his sense of entitlement. Apart from his conversation with Yukari at the library – which he planned – he’s largely indifferent to her. Yet, he admits he was jealous of seeing her with someone else, a classmate who Yukari was well within her rights to be with. Additionally, he asks Yukari, almost mockingly, if she’s falling in love with him. Since the chapter ends there, we don’t see Yukari’s response other than some nervousness, and we don’t know if George will reciprocate a confession of feelings…or if he’s just trying to get under Yukari’s skin.

 

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.

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 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.