Monday, March 13, 2006

Paradise Kiss

Genre: Romance
Parental Guidance Recommended
Credits: 2000 Ai Yazawa, Shodensha

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Amazon Editorial Description:
Yukari wants nothing more than to make her parents happy by studying hard and getting into a good college. One afternoon, however, she is kidnapped by a group of self-proclaimed fashion mavens calling themselves "Paradise Kiss." Yukari suddenly finds herself in the roller coaster life of the fashion world, guided by George, art-snob extraordinaire. In a glamorous makeover of body, mind and soul, she is turned from a hapless bookworm into her friends' own exclusive clothing model.

(5 tankubon)

No stereotypes here>>> by thundersenshi
If you're looking for a quick shoujo mush-fix, you may want to rethink about reading this title. But I will recommend it to anyone who's looking for a worthwhile read. I just found it really unique, especially for a girl's manga, but I was also surprised to learn that according to TokyoPop, it was one of the top-selling shoujo titles in Japan. I didn't think something a bit lacking in the usual shoujo fanservice would sell so well.

This story by popular mangaka Ai Yazawa is about coming of age, first loves, and realizing dreams. It may sound like a familiar formula, but it's not the typical shoujo fanfare that'll usually make a girl sigh and daydream. It's a relentless story of life and love, unpredictable and sometimes harsh. With Yazawa's art and the totally bizarre world of fashion designers, the setting is almost surreal, but the conflicts that occur are realistic and unmerciful. The drama is there, with a bit of glamour every now and then (that is reminiscent of showbiz sob stories) and in the center of it is the anything-but-typical hero George.

I have never encountered a more unlikely leading man for a shoujo manga, but there you go! He doesn't even look the part; if pictures of the characters were to be flashed right in front of you, chances are you'd get the male lead wrong. George is frustrating, excruciatingly unpredictable (he never says or does anything that's expected) and possibly bi-polar (and self-admittedly bisexual!), but there's no arguing that he's definitely no ordinary (nor boring) shoujo hero. None of the characters in the manga are ordinary, anyway, but George tops them all off by being the most frustrating. And yet, one can't help but experience his life as it unfolds in the manga. Especially when it tangles inevitably with the heroine's, Yukari.

Yukari is possibly the closest anchor you get to "normal", in that one can easily relate to her reactions to circumstances and confusion. She starts off as just another schoolgirl, like many shoujo heroines, but she eventually breaks out of the mould as she learns more about honesty in dealing with her problems. One can't help but empathize with her, even when she's just as stubborn and frustrating as George. She's at that point in her life when she makes her most important decisions. The pressures of being an entrance examiner, a daughter to a traditional and perfectionist mother and being in a roller coaster romance can sometimes be too much for an 18-year old girl to handle. She's human in that she makes mistakes, too, and learns from them.

One also wonders at times at the opportunities found and lost by all characters, their hopes and possibly, regrets. Not just George and Yukari, but also Miwaka, Hiro, Arashi and Isabelle. Everyone went through a tough time in their young lives. The pangs of having different priorities from loved ones is something that is all too real and personal. This manga deals a lot with unexpected turns of that kind--funny, warm, but oftentimes painful experiences, too. And a story can't get more honest than that, which makes Paradise Kiss a unique and unforgettable read, filled with bittersweet memories and great triumphs.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 7; Story 8; Characters 8

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