Love and Rockets
An adaptation of the popular manga Paradise Kiss finally comes to TV! Fashionista fans, rejoice!
With the popular josei anime Honey and Clover finished its broadcasting run, the anime adaptation of Ai Yazawa's Paradise Kiss fills in its spot on Fuji TV's Noitamina programming block, continuing this blossoming tradition of quality anime during this time slot. With the target audience of young women who enjoy doramas, but who may not watch anime shows, Paradise Kiss will delight fans of the manga, as well as fans of melodramatic anime.
From the opening, Paradise Kiss does a great job of introducing the audience to the hyper-realistic world of Paradise Kiss by combining still photo backgrounds with animated cartoon characters, creating an atmosphere that this is the real world... if only you could see beyond the surface. Yukari, the main character narrates the sights, sounds and smells of the area as we descend into Atelier, home of the fledgling Paradise Kiss fashion label.
The first episode opens with Yukari Hayasaka, an eighteen year old high school student at the prestigious Seiei Academy, hurrying to cram school. Suddenly, she is stopped in the middle of the street by a punk with multiple piercings and an odd obsession about her height. While running away from the obviously deranged boy, Yukari runs into a tall woman with purple hair and a purple flower over one eye. The punk, chasing after Yukari, calls for Isabella to stop Yukari. Overwhelmed, Yukari faints into Isabella's arms, awakening to see a girl with pink pigtails, who we are later introduced to as Miwako. It seems that Isabella and Arashi, the aforementioned punk, brought her to their cellar studio, Atelier. The three third year fashion students from the Yaza School of Art are members of a designing collective named Paradise Kiss, and they planning to strike it out in the fashion world on their own. However, they need a model for their clothing -- enter Yukari. She has the perfect look to match the elegant style of their brand.
Only naturally, Yukari declines. She has exams to study for, and she has no time to waste with such bizarre people. As she hurries out to cram school, Miwako calls out to Yukari, calling her "Caroline." This name sticks to Yukari from here on out, with Caroline becoming Yukari's trendy English name. She's not the only one with an English name; George and Isabella are both adopted "exotic" names. Unfortunately, while running away from Atelier, Yukari falls and drops her student handbook, a necessity for any serious student. This is more of a problem for Yukari than it seems at first, as it contains a candid photo of her secret crush at school, Hiroyuki Tokomori.
Yukari has a dilemma. She has no direction in life. Sure, her parents want her to enter a good university and to get a successful job, but Yukari has no idea what she actually wants to do herself. A life filled with studying fulfilled her until now; however, Yukari wants more, as she has seen life beyond the classroom.
The next day, George, the charismatic designer and leader of Paradise Kiss, approaches Yukari outside of her school to apologize for his friends' rudeness and to inform her that if she wants her handbook back, she needs to return to the Atelier. Driving in his car, George takes her to the Yaza School for a haircut, where Yukari gains her trademark short bangs. Back at Atelier, George talks her into trying on an outfit before handing back the handbook. While Miwako helps Yukari to change, we learn about Paradise Kiss, and how Isabella, Arashi and Miwako are supporting George as a designer. Yukari apologizes to Arashi for not understanding how passionate and sincere that the group is in becoming a fashion brand, and he accepts her apology. Finally, George returns the handbook and gives Yukari three days to decide on whether she will be their model or not. As the catchy ending song starts up, Yukari narrates that she was late for cram school, but somehow, it just didn't seem that important.
This might be a good place to note that all of the characters are eighteen years old, despite the mature swaggering of George and Miwako's loli style. The Yaza School of Art is an exclusive fashion high school, not a university or college, thus all of the main characters are trying to find their own identity, only that Yukari is a few steps behind her friends, the other members of Paradise Kiss.
Paradise Kiss and Honey and Clover are alike in themes, although they are entirely different in terms of execution. Both take a healthy helping of friendships and romantic relationships, mix in some slapstick comedy, and add into the situation a young person questioning where their future lies, while everyone else around them seems to have no problem in deciding who and what they will be themselves. It's a theme and feeling that everyone can relate to, especially college students.
Paradise Kiss began showing on Fuji TV in October, and it is slated for twelve episodes. The manga by Ai Yazawa, originally serialized in Zipper, a fashion magazine, is available from TOKYOPOP in five volumes, and it was one of the first manga series that TOKYOPOP released in their "100% Authentic" unflipped format. Only naturally, the anime flows at a fast pace, as it tries to squeeze in five volumes of action into twelve episodes. Fans coming out of the rather sedate Honey and Clover may find this to be rather jarring, but it certainly does not leave a dull moment.
Madhouse Studios (Trinity Blood, among many others) does a great job in animating this show. Colors are bright, and characters have detailed expressions in close-ups, where their faces clearly speak their feelings. The backgrounds are as equally as detailed, calling upon photos of actual businesses and places in Harajuku. Actually, the animation can be too rich and overpowering for the eye at times. The screen wipes of flowers and cartoon figures are unusual, but they blend into the whole viewing experience quite easily. One criticism is that character movements are jerky sometimes, a small flaw in a visually-appealing product.
Oddly enough, Paradise Kiss has no background music. Considering that this is against the norm of anime, the focus on the spoken word over music will be jarring for many viewers, subconsciously or not. However, background noise is abundant in Paradise Kiss, especially in street and restaurant scenes. The buzz of the crowd adds a touch of realism to the scenes, making the characters feel real and familiar. Consider this as merely another independent element of the show, as the opening and ending songs more than make up for the lack of music within the show, and both songs are available on CD as singles.
Tommy february6's "Lonely in Gorgeous" opens each episode, its bouncy pop melody matching clips from the anime perfectly. The entire presentation is that of a bright world of elegant excess, where hearts are made to flutter with passion, only to be broken without a second thought. It's a world where sincerity and facade co-exist, creating much of the drama onscreen. It's a great introduction to Paradise Kiss, being both artistic and unforgettable. It's definitely an opening to watch and enjoy again and again.
The ending song, "Do You Want To" by Glasgow natives Franz Ferdinand is incredibly addictive, and it matches George's personality as a player perfectly. The wild animation of super-deformed versions of the main characters running away from George's out-of-control car is reminiscent of late night MTV cartoons, so any fan of independent cartoon shorts will feel right at home. It's great to see closing credits that entertain and continue the zany, over-the-top atmosphere of Paradise Kiss, as well as being intended for an audience with double digits in their ages.
Director Osamu Kobayashi is best known for his cartoon shorts for Studio 4C (The Animatrix, Steamboy) and for directing the recent anime Beck, another Madhouse project. Some fans of Paradise Kiss were worried that the anime adaptation would suffer the same low funding fate as Beck. No need to worry; although frames are reused, along with stills, and Kobayashi's style of animating a conversation involves mixing far-away shots and reaction close-ups, Paradise Kiss feels and looks good.
Character designer Nobuteru Yuki (Chrono Cross, Seiken Densetsu 3, Battle Angel OVA, Vision of Escaflowne, Battle Royale High School) does a great job of taking Yazawa's characters and turning them into similar, yet unique characters. Fans will be pleased by the similarity to the manga character designs, as well as the additions that make the cast feel more realistic.
As with any anime adaptation from a well-known manga, Paradise Kiss suffers from viewers constantly comparing the two versions. Some find the anime lacking in the sarcastic tone of the manga's Yukari, as well as Yukari being entirely too calm at the beginning of the series. Part of the charm of the series is that the characters can be rather unlikable at times, as they cause conflict and soap operatic levels of melodrama amongst themselves. The romantic relationship between Yukari and George also takes on a very different tone in the anime. The manga's version of their relationship feels more genuine as it slowly grows, while the anime paints a picture of George as a master manipulator, using Yukari's crush on him to control her. Some of the dark impressions that the anime presents are due to the fast pace needed to completely tell the events within the manga in a limited time span, but some of it is due to Kobayashi's own interpretation of the manga's plot.
Another criticism among fans of the manga is that the anime strives for realism, while the manga revels in a larger-than-life world of eccentric characters. This is a valid point, but as the target audience of the anime includes women new to anime and who are accustomed to watching doramas on TV, a certain degree of realism is necessary in order to cater to their interests. The insertion of realistic elements also brings a new perspective to the original story. By illustrating the tiny details of the world in which the characters live and breathe, you make them all the more endearing to the viewer. Finally, the realism keeps the grandiose drama of Paradise Kiss contained. When exposed to the world at large, we see just how minute and petty the squabbles between characters are.
Characters frequently switch into chibi representations of themselves during moments of deep feeling or sincerity, which may break the serious and somewhat overblown tone of series for some. However, the chibi characters also reflect the discomfort of being truthful to yourself and others, and they maintain the independent style seen in Kobayashi's previous works. Overall, Kobayashi should be commended for staying somewhat true to the spirit of the manga while making the anime definitely his own creative work.
The voice cast of Paradise Kiss contains a mixture of new and old names. Yukari ("Caroline") Hayasaka is played by Yuu Yamada, a popular model whose face shows up on a billboard in the opening credits. This is her first seiyuu role, but she does a great role of portraying Yukari, from naive and confused to cold-hearted and argumentative. Kenji Hamada plays Jouji ("George") Koizumi; he was last heard in Honey and Clover as Nomiya Takumi. He does a great job of making George's suave facade feel believable. Isabella is Chiharu Suzuka (Keneesh in Banner of the Stars, D's Mother in Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust), while Miwako Sakurada is played by Marika Matsumoto (Rikku in the Japanese versions of Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2, Maya Toomi in Fafner, Chocola Meilleure in Sugar Sugar Rune). Finally, Shunsuke Mizutani from the band THE BABYS plays a role close to home as guitarist Arashi Nagase.
During October, Fuji TV ran a contest for amateur fan fashion designs, with the winning design appearing in a later episode of Paradise Kiss, and on the Internet, and in a magazine. The winner also will take part in a Paradise Kiss fashion show, and the winning design will be available in the newly-opened official Paradise Kiss store. It's nice to see an art school-based anime that is willing to give back to its source of inspiration by discovering and promoting fresh talent. As it stands, all of the clothing in the anime show is designed by Atsuro Tayama, a Japanese designer based out of Paris whose style on the runway is decidedly more conservative than the designs seen in Paradise Kiss.
As a whole, Paradise Kiss is one of those must-see anime shows that come only once a season, and it will definitely see a US release in 2006. Until then, we have the manga to satisfy our desire for the beautiful madness that is ParaKiss.