In this installment of My Favourite Anime, Stephanie of Dear Anime shares why she loves Paradise Kiss for its profound character arcs and lessons in failure. Sometimes, reality is more mysterious than fiction. This show teaches us how to ride the waves.
I love anime for its kaleidoscope of worlds—each at the same time ineffably strange and yet hauntingly familiar. But the most mysterious world is always our own.
Amid the various isekai and other fantasy-based shows, it’s nice to come across a story that’s firmly grounded in reality, populated by characters who feel like they really exist in our world and who might be out there living their lives even now. The story of Paradise Kiss is both universal and quintessentially Japanese. Yukari Hayasaka lives a life familiar to many Japanese high school students. She works her butt off in school and then at juku. She’s not naturally academic, but scoring top grades at a prestigious high school is the only way she knows to win her strict mother’s love. (Her workaholic dad doesn’t even live with the family.)
Yukari’s world changes when some art students recruit her to model in their senior show. At first she’s put off by their weird clothes and colorful personalities—so different from her conformist life. But rich and charismatic George (who designed the dress she would have to model) seduces her with the glamour of the fashion world, and Yukari is quickly hooked (on both modeling and the guy). Although Yukari’s connections killer genetics allow her to start landing gigs, she has to wonder: is she throwing her life away on a whim? Where’s the line between following your dream and doing something really stupid when you’re young that you may never recover from?
Manga creator Yazawa Ai has a unfailingly sharp eye for the complexities of human emotions. Her romances deal not with star-crossed lovers but with the petty squabbles and miscommunications—and the small moments of truth and kindness—that define relationships. The anime brings to life the fashion world that the characters move through with gorgeous details of fabrics and clothing.
All the characters bring their own unique spark to the story. Yukari is often immature and naive, but she never hesitates to call out BS when she sees it (a trait that both annoys George and turns him on). During the show she becomes much more confident in herself. Although George can be extremely self-centered, you have to admire his passion for design. Among the other art students, Miwako is incredibly sweet and supports Yukari one-hundred percent even though they’ve only just met, Arashi is a wannabe punk but actual softie, and Isabella is elegant and motherly in a way the rest of us can only aspire to.
While most anime romances deal with the drawn out ‘will they or won’t they’ to keep the harem running as long as possible, Ai Yazawa has always known that the hard part of a relationship comes after it’s official. George and Yukari have to deal with mismatched expectations and his insensitivity to her needs. Miwako and Arashi deal with suspicion and the specter of past abuse.
The relationships are ‘mature’ in that other sense as well. The anime trades in fanservice for frank portrayals of teen sexuality. Yazawa is the only author I’ve read to touch on protection and birth control as things that sexually active people need to think about. That’s all too rare in media that many teens use to form ideas about what to expect from future relationships.
All these reasons keep me coming back to this anime, but more than anything Paradise Kiss is a story about failure. It would have been so easy to give all these characters exactly what they wanted (and what they arguably deserved). But no one gets a happily ever after. Some realize that their artistic dreams will always be on the hobby level. Others have to make career compromises. Others may never find the love they long for.
And that’s life. No one gets everything they wished for handed to them on a platter (even the people who seem like they have everything going for them). There are some opportunities that we go for and some that pass us by. You have to know yourself, fight for what you absolutely can’t give up, and let go of what you have to let go of.
Every time I watch the show I feel happy to experience a little slice of these characters’ lives.