I've discovered Ai Yazawa's work through Nana. I picked it up when I saw the first volume in a shop and nobody knew anything about it yet, and quickly became my favourite new manga. Nana has been adapted into an anime series and into a film which was very popular in Japan.
So it was only natural that I would seek out Yazawa's earlier works. Paradise Kiss seems to be the most accessible (meaning that Gokinjo Monogatari, the manga which takes place before Paradise Kiss, is hard to get here).
So what is this story about? The main character is Yukari, a senior student who doesn't know what to do with her life yet. One day, walking in the streets, she's stopped by Arashi, a wild looking guy, with a taste for piercings, spiky hairs and torn clothes. Yukari is so scared by Arashi's appearances that she immediately thinks he wants to rape her or rob her or kill her, or possibly all of the above. But Arashi only wants to offer her a job in the atelier he works in. The atelier is the "Paradise Kiss", an ex bar, hidden away from the main streets, transformed into a studio by a group of fashion students. Initially Yukari feels insulted by them, and turns down their offer. She's too shocked by their alternative and queer looks, but she gradually changes her mind, when she realises how hard these young people work to make their dream come true.
A key-role for this change of attitude is George, a fascinating, charismatic figure who is the real talent of the group.
The rest of the team are Miwako - Arashi's girlfriend - and Isabella - a crossdresser who's a sort of motherly figure for the group.
Needless to say, Yukari will accept the offer, and will fall head over heels for George (although she tries to deny it for the whole book). I mean, how could she not?
I was happy to see that a lot of the things that drew me into Nana are also found in Paradise Kiss. The style first of all. Yazawa must be one of the best character drawer ever. Her faces are simply beautiful, with smooth and clear lines.
Her attention to details and to fashion is astounding. This is even more prominent here, being a story which revolves around the fashion world. In this first volume Yukari doesn't wear much other than her school uniform, but the rest of the characters have already shown an incredible variety. Miwako has a different hair-style in every chapter, and even her everyday clothes are fabulous. George's flamboyant elegance is magnetic. And Isabella, she's just so sweet...she should totally have more space.
But this manga is not just about style. The story seems to be equally engaging, with the beginning of a passionate romance, the introduction of some elements of conflicts between three minor characters, that will be interesting to see developing, and of course the new adventure that our heroine Yukari has decided to embrace.
I really can't wait to read the next!
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