Reviewby Theron Martin,
Yukari is a good and dedicated third-year high school student striving to prepare for college entrance exams, but the goal of making it into a top-rate college is really her mother's. She feels she has no purpose or direction of her own, but that all changes when a chance encounter on the streets leads her into association with Paradise Kiss (aka ParaKiss), a group of third-year design school students who have gathered together to make their own clothing label. They seek a model for their clothes for a school fashion show and regard Yukari as a perfect fit. Though reluctant at first, the appeal of doing her own thing for a change (and the temperamental but sexy genius designer George) leads Yukari to eventually acquiesce, allowing herself to be drawn into the world of fashion design.
No worthy commentary on Paradise Kiss can begin without discussing its extraordinary visual style. Nothing released in North America in the last couple of years looks anything like it, and it's certainly a far cry from normal anime styles. Even when it goes into its version of superdeformed mode, it still stakes out its own distinctive identity. The look and feel is so uncannily faithful to its shojo manga origins that one might think images had sprung off the manga pages, somehow colored themselves, and started moving. Even the color scheme and patterns used give that shojo feel; it's vividly colorful, to be sure, but these aren't the bright, glossy, CG-enhanced colors so common in anime. They're a little muted, yet also exciting in their own way.
Style doesn't matter much without quality to back it up, but Paradise Kiss won't be found lacking there, either. It features some of the best and most detailed background art to be seen anywhere in anime, and all the characters are appealingly-designed and well-drawn, especially the lead Yukari, who is convincingly pretty despite her typically stern look. Faces do tend to be either slightly elongated or overly rounded, but not to the point of caricature, and the SD scenes have the same kind of fun look to them that can also be seen in the closer. Scattered throughout the artistry are various real-life images from actual advertisements and settings, but fan service is nearly nonexistent. Though the series definitely has a sexy feel at times, it does not seem to see a need to flaunt it. Animation quality is also very high, with an unusually great emphasis placed on lip flaps. Anime characters normally don't look so detailed when they talk. Also watch for the interesting transition effects and the little critters poking around in the prologues.
The idea of a story centered around the fashion scene may not seem that exciting to those that aren't into that sort of thing, but. . . well, okay, that aspect isn't so interesting. Fortunately the emphasis so far has been on Yukari gradually learning to forge her own identity and the relationships she forms with the members of ParaKiss, especially George. Despite his more frustrating traits, it is not hard to see how Yukari quickly finds herself being attracted towards him and away from the classmate she had previously had a crush on, as he exudes sex appeal and represents the exotic, something far beyond her previous experiences. The way the series handles its romantic relationships does involve the expected heavy doses of blushing but is otherwise much more mature than school-aged romances normally are in anime.
Although the musical score does an acceptable job of supporting the story, it is not one of the show's strengths. The same cannot be said for its great opening and closing themes, though. The infectious dance beat and vocal style of the opener bear a strong resemblance to Madonna's more recent work, and thankfully Geneon was able to license Franz Ferdinand's “Do You Want To” for the closer. It is such a great fit, and synched so well with the visuals of dancing characters, that to replace it with anything else would be a travesty.
The Japanese dub was not available for review, but all of the English voices fit their parts well and performances and dialogue flow smoothly and hit the right notes. Most notably, the voices are perfectly in synch with the lip flaps, which might be expected in a normal anime series but is more remarkable here because of greater-than-normal emphasis on animating them. In a clever American pop culture homage present only in the English dub, Yukari's cell phone number (as brought up early in episode 3) may remind those who remember early '80s pop music of a certain very popular song.
The placid story may not work for everyone, but the first volume of Paradise Kiss is such a visual treat that Madhouse has a winner on its hands here. Even if you can't get into the story, it is worth checking out the first volume just for the great opening and closing themes and to see one of the most distinctive-looking artistic styles in recent memory.
Overall (dub) : A-
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B
+ Great visual quality and style, excellent closer.
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