“Sweet exotic scents filled its every corner, as if someone was making candies in a Chinese import store. Dizzying music pulsated and bounced off the loud pink walls. There was an old bar, and a pool table, and three sewing machines. They called it their studio. It was like a secret hideout.”
So opens Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss, a stunning manga series that combines fashion and romance to tell a moving coming-of-age story. Paradise Kiss is the manga I imagine Francesca Lia Block might write; Ai Yazawa’s beautiful, fairy tale visuals recall Block’s dreamy prose. Yet Paradise Kiss keeps its feet firmly on the ground, following its believably flawed heroine on her journey of self-discovery. That heroine is Yukari Hayasaka, an average student struggling (apathetically) to make it through prep school and wondering who she is. Her life is suddenly thrown off its predictable course by an encounter with a group of fashion students: prickly, punk Arashi, wise (and transgendered) Isabella, doll-like Miwako, and George, the enigmatic leader of the group who call themselves Paradise Kiss.
I highly recommend Paradise Kiss for young adult or adult collections. Despite the sumptuous clothes and sophisticated visuals that make it such a pleasure to look at, Paradise Kiss‘s true strength is in its characters (which are always true to life). Ai Yazawa is not shy about discussing sex, so some libraries may choose to shelve Paradise Kiss in Adult, but her treatment of the subject is sophisticated. While there are two or three sex scenes, the intimacy takes place between couples and comes with emotional consequences. While Paradise Kiss is a romance (with more than its share of beautiful people), the series offers an unusually clear-eyed look at the good and the bad in relationships.