Paradise Kiss, created by Ai Yazawa, sets itself at an odd kind of crossroad in terms of target audience. It straddles that fine line of appealing to older teens, whilst simultaneously aiming at women in their 20’s – an awkward time that covers a lot of changes in a woman’s life. It does this in part by presenting a realistic process in finding a career, as well as through its portrayal of its main romantic couple.
The series centres around the trials and tribulations of Yukari, a girl in her final year of high school (and struggling academically due to family pressure), who is suddenly thrust into the role of a model for a group of art students. As Yukari gets more entangled in the world and workplace of the fashion industry, she develops her own sense of self – a nice coming of age story for a slightly older audience. Alongside finding out what she wants from her career, Yukari must navigate her first puzzling romantic relationship with George (an aspiring designer who is a part of the band of students who first recruited Yukari), who is an emotionally distant but creatively invigorating enigma of a man. Yukari is an uptight, frantic woman, and her personality to some may seem somewhat irritating, yet we’re shown the circumstances that explain why she is the way she is. Her growth throughout the five volumes is inspiring for any woman just starting out in the workplace.
The series is fairly short at five volumes (3 in the English language Vertical release) but manages to pack a variety of ideas in the small sized chapters of each volume. The humour used is a mixture of classical slapstick and ironic quip, with many meta-references to the genre employed for laughs. The sardonic tone of the narration is refreshing, as her experiences with the group from Yaza Arts show the reader the realities of balancing career growth with important relationships in one’s life. In short, explores the troubles a young woman and those around her face as they mature, and the confusing nature of these changes.
As an additional note, Japanese pop-culture media tends to have not the best reputation in LGTBQ representation, but Paradise Kiss shows a generally respectful depiction of a trans woman as one of the side characters, with a moving side plot that touches on how making beautiful clothes helped hope bloom within her in regard to her female identity, and the expression of it.
Paradise Kiss was published in the Japanese Fashion magazine “Zipper” from 1999-2003, and Yazawa’s character designs show more of an influence from the famous Japanese counterculture movement and fashion than the usual more rounded, cutesy Shoujo art style that is typical of the genre (i.e. comics aimed at young girls). Furthermore, it usually cited as a landmark work when for readers when moving onto Josei comics (i.e comics that are aimed at women). The Josei market in the English speaking world has seen a boom recently, in part because the girls who used to read Shoujo in the 1990s have grown up, and thus the need to have works aimed at a more adult audience that has appeared (for an expanded look on this, check out this article from AniFem). Yazawa’s characters limbs and eyes are more realistically proportioned, lending the series a more grounded tone. The art is extravagant without losing its feel of realism.
This iconic and landmark series is something that stands out from much of the Japanese comics aimed at a female audience. Dealing with more mature themes, and examining a coming of age story for a young woman, it manages to draw attention with its vibrant yet realistic art style, its ability to handle delicate matters effectively, and the fact that it was able to be published in a fashion magazine instead of a usual comic book publication. Anyone with an interest in this genre should definitely check it out if they can.