BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Paradise Kiss (vols. 1-2) by Ai Yazawa, translated by Vertical, Inc.

Pardise Kiss 1-2“If I’d known, I wouldn’t have spent all my time studying and done all the things I really wanted to do,” thinks Yukari Hayasaka, dramatically believing she’s about to die. As a diligent 18-year-old preparing for high school final exams, her academic goals have thus far masked all thoughts of anything else: “I guess there wasn’t all that much I really wanted to do.”

When Yukari wakes up to three concerned looming faces – fashion design students in search of a model for their upcoming runway show who have brought her to their atelier workshop to recuperate after passing out on the street – she panics and bolts, but not before she drops her student ID. After safety-pinned punker Arashi, anachronistically cross-dressing Isabella, and little-girl-who-never-grew-up Miwako fail to entice Yukari (rechristened Caroline) to join their ParaKiss (short for the titular Paradise Kiss) atelier, smooth-talking, beautiful boy George manages to track her down at school the next day. Showing up in his flashy convertible, he delivers Yukari to an “international-level hair and make-up artist” who transforms her. He returns her to the atelier, garbs her in one of ParaKiss’s frothy creations, and suddenly Yukari barely recognizes her glamorous new self.

Enthralled with her makeover, Yukari reluctantly, uncertainly agrees to be the group’s model, knowing that her exam preparations can only suffer. But she’s smitten with gorgeous, unpredictable, openly bisexual George, and his friends at second meeting are far more interesting than anyone at school – except for maybe Tokumori who has always made her heart flutter. As student Yukari morphs into model Caroline, she begins to question her decisions – or, more accurately, other people’s decisions which she merely accepted. Until now.

As volume 2 opens, the all-important fashion show is mere weeks away, and Caroline is forced to admit her growing truancy to her demanding mother. Banned from returning to the atelier, Caroline instead leaves home. Arashi initially takes her in, gently warning “Don’t get too deeply involved with [George],” but she can’t stay away from George’s luxurious apartment – or sharing his bed. Desperate to establish some semblance of independence, her job search leads her to Miwako’s older sister’s highly successful clothing company. Is modeling what she really wants? Should she stay with George? Why doesn’t her mother seem to care at all?

Already widely popular in its native Japan and far beyond in its various iterations – manga, anime, live-action film, too – Kiss is a more serious coming-of-age drama than the swirling, high-fashion illustrations might seem to suggest at first glance. [That said, the well-timed moments of meta-comedy (references to the fashion magazine Zipper in which this series originally appeared, warnings about page limits in the least appropriate panels) provide ticklish comic relief.]

Beyond the Cinderella-like story of fashion dreams about-to-come-true, Yukari/Caroline faces serious challenges to her relationship with her domineering mother and her absent father (not to mention her manipulative little brother), her growing sexuality and troubling relationship with boy George who has a few troubling attachment issues of his own, and (most importantly) learning to pay careful attention to her own thoughts and feelings in spite of other people’s distracting chatter. She’s about to take center stage … and she needs to be ready.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)


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