Fashion. Glamour. Sex. Highschool? Manga-ka Ai Yazawa takes on turn-of-the-millennium fashion culture in PARADISE KISS, recently re-released in a spiffy all-in-one edition! The Mangasplaining crew digs into this beloved series and comes out with some very, very strong opinions. “The first duty in life is to assume a pose. What the second duty is, no one has yet found out.” Get ready!
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Paradise Kiss – 20th Anniversary Edition
By Ai Yazawa
Translated by Maya Rosewood
Edited by Kristi Fernandez
Production by Grace Lu, Hiroko Mizuno, Chewei Fan, Daniela Yamada, Nicole Dochych, Jeremy Kahn, Anthony Quintessenza
Published by Vertical Inc. / Kodansha (Print & Digital)
00:00: So! Lots going on with this episode, before we start it and get into it, here’s a few quick things:
SPOILERS: We spoil every single major plot point in Paradise Kiss. If that matters to you, maybe read it and then come back. If not, buckle up.
CW: There is discussion of underage characters having sex, non-consentual sexual intercourse, and some emotional abuse between couples and between parents and children. Some discussion of transphobia as well. We try to handle all of it as respectfully and tactfully as we can, but, well, this might be a tough episode, like the Helter Skelter episode was, so just a head’s up.
1:46: So, is Paradise Kiss shojo manga? Is it Josei? Or is it something else entirely? As we mention, this manga was printed in the fashion magazine Zipper (zipper.jp) and not in a traditional manga magazine with hard genre definitions. Honestly, ParaKiss (as fans refer to it) exists on the cusp between the genres, with very mature themes that would usually be tackled and explored in josei manga, but with characters in their last year of high-school, which is more of a shojo manga setting. As such, there’s some occasionally uncomfortable moments, sometimes portrayed lightheartedly and sometimes otherwise, that result from this friction. If the series was set in university, with no other changes, it’d be a different and maybe more-palatable book here in 2021. But it isn’t, and we get into all of that in this episode.
For example, that this series jumped from being 16+ to 18+ mid-way through its original serialization, much as author Ai Yazawa’s other major series series, Nana, also jumped age groups pretty significantly mid-way through, and was also considered a shoujo manga at one point. It’s a bit messy.
2:38: Ah yes, SMILE Magazine, one of the great lost manga magazines that disappeared when the voracious appetite for manga in trade paperback form outstripped the limits of monthly serialization. Published by Tokyopop, it was a victim of its own success, much in the way that Shonen Jump did many years later.
3:45: Hah, “These are just high schoolers.” is pretty much the best little note for this series.
4:20: So, Paradise Kiss has a unique history in North America. This is the rare manga with 3 different North American editions, or maybe even four or five, depending how you count them. Originally serialized a chapter at a time in Tokyopop’s SMILE Magazine, and then released in five trade paperbacks/tankoubon by Tokyopop in their ‘traditional’ size, which became the standard size for manga in North America (you might know it best today as the “Shonen Jump” size). This version actually got a reprint, same trim size with new covers, during Tokyopop’s tenure as a publisher. The Japanese edition though was printed a little larger (and the magazine serialization larger still), which, considering the intricately detailed nature of the art in this one, really, really served it better. With Vertical Inc.’s re-release in 2014, they printed it at the Japanese tankoubon size but this time as three volumes. Finally, the 20th Anniversary one-volume edition released by Kodansha maintains the larger trim size.
A quick check though reveals that both the 3-volume edition and the 1-volume edition don’t correspond to an existing Japanese edition. This is… really rare for translated manga! And honestly it’s a heck of a deal too, getting a 5 volume series for just US$29.99 (less in digital!).
4:40: As mentioned, the anime adaptation of Paradise Kiss is very good. One thing we don’t mention on the podcast is that sadly, the Director of the anime, Osamu Kobayashi, passed away recently, in between when this episode was recorded and when it’s going live. We probably would’ve dug a little more into the anime which is pretty unique–they hired on a separate fashion designer for the in-epsiode fashion, cutting edge musicians to record the opening and closing, and tried to hew as close to the manga, including Yazawa’s very unique stylings, as they possibly could. I mean, the closing credits music is “Do You Wanna?” by Franz Ferdinand, which is… I mean perfect honestly.
Here’s both the opening theme (which, as the kids say, slaps), and the closing theme, for your edification:
Unfortunately Christopher got it wrong, when it comes to Paradise Kiss anime and streaming–it’s not currently available anywhere. I really don’t understand why, in a world of infinite storage capacity anything isn’t available to people who wanna pay for it, but I guess I don’t make the rules. Anyway, if you type “Paradise Kiss” into Youtube, you might just find the entire series. Don’t tell anyone I sent you, and please support legal means when they exist.
5:20: Man, literally anyone interested in Japanese culture of a certain age is hyper-aware of Fruits, published by Phaidon (not Taschen–whoops!). Collecting fashion photography from the popular fashion magazine Fruits in Japan, this sadly-out-of-print volume was a style bible for counterculture types in the west interested in Japanese Fashion in the 90s and 2000s. There was a sequel released, Fresh Fruits, which also did very well. We sold a TON of them at The Beguiling over the years. Anyway, this might have been the first foray for Japanese counterculture fashion into the Western market, and Zipper magazine very much exists in this space.
If you wanna dive back in (or discover it for the first time), check out these insta accounts and add a little Harajuku style to your doomscrolling.
6:00: The 20th Anniversary edition is thicc.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t review the all-in-one edition specifically for it’s format: It’s pretty good! The binding is solid but very flexible, and it’s not a pain to read despite the large form factor. It also looks impressive as heck, decked out on your manga shelf.
6:45: Totally forgot that we asked Chip to go first last week. Every week it feels like a year has passed, and I’m catching up with old friends.
7:30: Yeah, Paradise Kiss features no Instagram, no tik tok, no social media of any kind: the things that would be integral to a story like this told today are completely absent. It still manages to feel fresh though, despite 20 year old cell phones and characters literally buying their first computer ever, on-panel, as they graduate highschool.
8:00: This is a manga where the characters break the fourth wall—a lot! We reference a few of these gags throughout these episode, so here they all are at once so you can get a sense of it.
8:30: This episode? Explicit on Apple Podcasts.
9:00: We don’t normally do this, but in this episode we really refer to the characters by name throughout this episode, so here’s a quick breakdown of the main 5 characters.
11:55: Yukari is into overstepping and messing up stuff for other people, for sure, but isn’t that a factor in making a shoujo protagonist? Or for most protagonists in general? It’s an interesting idea. Maybe we’ll get into that more as we read more shojo manga on the podcast.
Also, quick aside, I think I caught it all, but just in case:
The Japanese characters 少女 are pronounced Shōjo, with the macron over the O, implying a loooonnng O sound. However, English writing tends to abhor accents on letters (French, Spanish, and other romance languages not so much), so the macron is usually dropped, and instead the word is ‘properly’ romanized as “Shoujo”, with the “ou” implying the loooonnng O sound.
Except, we English readers don’t generally read “ou” in something as a long O, we instead read it like “OW” like in couch, or out, so, especially with foreign words, shoujo when written than way gets all kinds of crazy pronunciations, like Shoojo or showjoe or whatever. It’s something we’re reckoning with now as a society, but it was basically decided by the powers that be to just anglicize 少女 as shojo. Because I’ve been active writing about comics since before there was shojo manga in North America, I tend to alternate spellings between shojo and shoujo and like… I’m sorry. That must be confusing if you’re not that familiar with manga or Japanese culture. So, like I said, I’m trying to always use Shojo with no U (just like Shounen Jump dropped the U internationally…) but if I mess up, now you know why.
12:45: Caroline joins the Paradise Kiss crew party!
13:25: The George cumming joke is legitimately funny, as is the follow-up. I’ve included it here, because you won’t see it… coming… when it happens in the manga. 😀
It’s a very big image. Maybe right-click to open it in a new window if it breaks.
14:15: There’s almost no gutters, just panel borders! I had never seen a manga like this when I started reading Paradise Kiss during serialization, and it just looked so completely different than anything else out there, even other shojo manga. Which makes sense, given that it’s on the cusp of shojo and josei, as discussed up to.
Oh, and. I feel like a thing I wanted to say at this point in the podcast (Hey it’s Christopher), is that this manga is decorated, in a different way than shojo manga often is. It’s supposed to be overwhelming, and a bit claustrophobic, busy. Their scenes take place in a cramped atelier underground, or with tantilizing close-ups. It makes the moments when they pull back the camera, add a ton of space, really stand out even more.
17:45: This is where stuff starts to get intense this episode. If that’s not for you, maybe skip this one, because you kinda can’t talk about Paradise Kiss without talking about how sex is portrayed and it basically continues right until the end of the episode.
21:05: I wish I could find an article to link to about this to back this up, but basically it’s similar to North America, where you like, party AND pay attention in university because after you graduate it’s all about working hard and whatnot. There’s a Japanese term for it though, I can’t quite find it. Sorry!
UPDATE: Miguel Corti in the comments field found it:
“About the expression you mentioned for what university years mean to students in Japan, is the phrase you’re looking for “jinsei no natsuyasumi” (人生の夏休み), or “life’s summer break.” It’s the only phrase I’m familiar with, so if anyone knows another please let me know.”
22:45: SPOILERS! Warned you.
24:55: Yeah, the whole sequence where George sees Yukari and Hiro walking, and then says how hurt he was by it, that’s a whole thing.
26:15: Shout out to Jumbo from Yotsuba&. Never forget.
26:45: Dang, we’re getting deep on this one. All the feelings coming out.
28:37: The bi thing… We get into this more a little bit later, but there was something of a fashionable trend to declare yourself “bi” around the time this manga came out. We know “bi” people aren’t fashion, we’re just commenting here about the myriad ways sexuality was treated in the 90s and the 2000s by the hetero majority, and this manga has that in spades. Ai Yazawa has never discussed her personal sexuality FWIW.
Anyway, there are folks all over Youtube giving you the history, but for shits and giggles here’s Carrie going to a bisexual young person party and kissing Alanis Morrissette on ‘Sex and the City’ right around the time that this manga takes place, and it’s just the example that came to mind first–there were a lot.
30:00: Seriously, the Alice in Wonderland structure, of dipping into a strange world and then noping right back out of it at the end, explains almost everything in this manga. Except maybe in this manga, most of the characters move out of Wonderland and get jobs and have pot-lucks occasionally where they reminisce about how crazy shit was. I think that’s a plot point in the Sex and the City episode above too, actually?
30:30: The “tell” in the first chapter. Now, if you like the movie Velvet Goldmine (1998) as much as I do, you might have disagreements with my reading of Brian Slade as the villain of the piece. You’d be wrong, but I can see where, at best, he’s an anti-hero shaped by circumstance and fulfilling the roles presented to him. In fact the other characters, at the Death of Glitter Ball, take great pains to honour him for his contributions to glam… while at the same time the film shows that the character himself is unredeemed, perhaps irredeemable, and ultimately hollow. Image is everything, and at the end of the movie, an image is all that he is.
I can’t imagine anyone who read and enjoyed Pardise Kiss not having also watched ‘Velvet Goldmine’, but on the off chance you haven’t, it’s worth your time. The music is great too.
32:00: Hot Gimmick has one of the worst endings to a shoujo manga of all time. You can google it, but here’s our friend Johanna Draper-Carlson ripping the last volume to shreds. https://comicsworthreading.com/2007/01/07/hot-gimmick-book-12/
33:00: That’s a direct quote from Yukari’s mom, by the way. You don’t need to keep people like this in your life.
We see later the next day that Yukari is actually still physically injured.
33:55: The difference between Miwako in the original Tokyopop translation and in the Vertical translation is significant, but the differences between Arashi in those two versions are… let’s say night and day. Here’s an example from the first chapter, where Arashi’s speech patterns are peppered with British/punk slang and a rougher way of speaking.
35:00 Isabella is perhaps the definition of the Queer Best Friend character… I’m probably more on Chip’s side on listening to this now though, but even on re-reading I couldn’t help but remember how thrilled I was to see this sort of representation when I was reading the series 20 years ago.
It’s also worth noting that yeah, Isabella in the first four volumes is presented as a character in drag, right down to her having a ‘foreign’ name for a manga character, and that is reversed and clarified in the final volume–Isabella is trans person, and always has been, and was probably the first trans person I encountered in manga. (It feels like Yazawa-sensei did some research, got some feedback, something, between those initial appearances as the later ones.) That representation was even more important in 1999, even with the pitfalls that come with it, like the character’s gender and sex being discussed in cringey ways at times, or the deadnaming ‘joke’ that Arashi utters in one sequence (George totally comes to the rescue there too, which, points for George).
We’ve come a very long way in terms of what we want from queer characters.
40:50: So yeah, David doesn’t really see it, Deb and Chip don’t really weigh in, but I think the manga dances carefully around that idea that George was probably having a sexual relationship with one of his teachers. They almost ride off into the sunset together until Kaori intervenes, too. Here’s one of the times it’s brought up within the manga:
42:50: So yeah, the translation of the humorous interaction that ends up being “Don’t aim for my butt ya dang homo!” is… amazing? Or something? Hilarious? Anyway, it’s a choice, but Tokyopop made a very different choice for this scene and Arashi in general.
Here’s the Kodansha edition:
And here’s the Tokyopop version:
Interestingly, they not only toned down Arashi’s accent, but they actually ‘localized’ the joke. George, who wants to be called George, is called his name in Kanji (Japanese script) by Arashi to get under his skin. The incomplete translation is deliberate, to show the sort of joke in its original context. Kodansha went with a more ”complete’ translation that changes the original joke from it being a formal Kanji script to a deliberate Japanese pronunciation. I think they’re both interesting ways to handle the joke, but I read the Tokyopop version first, and so that one seems “right” to me…
Also: They changed the quote and got the quote right, so that’s something, good job Kodansha!
Also: Bite Me, Poof, Bollocks, Nancy Boy.
44:10: I kinda wish I wouldn’t off-handedly mention stuff like this on the podcast sometimes, so I wouldn’t have to do the research to gloss it down here. It’s tough finding scans of old, unreprinted manga! But, here we go.
So the first ‘cat manga’ translated into English was What’s Michael?, created by Makoto Kobayashi and published by Dark Horse. It’s a funny manga, often surreal humor but very funny and very good and now that I’m writing this we REALLY need to make Chip read this, but anyway, yeah. It came out and did okay (it actually just got reprinted in omnibus editions by DH) https://www.darkhorse.com/Books/3004-968/Whats-Michael-Fatcat-Collection-Volume-1-TPB.
So Dark Horse was like “Let’s get Kobayashi-sensei’s manga about humans, not cats,” and that did exceptionally poorly in the market. It was called Club 9, and it was about a young woman who comes to Tokyo from the countryside (loosely defined as anywhere-that-isn’t-Tokyo) and she just has like, the deepest, most intense country-bumpkin accent you could possibly imagine. I could find one page, from the Dark Horse Website, and it’s like this through the entire book.
So yeah, this sort of over-the-top Hee Haw dialect was used to substitute for Japanese countryside accents or dialects when work was being translated back in the day. It was a choice, just like the decision to punk-up Arashi’s dialogue was a choice. This sort of country bumpkin dialect was generally given to anyone with a Kansai (area where Osaka is) dialect, as well as most other countryside dialects. The flip side of this though is removing these dialects and not having an easy, less Chris-Claremonty sort of option, and work losing some of the local flavour that informs the story. The Osaka dialect is completely missing from Sunny, by Taiyo Matsumoto, for example, and according to folks in the know it does add a bit of another layer to the story at point. That said, I will gladly take Sunny’s current translation instead of Haru talking like, well, whatever’s going on in Club 9.
And that is the off-handed reference I made for Deb and David.
49:00: Gojinko Monogatari (Neighborhood Story) is a three volume manga series by Ai Yazawa that preceded Paradise Kiss. Focussing on Miwako’s older sister, Mikako, the book was never translated to English but did release in different countries around the world, France included. Paradise Kiss features numerous cameos from Gojinko Monogatari characters, with the biggest and most obvious being the panel below:
51:30: Kaori is interesting, as Deb mentions, as she’s introduced in a sort of a ‘shoujo manga’ way, a true rival for Yukari, that could have extended the narrative almost indefinitely. She’s older, closer to George but also totally has his number, has started her life and is successful, all of it. It’s interesting that she arrives to be a destabilizing force and then almost immediately leaves, because it really is about Yukari learning to process feelings that were denied to her, and that she denied herself, her whole life. Yukari is the viewpoint character for a reason, and Deb really nails it here.
54:40: I’ll make you so Satisfied, you could die! I can’t wait for Chip to slip this into his daily dialogue.
55:30: “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” is, in fact, a comedy movie. Perhaps in this pandemic world it hasn’t aged well.
56:00: Jamilla Rowser, whom David mentions, is a writer and the founder/publisher of Black Josei Press, dedicated to telling josei manga stories “by and for Black and brown women and non-binary peopke.” Check out their work at https://blackjoseipress.com/.
56:15: David also mentions Erica Sakurazawa, who publisher Tokyopop put a huge push behind as part of the expanse of their line in the early 2000s with the introduction of a number of josei titles. Sakurazawa is the rare creator who got a branded mini-line of comics, and although they didn’t light the world on fire, it was a fascinating publishing effort! Unfortunately the line crashing so spectacularly is one of the things that kind of poisoned the well for josei manga in North America. Kudos to Vertical for the work they did trying to bring it back by publishing Okazaki and Anno, and for folks like Rowser above trying to publish new work in that space…!
56:50: “Convince yourself you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.” David makes a good point about the leads just not being able to hear good advice sometimes.
58:42: As mentioned, this was a monthly serial that ran in a fashion magazine, not a manga magazine. As such, there were probably different commercial pressures on the work, like recapitulating some of the basic ideas of the plot in every installment, as well as giving most installments a beginning, middle, and end. Chip’s comments here are a bit “inside baseball,” but he is getting to the heart of some of what’s going on with the series, any why the wishy-washy nature of the characters, especially Yukari through the middle of the book, might seem a bit grating by the end of the book.
I don’t think the author ever imagined that every chapter of this manga would be read in a single sitting, and the experience of reading the English serialization, or even the months (sometimes year+plus) wait between collected volumes, definitely let you develop a different sort of fondness for the characters.
Quick note: This cover of Zipper talks about the then-forthcoming Paradise Kiss live action movie, which I refuse to watch because the actors playing George and Miwako refused to dye their hair. Also I hear it’s not very good, but like… Commit to the role. Anyway, I was gonna try to pretend this didn’t exist but I could only find a Zipper cover with the ParaKiss movie on the cover, not the manga, sadly. So, here you are.
1:01:00: It’s amazing that, especially given our… complicated… thoughts on the characters expressed up to this point, that we were all nervously holding our breath, hoping Yukari’s first turn on the catwalk would go okay. This is a masterful piece of manga, and a rare one, I think.
Of course the catwalk went wonderfully, and it’s the most beautiful art in the series.
1:04:20: Yeah we talk about George’s mother a few times, and we don’t dig into her personal situation so much, except for in a few minutes when we talk about her attempted redemption, vaguely. Honestly as much as we’ve spoiled in this series, there’s a lot to still dig into if you haven’t read it.
1:04:45: I like that David’s trying to redeem Yukari’s mom a bit here, but TBF she’s in the last chapter, even after Yukari is a huge success, and she’s still just fucking awful. ON CHRISTMAS. Here’s another slap from earlier in the book.
1:08:10: The lady who runs the modelling agency, Kozue, gives me such strong “Carrie, you bitch!” vibes a la that episode where Carrie falls in with a jet-setting crowd in Sex and the City. Couldn’t find a clip, sorry. Just wanted to explain why I said “Carrie, You Bitch!” there, because it sounds super fucking weird out of context.
Man these notes would be very different if someone else wrote them.
1:08:45: Tokyo Tarareba Girls by Akiko Higashimura, published by Kodansha, is just a great manga. Deb, David, and I all love the series, and we desperately want to get Chip to read it at some point. But yeah it’s so tough because we’re basically trying to introduce Chip to a whole other version of the medium of comics, and every great book seems to want to take priority all at once. Looks like we’ll keep doing this for a while and we’ll get to it. 🙂
1:09:10: So the film ‘Cruel Intentions’ came out in 1999, during the serialization of Paradise Kiss. It’s a retelling of the 1782 novel which subs in rich teens for bored French aristocrats that destroy someone to amuse themselves. I kind of feel if it were remade today they’d be Tik Tokers or YouTubers or people shooting for Twitter clout…
Actually someone get Netflix on the phone.
Cruel Intentions at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cruel_Intentions
1:11:00: So there’s not much more to the story than this. Yazawa-sensei went into the hospital in 2009, while working on the serialization of her manga series Nana, begun at the same time as Paradise Kiss. She exited the hospital in 2010, said that she finds drawing manga physically painful, and has completed a few illustrations, short stories, and participated in an interview or two in the intervening years. I hope she’s okay, and that if she ever feels well enough to return to Nana, I know there will be thousands of North American fans excited to discover it for the first time.
Here’s an article about Yazawa’s most recent public interview, from ANN: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/interest/2016-08-01/final-issue-of-rola-fashion-magazine-features-ai-yazawa-cover/.104900
1:12:00: Please be nice to comics creators. Creative people in general. This was recorded in early April, and today when I’m typing up these notes, Studio Khara, the folks who put out Evangelion, just released a statement telling people not to send them death threats so… Yeah. Fuck.
1:14:00: Recommendations for folks who liked Paradise Kiss!
We briefly mentioned Los Bros Hernandez, creators of Love & Rockets, and there’s definitely some early-20-something-ladies-being-charming-fuck-ups vibes that Paradise Kiss and Nana fans might enjoy there. Maybe consider starting with The Girl from HOPPERS.
David recommends Katie Skelly’s work, and Maid, My Pretty Vampire, and The Agency are all available from Fantagraphics.
Deb recommends Girl in Dior, by Annie Goetzinger, published by NBM. It’s a history of the fashion house Dior, and it’s beautiful. Check out this preview of and article on the book.
Chip chimes in with the Image Comics series SnotGirl, by Bryan Lee O’Malley and Leslie Hung, about a very contemporary young fashionista and social media star. Excellent recommendation!
And that’s it for this new feature that I already know we have forgotten to do at least twice.
1:16:48: THE BREAK!
It’s time for the reader question of the week:
Valetina Rossi, @rossi_TG on twitter, asks: “Have any of you tried reading manga/watching anime not in English? I feel manga arrived relatively late in the English-speaking world. But French and Italian translations are brilliant, in particular some early, classic works, not available in English. Besitos!❤”
And then David gives maybe the best answer of all time? Such an amazing personal anecdote. Much love to David’s mom, and all the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure manga.
Christopher talks about being bad at reading French, but then also a little bit about the state of the French comics market. It’s not great, and very complicated. It would maybe be its own podcast, with lots and lots of guest opinions. In the interim, check out this article from Forbes magazine, and maybe some folks will pop up in the comments with more to add:
This week’s shout-outs:
Chip shouts-out David’s mom for setting him on the path of being the Editor for Jojos Bizarre Adventure. That’s a VERY GOOD shout-out.
Deb shouts-out the manga: Smile Down The Runway, a shonen manga about a girl who wants to be a model teaming with a boy who wants to become a fashion designer! It’s a digital only manga by Kotoba Inoya, published by Kodansha. https://kodansha.us/series/smile-down-the-runway/
Deb also shouts-out Boys Run The Riot, a trans-positive manga by a trans manga-ka about street fashion! Two very timely recommendations! The manga is by Keito Gaku and Kodansha has a massive 72 page preview on their website: https://kodansha.us/series/boys-run-the-riot/. The print volume comes out… next week!
Alright, that’s it for shoutouts! 🙂
In the outro, Christopher says this is episode 13. It’s not. This is episode 14. WHOOPS. This wouldn’t be so bad except then David left in the whole rest of the screwed-up outro. This podcast is a learning process, for all of us. 🙂
Thanks for listening to this episode!