18 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Shinmaru /

Paradise Kiss – Growing Up with Love

Paradise Kiss has an interesting love story in that I don’t care about the romance itself so much as how it’s used to help George and Yukari realize what they need to do to grow up and become better people.

Yukari and George are both selfish, self-absorbed people at the beginning of the series, which isn’t surprising given that they’re both teenagers. Who isn’t kind of a dick at that age? They’re also both driven people: George by his compulsion to express himself artistically through the creation of clothing, and Yukari by her desire to break out of what she realizes is a monotonous, stifling life. When Yukari is discovered on the streets by George’s cohorts, Arashi, Miwako and Isabella, and taken to the lounge where the fashion design students do their work, Yukari and George find in each other not only inspiration but the realization that they can be more than who they are.

(I’ll try to keep this post as spoiler-free as possible.)

Admittedly, I was skeptical about the setup through the first three episodes. Yukari may have a boring life, but it’s not a bad life, all things considered. She has family, a home, and is never really in want of anything, which are things plenty of folks take for granted. It was difficult for me to feel too sympathetic toward her at first. The thing is, Paradise Kiss is fully aware that Yukari is a selfish, self-absorbed teenager, and every story beat plays off that. The setup seems like a wish fulfillment sort of thing where a merry gang of eccentrics takes a normal girl and gives her an amazing life, but the show never disrespects the people behind Paradise Kiss (their student fashion label) like that. They do in fact open a new world for Yukari; however, it’s a world of self-determination, hard work and confronting the ugly things in life that people would rather ignore.

Yukari and George’s relationship perfectly encapsulates this. Yukari is stricken with George at first. He’s a tall, regal, handsome man with a lovely voice and a charming way with everyone he meets. He has a unique look to him. He’s an artist. He does whatever he wants. He has the type of life Yukari would like to lead if she were just a bit stronger. Yukari has a dependence on George that made me raise my eyebrow at first; however, it’s played off well because George isn’t that perfect gentleman Yukari imagines him to be. He’s kind of a dick, really — George treats Yukari quite coldly if she doesn’t live up to his expectations. They have a strong physical connection, but emotionally . . . very messy. Again, teenagers in love.

It’s that emotional messiness that pushes Yukari to better herself, though. She takes a good, hard look at her life and how she relates to George and decides what she wants to be. Yukari wants agency; she wants to be someone who forges her own path, whatever the consequences. She makes many good choices and many bad choices throughout the series. Those bad choices mainly come as a result of running away from things. There’s always a tendency to hesitate bubbling inside Yukari. She struggles with who she wants to be and why she wants to be that type of person. It’s when Yukari is able to face up to her problems that she can grow up and move on. Even then, life isn’t perfect, but when is it ever? I like that there’s some residual uncertainty, a black tinge to the light. There are few big decisions that are wholly good. Still, you have to face up to them as best you can. There’s a moment in episode 10 where every decision Yukari has made culminates in one moment that actually made me feel proud of her. Bit of a rare feeling for a fictional character, but there you go.

George, meanwhile, moves forward by degrees compared to Yukari’s leaps. He’s mostly comfortable with who he is and what he gets out of fashion. But there’s a point where his confidence in his art shifts to arrogance. He creates mostly for himself, which is fine, but he eventually reaches a point where he’d rather stop creating altogether than compromise his talents through business. It’s such a youthful ideal: if you can’t create your way, then your creations are irredeemably corrupted. That stubbornness and refusal to look beyond his own lens is perhaps George’s greatest flaw. He’s physically attracted to Yukari, and he clearly cares about her, but there are points where he looks at her and sees his artistic muse and nothing more. Perhaps that’s the thing with art and artists: it’s difficult to see the world in anything but that unique view.

But he’s able to find his own path by the conclusion, one that makes sense for him and opens up his world just a bit wider. It’s difficult to write about George’s development without spoiling, because a lot of his growth comes through confronting specific ugly things in his life. His eccentric persona feels natural, but it’s also a mask. His friends understand the most: George buries himself in creation to ignore that ugliness. But he has an enviable life, enviable talents and the opportunity to do great things with both. He mostly needs some knocks on the head to not waste what he has and to stop being such a prick.

One other striking element of Paradise Kiss is its aesthetic. It’s built much like a grounded teen drama: urban environments, very little background music (and when it does show up, it’s only in places that make sense), and a style of editing that makes each episode feel more like a set of intertwining vignettes than separate, concrete stories. It’s an interesting style that works well for the show. Admittedly I was thrown off at the beginning of the show because it establishes an entirely different pace compared to most anime. Even the comedic timing struck me as odd. But it grew on me hugely as the series developed.

This presentation style goes a long way toward humanizing the Paradise Kiss crew. Many people upon seeing these students would judge them immediately based on appearance. They’re not particularly outrageous people, though. They work hard, they have their own dreams and they forge their own paths but also help each other out. They have the typical flaws of youth (look at this 26-year-old asshole writing shit like that), but they’re ultimately good people. The evenhanded tone of Paradise Kiss doesn’t sensationalize them.

Maybe you’re wondering why this isn’t a live-action series, then? Well, it’s because, I think, this subject works much better in animation. I sneaked a peek at the Paradise Kiss live-action movie and thought it looked largely ridiculous. Maybe I’m judging harshly. None of the fashion in the Madhouse animated series looks ridiculous, though. The colors pop. The characters wear the clothing well; they become different people, comfortable in the skin they’ve created for themselves.  I can’t imagine the big dress Yukari wears at the end looks anything but silly in live action. Here? It’s pretty fuckin’ amazing. The style — like the characters have stepped straight from the pages of a fashion designer’s art book — is just better animated.

YouTube Preview Image

And, of course, the ED is the best.

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18 Comments

  1. Posted September 13, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t want to sully the post with this announcement, but I updated my grand, ever-evolving list of terribad nonsense yesterday: Terribad!. Complete with the Yu-Gi-Oh! movie and a new show at the bottom of the garbage pile!

    • lmm
      Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Is there some kind of new-only view for those of us who’ve read it already?

      (Also I’m sad to hear the conclusion because in visual novel terms ONE is the best thing KEY ever did. And they weren’t even KEY at the time)

      • Posted September 14, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        That’s way too complicated for me to figure out! I guess we’d have to make a separate page specifically for new additions to the list that’s updated at the same time as the main list? Dunno if Scamp would think it’s worth it. Maybe if enough people complain to him. :p

  2. Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    So, it looks like this anime is pretty much the same as manga, just animooted (I have read manga original when it was released in my country). Good thing I forgot most things, it may be a good time to pick that up.
    Also, this guide for terribad is awesome, I can’t watch Scamp’s reviews for various reasons so I’ll definitely read those :3

    • Posted September 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I haven’t read the manga, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were more or less faithful (just with art that probably isn’t as good).

      And, yeah, for those who don’t know, Scamp gets much of what he reviews from the same terribad group. His stuff is obviously more in-depth than what I am doing, though.

      • stushi
        Posted June 18, 2013 at 12:48 am | Permalink

        Probably too late in responding to this, but I couldn’t help it.
        The art is amazing in the manga as well. That is all.

  3. Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Paradise Kiss does play out like one of those introspective indie films with even lower budgets than the average anime productions, but like you said, the art style becomes natural and “realistic” in animation where it may teeter into distracting and costumy if shot in live-action.

    One of the most remarkable parts of the story was handling the side characters. The love triangle was down to earth and sensitive, and Isabella was portrayed as eccentric but sympathetic, not a ridiculous caricature like most gay characters in anime are. It’s just refreshing to see romance between young adults in cartoons that’s informed by life experiences beyond the fantasy realm of anime itself.

    • Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:23 am | Permalink

      Ah, yeah, now that you mention it, “indie movie” fits more with what I was going for. Regardless of the terminology, though, the low-key aesthetic fits Paradise Kiss like a glove. I actually hope NANA has a similar thing going for it whenever I get around to watch it. I’d definitely dig it.

      And, yep, maybe that’s why I didn’t throw myself headlong into the romances — they weren’t made out to be some sort of silly competition. Isabella’s portrayal is rather remarkable. I have limited experience with this sort of thing, but I’d say she is the best, most positive portrayal of a trans character I’ve seen outside of, you know, Wandering Son or something. I really dig the approach taken here: she’s comfortable with her identity, no sensationalism. She’s become who she wants to be and is proud of it.

  4. gw_kimmy
    Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    everyone and their mom keeps pushing me to watch/read this. maybe i will someday. except that every experience i’ve had with ai yazawa’s stuff has had rage-inducing soap drama. i guess i’ll keep hesitating.

    • Posted September 14, 2012 at 12:55 am | Permalink

      Hm, it’s a bit soapy at times, but I never really thought it was over the top with it. But I can’t really comment on how it compares with other Ai Yazawa manga/anime adaptations.

  5. Posted September 14, 2012 at 3:20 am | Permalink

    I have yet to see this show, though I have seen some of NANA and liked what I saw there. Stories about two characters working out their issues together are usually entertaining, and this one has gotten the seal of approval from about a dozen people I know so far. I think I should start this up in the next few days.

    • Posted September 14, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      Sounds like a good plan to me.

  6. Posted September 14, 2012 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    http://cosplayers.acparadise.com/18029/18029-36102-89c7694107b71b7e1bbee420629cc556.jpg

    On my DVDs, they had an event where Yukari’s seiyuu actually wore the final dress. I couldn’t find a picture of it, though, so this will have to do.

    • Posted September 14, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      I stand corrected — that looks pretty damn good! Guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the cosplay community managed to make the 3D version of that dress look not stupid.

  7. Scamp
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    It took me a while to get used to the directing style of Paradise Kiss too. That and the early feel of wish-fulfilment meant it didn’t leave a good first impression on me. Come to think of it, I’m not sure why I stuck with it, considering my distaste of shoujo. I guess I saw something in it? Anyway, by the end I loved it

    IT GETS BETTER I SWEAR

    • Posted September 17, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      It does get better! Or maybe it’s a bit too clever for its own good in the beginning? Yukari’s not a totally likable character at the start, but there’s a lot of setup for how much she grows.

  8. Sarif
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    Although much older and having way to much in episode recap the prequel Neighborhood Story is pretty great. The main character is the sister that runs happy berry in Paradise Kiss. While more shoujo the characters are still just as deep. I highly recommend it since there is so much more to be gotten out of paradise kiss if you have seen it.

    • Posted September 17, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      Interesting! Perhaps I will give it a shot after I clear out a bit more of my massive backlog …

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