Paradise Kiss Vol. 1

By Ai Yazawa
192 pages, black and white
Published by TokyoPop

All right, I’ll admit it. The first time around, I completely missed out on Paradise Kiss. A book about fashion designers just didn’t sound interesting enough to grab my attention in the sea of new series being unleased on the market, and then several of the books in the series briefly went out of print. Now that TokyoPop is bringing new printings of the series to out, I decided to give it another try and it turns out everyone else was right: I should have been reading this ages ago.

Yukari’s a typical Japanese student, studying to pass the entrance exams to a high-class college. Then she runs into four students from the fashion department of Yazawa Arts, and they have an offer for her to become a model for their new clothing line. At first Yukari does everything in her power to say no, but the allure of the “Paradise Kiss” clothes is there… or is it the allure of one of the designers? Perhaps a bit of both?

The first volume of Paradise Kiss has one of the most realistic “transformation” scenes I’ve read in quite a while, there’s no doubt about that. Yukari’s the sort of person in the first chapter who wouldn’t give the members of Paradise Kiss the time of day, but it’s very much to Ai Yazawa’s credit that she was not only able to make Yukari sticking around believable, but that she’s able to take Yukari through such an eye opening set of events so effortlessly. What could have felt forced and trite as Yukari begins to get to know the four designers instead just comes across naturally, with events driven by the characters themselves and unfolding in a simple and naturalistic way. Yazawa writes a lot about love and desire and emotion in Paradise Kiss, and she does so perfectly. By the end of the first volume, Yukari’s in a very different place and I found myself really happy to see it, as well as dying to read the next installment.

Yazawa’s art is a very delicate, graceful creation. It uses very thin, almost microscopic lines to carefully create the characters, using as little ink as possible to piece the features together. It’s a beautiful look, and one that’s different from the majority of books coming across the sea from Japan these days. There are places where you feel almost like you’re catching just brief glimpses of these characters as they pause for a split second, letting the viewer catch them, before drifting away and out of sight. It’s strange because in other hands this sort of approach could have made the characters look stiff and posed, but there’s always a sense of motion and movement in Yazawa’s art. And of course, Paradise Kiss is a book about style, and that’s definitely on display here. From foppish jacket sleeves to elaborate braided hair, everything is designed to look special and unique. I don’t know if Yazawa merely used a lot of fashion reference material to create the look of Paradise Kiss or if it all came out of her head, but either way the characters really do look like they belong in the fashion industry, keeping the credibility of the story alive.

This is a really nice series, and I’m now understanding why there was so much talk about it. It’s not really at all what one would expect, with a book about fashion designers really being about desire and what one wants to do versus what one should do. With the plot advancing so quickly in just one volume, I really am eager to see just what will happen in volumes two through five. Don’t make the same mistake I did and miss out on Paradise Kiss a second time.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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