Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 7th 2007
DVD 2 + 3
Yukari is getting on well with the Paradise Kiss folks, until her mother tries to prohibit her new extra-curricular activities. A determined Yukari replies by running away, eventually moving in with dashing, gifted designer George. Yukari becomes convinced that her path in life is to become a professional model, and with a little help from her Paradise Kiss comrades, even lines up an agency that wants to help her make it big. But dreams alone cannot sustain a life, and soon enough Yukari realizes the necessity of reconciling her old life with her new dreams. Meanwhile bubbly, deceptively youthful Mawako's relationship with musician Arashi—who sports more hardware on (and in) his face than the home-improvement section of a K-Mart—is threatened by Yukari's old flame Tokumori, Isabella reminisces about when she was still a boy, Yukari and George's relationship intensifies and the fashion show that began it all looms on the horizon.
Based on the eponymous work of shoujo manga superstar Ai Yazawa, Paradise Kiss is a short, bittersweet little dark-chocolate treat for mature shoujo fans. Directed by industry veteran Osamu Kobayashi, Paradise Kiss is something of a companion piece to his Beck, focusing on the underground fashion scene rather than the underground music scene, but with similar overall trajectories: everyday person gets involved with idiosyncratic social misfits, and subsequently finds their calling in life. Both are also supported by attractive character designs, with the renowned Nobuteru Yuki (Escaflowne) successfully transferring Yazawa's Kiss characters to the screen—lanky, resplendent in their fashionable finery, with only a hint of his distinctive touch in their clean, smooth lines. The characters themselves are uniformly excellent: George's charm and unexpected vulnerability keep him from devolving into a narcissistic show-biz stereotype, and the universality of Yukari's ambitions and desires makes us feel every vagary of fortune and love that befalls her. The fully-fleshed secondary characters—and the relish with which they're acted—result in one of the rare casts of characters where it feels that everyone has their own story to tell, and moreover, that those stories would be worth listening to.
Make no mistake however, despite the established characters, the true star of this show is the costume design. Everything from everyday clothing, to the fashion shoots, to the absolutely stunning final show, are rendered in loving (and expensive) detail. The sequence where Yukari, wearing Paradise Kiss' masterpiece, steps onto the catwalk like some ethereal combination of a goddess and an Egyptian royal schooner makes you want to cry just from the sheer beauty of it. With imagery like that, a show could be forgiven for slipping up in other areas. But it never does. Not once. Kobayashi's experience shows: Everything—the way that different characters' eyes gleam and mouths move, the sparing use of its light, excellent score, the weird-creature nonsequiturs, the disparity between normal Yukari and dressed-up Yukari, the slick live-action/animation hybrid opening, the way that Franz Ferdinand's "Do You Want To" seeps into each episode's ending before lighting off that great SD closer, the peculiar brand of humorous deformation it utilizes, the unease fostered by Kobayshi's love of off-center compositions—it's all pitch-perfect. And it doesn't stop there.
Yazawa is a past master of the delicate balancing of realism with drama, a fact which comes through strongly in the relationships presented. They begin quickly, are fraught with insecurities, fights, jealousy, pain, and joy; steeped in sex, ever-changing and doomed to end. This is the world of neither "Happily Ever After" nor eternal love, but rather the real world, where entropy takes its inevitable toll, even on relationships, be they romantic or familial. Here the true joy of a relationship lies not in its future (uncertain, and doubtless painful) but in the moment, the mere presence of the person one loves. These moments are sweet, sexually charged, often funny, and always a touch sad; making the inevitable nastiness all the harder to bear. Yukari and George's relationship in particular is a delicate sadomasochistic tango, each hurting and getting hurt, pulling away, only to plunge back in, sinking deeper and deeper into each other with each iteration of the cycle, until they're so close that each wound, each gentle touch cuts straight into the heart.
Geneon's treatment of this series has been unusually thoughtful, with a nice breadth of extras that includes old standbys like clean openings and closings (very nice in this case) and production sketches, but also a round table discussions with the voice actors, director and musicians, the winning designs from the Paradise Kiss Fashion Design Contest, and a concert video. Effort also shows in Geneon's dub which nails George's combination of arrogance, superciliousness and tenderness, and gets the majority of the supporting roles dead on. Yukari is also good, while Isabella manages, by some miracle, a decent simulacrum of the mannered speech patterns of his/her Japanese counterpart without sounding too terribly forced. The pressure of matching lip-flaps means that some of the dialogue is less concise and more roundabout than the original, and it sometimes lacks the flow that marks truly superior dubs. The English script cleaves closely to the subtitles, with the exception of Arashi, whose colorful language sometimes strays considerably.
As a drama, Paradise Kiss is as much about being young and having dreams as it is about romance. But unlike its more fanciful shounen and shoujo cousins, it has a cold adult eye for the realities of both, and a warm affection for those in the process of coming to grips with them, as the sometimes ugly sometimes uplifting character dynamics and bittersweet coda will attest. Consider yourself warned: don't expect to leave Paradise Kiss unscathed. Just as its characters, every one, are different by the end, so too may you emerge ever-so-subtly changed. And that can't help but be a good thing. Right?
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A+
Music : A
+ Near-perfect execution of a refreshingly mature story about growing up.
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