Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Paradise Kiss - Review

Studio: Madhouse
Genre: Josei, Romance, Drama
Year: 2005

"Yukari is a typical high-school student who listens to her parents and attends school everyday. As she starts to question her way of life, she encounters a group of fashion design students who has a clothing label known as "Paradise Kiss". The group needs to find a model to showcase their designs in an up-coming fashion show and decides to pick Yukari instead. Initially, Yukari was reluctant to be associated with this seemingly eccentric group, but eventually, she realises that they are really nice people. Furthermore, their passion and enthusiasm to follow their ideals and dreams make Yukari realise that she has not been enjoying her life and this motivated her to pursue her own dreams."


I've said this many times, Josei is a genre destined for greatness and there is nothing more heart tugging than a masterfully written Josei romance, such is the case of Paradise Kiss. This is not a review based on one watch experience but serveral, and for the record, any story with the power to captivate me to such an extent is quite special to me. Yes, Paradise Kiss is a gem in my eyes – beautiful, sophisticated and incredibly moving. 

I've never been big on fashion myself, but you don't have to be a fashionista to appreciate the passion the characters have for the art. Just with any dream, only the power of belief can carry it to fruition, and just as with any dream, there is always a beginning – Yukari's begining is George. Before the fateful encounter, her life revolved around succeeding in school as it was her only source of pride, but rather than a personal desire, her mother's approval is what kept her motivated. I empathize with Yukari – when you have lived your whole life trying to please someone else, it almost become unthinkable to live otherwise. Well, at one point, you just stop thinking really, because it seems natural to walk down a path that's been planned from the beginning. But Yukari is someone fortunate, her life takes on a new meaning through the world George introduces her to, and mixed in with the romance is a journey to self-discovery.

The relationship between George and Yukari is realistic and emotionally sincere, largely owning to the in-depth characterization. It isn't hard to see why they are attracted to each other despite the differences in personality. Beneath Yukari's indecisiveness and insecurity is a girl with a fierce attitude, which George finds fascinating and worthy of cultivation. She is his muse, his challenge and his inspiration. As for Yukari, I really don't blame her for falling in love with him; in fact, I think most women would find it hard to resist a man like George who's so full of devious charms. They say the best kind of love is one that you can't quite grasp – well, that's really how it feels with George, he's an enigma, a mystery that's both beautiful and frightening. One minute he may be the biggest jerk, but the next he can be the most delicate lover, and you can't never predicate where he might take you next. I think Arashi hit the nail on the head when he warned Yukari that George isn't the type of guy who makes woman happy – and the volatility that underscores their relationship throughout the story really attested the warning. Even in the most romantic moment, I couldn't help but feel uncertain for their future. To be honest, being a woman myself, I can relate a lot more to Yukari's frustration and inner struggles than whatever George is experiencing – it takes courage to love a man like him and tolerate his whims. Yes, it's important to be independent and self-determined, but I don't know if George realizes just how damn manipulative he can be – of course, maybe that's the point, he wants the person he loves to cultivate her own identity in spite of his not-so-small influences. So to adhere to the moral of the story (while completely ignoring the plead of the audience), Yukari chooses her own path and rejects his invitation to Paris. Well, it's heart wrenching and I can't say I'm completely happy with the ending, but there is no denying it's emotionally powerful and very much in tune with the realism of the story. I resented the storyteller for leaving us with so much to lone for, but the moment Yukari pushes through the door to find an entire of collection of George's designs neatly arranged – with the two most defining pieces as the focal point – I found myself overwhelmed and ready to forgive. For all the faults George possesses, I believe his love for Yukari was sincere, it only showed itself in the form of unexpected surprises – such as the butterfly ring and the precious gift he left behind. One last thing I want to say in regards to our MCs, what I really appreciate is the fact not only Yukari struggled to find herself, but George, the one person who seemed so full of confidence, was also faced with his own trial – trying to find a future in which he can finance his dreams.

The coming-of-age theme is not only prevalent in our main couple, but also in the development of all the supporting characters. Take Isabella for instance, her struggle is no small one as she goes against the force of nature to follow her heart. I've always believed gender comes in all shades and it's perfectly normal for a woman to be trapped in man's body and vice versa, but rarely do I see a similar opinion postulated by anime or any medium for that matter. I think Ai Yazawa sensei conveys an incredibly profound message here – don't let social norms dictate who you are and limit your potentials, sometimes you have to defy the rules to set yourself free. Arashi is yet another character who goes through considerable change, it was satisfying to see him finally coming to terms with his insecurities and embracing Miwaka whole heartedly without wallowing in self-pity.

There is nothing particularly complex about Paradise Kiss in terms of plot, but it has accomplished so much in so little time. No question about it, it's a character-driven series and true to its intent, impresses with a cast of multi-faceted characters that I will always remember in my time as an anime fan. Madhouse did a great job with the anime adaption and I enjoyed most of the stylistic choices. Well, the still-shots take some time to get used to and I still think they could have used less of it, but overall, the animation is very pleasing to look at and the designs are every bit faithful to the manga. I think many fans of the story are conflicted about the finale, myself included – it's always emotionally difficult to see a couple you cheered on the entire time to go their separate ways. What's more is the way storyteller chose to play out the farewell scene – so decidedly undramatic that I find myself willing for something to happen even with the knowledge nothing will. It's an unconventional farewell for two people so much in love, but for its lack of words and actions, the scene more than any other, is pregnant with feelings and thoughts. Indeed, less is more.

Overall score: 9.5/10 

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