I am woefully unqualified to judge fashion. Sure, I may like to restyle my hair every now and then and look at nice clothes, but my normal ensemble of clothes consists of plain tees and jeans. I do however think I'm qualified to judge a manga about people into fashion and their dramatic lifestyles.
Paradise Kiss 1
Created by Ai Yazawa
Published by Vertical Inc.
Anyway, the story of Paradise Kiss follows serious high school student Yukari Hayasaka, who is preparing for her college exams. She's been raised to believe that nothing is important in life than getting into a good college, as what college you go to defines you. The problem is that she has no idea what she wants to do with her life beyond school, but she's given a chance to find that purpose when she runs into some students from a fashion school that want her to be their model. She initially resists these strange people, but she succumbs to their wishes when she meets their handsome leader, George, who has a way with words and women. However, this new development in her life has consequences.
Despite the strange outlandish fashion students and the occasional fourth wall jokes, this manga is refreshingly realistic in its depiction of real life. Yukari's plight with not knowing what to do with her life is something many young adults face, and while initially reluctant to join the Atelier, the little club the fashion students have, it's no surprise she gives into the temptation to find something more in life. Sure, it brings some hardships into her life, especially when she starts falling for George, but she is ultimately breaking out of her cozy cocoon to become an adult. That butterfly metaphor surprisingly works, as butterflies are a common motif in the story, usually as part of the designs the fashion students make. It's even prominently featured on the cover of the book.
I'm sure the fashion world is an interesting place and creating fashion is a particularly deep artistic subject, but the story's not really about fashion, just the people involved in it. This is not a bad thing as these characters are definitely unique and the main draw of the story. George is of course the most interesting of the Atelier. He can come across as cold, aloof, and even a tad manipulative, but he clearly gets people. The aloof personality seems to be a result of genius fashion mind, a common trait for prodigies in any field. He definitely gets along with the other members nicely; he can be demanding, but he's an inspiring leader to them, and especially to Yukari since he's the one to get her to try something new. They eventually form a relationship, but it's a roller coaster ride for the two; George is the more experienced and distant of the two, and Yukari's more dependent and lost, and it creates a straining tension between them. They get mad each other, talk things out, fall back in love again, etc. It feels like a genuine relationship between two human beings. The beta couple of the series is Arashi and Miwako, two other members of the Atelier. They're an even more mismatched couple than Yukari and George, Arashi being a punk guitar player with safety pins in his face and Miwako being a cute woman-child, but they manage to be an endearing despite their differences.
Further illustrating the real-life qualities of the manga is the artstyle. It has a tendency to look cartoony during comedy bits, but the default style is about as realistic as manga gets. Special mention goes to the various dresses the Atelier makes. I'm not a fashion critic, but the way they're drawn is gorgeous. They're extremely detailed, and if this weren't a comic, you'd feel as if they were really there. The cartoony bits are actually not that derailing either. Ai Yazawa's strengths as an artist definitely are in drawing people, but she's got a good sense of comedic timing in her art.
This is a good start to the series, and I'm thankful that Vertical rescued this. They're releasing the final two parts, and I plan to review them as they come out. Regardless of where the series goes, I recommend buying part 1, as it works as its own story in some ways, but I definitely can't wait to get my hands on the next part.