As a mediocre student in a top school, Hayasaka Yukari has always been a student first and person later. Inadvertently, Yukari crosses paths with a group of eccentric fashion design students who immediately determine that she has the perfect look to model their design in an upcoming show.
Though initially reluctant, Yukari accepts the nickname "Caroline" and is swept off her feet by the arrogant and self-serving designer Koizumi George. Soon she begins to question the life she has known and has to make a decision: continue school for her mother's sake or quit and follow her dream of being a professional model, and essentially living her own life and by her own rules.
The year 2005 was a huge year for josei manga author Yazawa Ai. It is nearly impossible to walk around Tokyo and not see her artwork--on the cover of Cookie magazine, tankobon of Paradise Kiss on the shelves in your neighborhood 7-Eleven, her artwork on the boxes of Beauteen hair dye, not to mention a hit feature-length live-action film of her recent manga NANA.
The five-volume-squished-into-12-episode anime adaptation of Paradise Kiss had a lot of expectations to live up to. Fortunately I went into this anime series without any previous knowledge of the series, completely ignorant of the contents of the manga. The animation and character designs were fresh and appealing. The colors were soft and loyal to the typical shoujo fashion, and the backgrounds of Harajuku and the Yamanote line were excitingly realistic.
The opening and closing sequences were argueably some of the best of the Fall 2005 season, as far as music is concerned. Tommy February 6 lent her talents to the opening theme "Lonely in Gorgeous," which is a bittersweet, lonely pop number inspired by a scene towards the end of the series where Yukari finds herself left alone by George, surrounded by magically stunning garments all of his design.
Closing each episode was a song by British-pop band Franz Ferdinand, "Do You Want To," which has a 80s rock sound that, for a change, kept me watching the credits every time with keen attention.
There have been several complaints by fans about the director's deviance from Yazawa's normal SD-style during unusual moments. Admittedly, there are a few scenes where characters going into super-deformed mode felt somewhat out of place, especially since the comedy element as a whole was noticably absent from the series. Personally, I loved the different style used on the super-deformed moments, even if they were not as cleverly executed as I would have liked, it was a welcome change from the normal "Hello Kitty" looking SDs with their gigantic heads and milkbowl eyeballs.
That being said, the artwork and animation get top-markings from my end. The fashion designs are breathtaking, the coloring is vivid, and the animation is certainly satisfying for a slow-paced title. The music is also flawless in incorporating grungy guitar riffs for background music, as well as bringing in several of Tommy's slow-paced pop numbers from earlier albums.
So, coming from a fresh perspective, where did this series go wrong? I would not say it is due to the cramming of the entire story into 12 episodes, although a full 26 episodes would have done the title more justice, probably. I say this because other series I have seen have been able to do remarkably well with story arcs and series with few episodes (given, the first series of Princess Tutu was 13 episodes--it still was well-paced and really could have been completed there).
Inevitably I must say the biggest problem for me was my dislike of the main characters, and the poor handling of the supporting characters. Yukari is, well, a spoiled, selfish, snippy teenager that for the majority of the series I wanted to backhand and send her back to her mother. She has a very haughty attitude, and frankly, is quite arrogant. The entire progress of her character development is in my opinion quite deterorating and highlights some of the worst human characteristics. She talks down to those that don't tell her what she wants to hear, she'll cry just to get things her way, even if she doesn't really mean it, and she runs away from any signs of conflict because it is essentially "her way or the highway."
Now Koizumi George is a piece of work. Arrogant, aloof, cold, self-serving, seeing Yukari as a dispensable vehicle for furthering his own devices, the director of the anime (Kobayashi Osamu of BECK fame) was trying to portray George in a more sympathetic protagonist light. Which he is not, and never was supposed to be. The chillingly familiar apathy George has towards Yukari is bitterly realistic, and watching him weave his threads through the fabric of Yukari's delicate life angers me and leaves me feeling violated.
Sadly, the more comedic and sympathetic characters are really thrown to the wayside in this series. Miwako and her boyfriend Arashi light up the screen whenever they are fortunate enough to get an appearance, but their relationship struggles and tensions seemed to be hacked and tossed together in an editorial decision that really shows the supporting cast as an afterthought in this series. We are lucky enough to get a teensy peek at drag queen Isabella's past relationship with George (which probably remains my favorite scene in the entire series), but still, the glimpses of the pasts of these three other members of ParaKiss leave you absolutely positive that there is a lot being left out from the manga.
The worst treatment, though, was given to Yukari's other love interest, Hiro. There is little to no emphasis on the relationship between Yukari and Hiro, and you really see more chemistry between him and Miwako. Any conflict between Hiro and George has been conveniently deleted, which sadly contributes to the forced, sloppy and incomplete ending that ParaKiss leaves you with.
In a sense, ParaKiss's sentimentality seems to accurately reflect the real fashion world--corruption, understated abuse, short-lived Prince Charmings (who turn out to be frogs), anxiety and instability...all wrapped up in a pretty sparkly little package that makes it so enticing to touch.
If you want the pretty package, by all means, I won't stop you. But this series left me feeling a little bitter and cynical about it all, and that isn't what I go into anime for. There just weren't enough redeeming qualities about the series and the story, and I get enough cynical realism from Law & Order reruns, thank you very much.
I really wanted to give this series four stars, but there are too many things that someone as picky as me just couldn't overlook. That and it depressed me every episode. I want anime to do something good for me emotionally, even if it is a sad series. — Melissa Sternenberg
Recommended Audience: Due to homosexuality, bisexuality, strong sexual overtones and tasteful, but obvious sex scenes, this series is suitable for those ages 16 and above.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Paradise Kiss © 2005 Yazawa Manga Seisakusho / Shodensha / ParaKiss Production Committee
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