Before I start to talk about Paradise Kiss: This awesome looking game will be coming to America this winter. Hooray! It's Namco/Bandai and tri-Crescendo's (Eternal Sonata) newest title for the Wii: Fragile. Definitely going to have to dust off the Wii for this one.
Jay, over at Toybox, keeps a running tally of all the anime he watches each year. I recently started keeping a list of the novels I read per year (so I can look at it later and scold myself for slacking off), and decided an anime list wouldn't hurt, so I could remember what I've seen. I don't know how accurate my current tally is, but I know the ones on there are shows that I've completed this year, at the very least. I count 24 (which includes a couple films, and a couple of re-watches). Which I think makes me about even with him, actually. :) Working on 25 and 26 right now (Skip Beat! and Gankutsuou). You may notice that there are not 24 corresponding reviews this year. That's because I'm slacking off with the writing...which I really shouldn't be doing (because I'll forget what I thought of the series). I'm going to have to work on this.
Now on to the review!
Paradise Kiss is a sweet romantic comedy (with lots of drama) based on the 5 volume manga series by Ai Yazawa (NANA). Now as the manga was so short, I managed to read it while I was waiting on the 3 DVDs to arrive in the mail, so I may be talking about them intermittently through this review. They stick pretty close together, with some minor changes; the biggest being a slightly ambiguous and rushed ending to the anime (specifically a very important development scene for Arashi; the series could have benefited from just one more episode really) against a better paced and more definitive manga ending, and also a lack of most of the humor that appears in the manga. The sex is also downplayed a bit in the anime, notably a (very) brief S&M scene between George and Yukari, which is entirely absent (it's not superfluous; it is actually important to George's character). But when you get down to it, if you like the story, you must watch the anime regardless; it's really something to see all the clothes on your screen in full design and color. And the clothes are a major part of Paradise Kiss.
High school student Yukari (nicknamed Caroline by her friends) is walking home from school one day when she is accosted by a scruffy looking boy (with safety pins sticking out of his lip and brow, ouch) who asks her to be a model for a fashion show. Entirely freaked out by his passionate approach she attempts to run away but is stopped by a large woman named Isabella, who kidnaps her and takes her to an underground sewing studio. Here she meets Arashi, Isabella, Miwako and George, a group of fashion design students at a near by vocational school. They want her to model their design for a scholarship contest. Taken aback by their bright personalities, strange clothes, and very different life philosophy, she initially declines the offer. To Yukari, the group is wasting their time, piddling away at a hobby, while she studies hard at a top school, trying to get into a good college to please her uptight mother. What she fails to understand, but quickly learns, is that this group of people is following a dream, working hard to become artists in a competitive field, working toward a goal - something that Yukari herself lacks. Yukari studies and attends a prestigious school simply because her mother wants her to; she has no goals or ambitions of her own. When she accepts their request to model George's dress, her entire life is turned upside down, but she grows and discovers her true self, the Paradise Kiss crew her inspiration. A romantic relationship quickly forms with the bisexual, arrogant, cold (he's totally emotionally warped), and intensely creative George that spins her life even more out of control. Somehow, through everything, she is able to convince George, her mother, and herself that she is capable of being independent, making her own decisions, and building her own life.
The English voice over is alright, though I preferred to watch the show in Japanese. Arashi's English voice was too...effeminate maybe? Isabella's voice, in both the English and the Japanese, was too feminine (it is a girl voicing her both times) for a trannie, post- OR pre-op. The English voice for George makes him sound kind of sleazy. In Japanese he seems colder and a little cruel at times. I like that version better. Even though it really makes me feel that poor Yukari is just being naive, and being strung along by George. But it's not that kind of show. His cold manner helps her grow as an individual. He genuinely does love her, that's very clear; but he is extremely cold toward her and there are many arguments and lots of tears throughout. Somehow the cold and overly critical George is exactly what Yukari needs to propel her forward in her otherwise stagnate life. George loves independent women, but the more independent she becomes the further it takes her from George, and if she tries to return to him, he despises her for it; it's a vicious cycle that remains dominant through the entire series.
[slight spoiler here]
The romantic in me wanted so badly for things to work out between Yukari and George but.... The nature of his personality.... The closer she would try to be become with him, the more he would despise her. He wants her to be independent and take responsibility for herself, which means she can't rely on him in any way, blame him for her problems, or choose him over things in her own life. They wouldn't make each other happy. Because in order for him to love her more, she has to become independent of him. And there's no relationship there.
[end spoiler stuff]
Actually Yuraki reminds me a lot of myself, but she's much stronger than I am. She broke away and excelled; I've sort of regressed. I'm just saying that I identify with the character. Though admittedly, my parents weren't as harsh. Or rather, I don't think I had the opportunity to see that, because I had no trouble keeping my grades up. It came easily, so I don't know how they would have reacted if I had been struggling like Yukari. But I can say that when I said "I want to go to college and study theatre," they were behind me 100% from the beginning. But I'm comparing myself with a fictional character built expressly to tell this kind of story, so reflecting on my life in comparison to hers is a little silly.
The animation style reminds me a lot of Mahou Tsukai...Natsu no Sora. But it's actually written by the woman who wrote the Nana manga. It does have the same director (Osamu Kobayashi), so I suppose it comes from there. Because the elements of comparison don't exist in the manga.
The story reminds me a lot of Banri Hidaka's I Hate You More Than Anyone, but I think Paradise Kiss handles it a bit better. More realistic anyway. Where Yukari pursues a modeling career due to the influence of the ParaKiss crew, the lead character of I Hate You... decides to become a hair dresser like the man who is in love with her because she sees the passion he has in creating something with his own hands (which is also one of the reasons Yukari loves George so much).
Paradise Kiss' 12 episodes are available on 3 discs from Geneon/Funimation, and in a box set. DVD extras include interviews with the Japanese cast and crew (including a wonderful presentation where the actress for Yukari, Yu Yamada, wears the realized design of the ParaKiss dress that her character models in the anime), clean credits (and it has a really rockin' intro), and some small art galleries (notably a collection of designs from a fashion design contest). The manga is available in 5 volumes from Tokyopop. Fox International is also considering a live action film adaptation of the story.