Vrai, Dee, and Caitlin look back on one of the most beloved titles from the Queen of Josei, Yazawa Ai, from its rare depiction of a woman’s coming-of-age that doesn’t turn solely around romance, to its relatively well-aged takes on gender issues…and a couple places where it dropped the ball (looking at you, Arashi).
Date Recorded: May 13th, 2020
Hosts: Vrai, Dee, Caitlin
0:01:46 The beautiful brick
0:05:24 Past experiences
0:09:12 The Yazawaverse
0:13:00 First impressions
0:15:22 Yukari x George
0:20:33 Sad romance
0:23:16 The anime
0:26:21 George x Isabella
0:39:11 Genre pitfalls
0:42:28 Arashi x Miwako
0:55:46 Final thoughts
VRAI: Hello there, listeners, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor for Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter, where I post the stuff I freelance, @WriterVrai, or you can find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod. My pronouns are they/them. And with me today are Dee and Caitlin. Dream Team.
CAITLIN: Hell, yeah.
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I am the technical editor and a staff writer for Anime Feminist, and you can find all of my various stuff when I remember to link it/don’t feel like I’m being egotistical for linking it @alltsun_nodere.
DEE: If you can’t be egotistical on your own blog, I ask you, where can you be egotistical?
VRAI: This is the internet. Egoism only.
VRAI: I’m very excited about today because I have been trying to harangue the staff to do a ParaKiss podcast for… forever? Possibly forever.
DEE: Basically forever, yeah.
CAITLIN: Basically. We’ve always been willing…
DEE: Yeah, it wasn’t super—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] We just couldn’t get it together.
DEE: And it wasn’t super easily available because you guys had copies, I think, but I didn’t, and the Tokyopop version was out of print, and then Vertical had a version, but it was kind of hard to track down. So, it was perpetually on my “I’ll Get to It Eventually” list. And then Vertical released a very nice 20th anniversary edition this past, what, December, I think?
VRAI: Something like that, yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Something like that.
DEE: And it’s extremely reasonably priced. Entire thing. A brick of a book, but it was the perfect excuse to finally get the copy and do this podcast.
VRAI: I think it’s just the two Vertical volumes that were out for like five seconds, but they smooshed it together into one enormous brick and lowered the price a bit, which is fine, I guess.
CAITLIN: I had the first two volumes of the Vertical release, and then right when I was going to buy the third one, they announced the brick, [chuckles] so I was like, “Well…”
DEE: “I’ll just wait on the brick.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, I stuck the first two volumes in the little free libraries in my neighborhood and said, “I hope someone enjoys them.”
VRAI: Hope someone enjoys two-thirds of a series!
CAITLIN: Well, they can get the rest of it! I’ve spent—
DEE: Leave them one more.
CAITLIN: People took out the random volume of Complex Age I accidentally bought two of. Someone’s taking all my manga, so…
VRAI: Fair enough. Yeah, that’s gonna be interesting for this podcast. I actually was able to get the brick. I wasn’t sure that was going to happen, because we are recording this during quarantine time and it is currently backordered in a lot of places. So, I both re-read my copies of the Tokyopop translation and kind of skimmed over the new Vertical translation, which… they’re different. They’re different.
DEE: Yeah. No, I’m sure. I mean, Tokyopop is somewhat notorious for taking some liberties with the texts, so I am unsurprised that the translations are dramatically different.
CAITLIN: [laughs dryly] Cough, cough, Arashi’s accent, cough, cough.
VRAI: [inhales sharply] Yeah, Arashi is randomly British—
DEE: Is he now?
VRAI: —for half of it.
DEE: [laughs] Well, okay then.
VRAI: They just get bored of it after, like, a volume!
DEE: Changed their minds?
VRAI: It’s a choice. Yeah.
So, to give some background for folks, Paradise Kiss is one of the two most well-known manga works by manga artist Yazawa Ai, who is sometimes known as the Queen of Josei. She has a couple other series. ParaKiss and her other most famous work, Nana, are the only ones that are available in English.
Paradise Kiss was published from 1999 to 2003 in Zipper magazine. It also had a 12-episode anime adaptation in 2005 that is currently out of print. The license was lost when Geneon went under, and nobody else has picked it up. And there is also a live-action movie that came out in 2011 and certainly exists.
CAITLIN: [sighs] I haven’t seen it, but what I’ve heard does not make me want to watch it.
VRAI: Burn it down. So, yeah, we’ve alluded to… This is one of those podcasts where there are levels of history going back with this series. Caitlin, I know that you are a longtime fan. And Dee, you’ve only just got around to reading it because podcast.
DEE: Yeah. I saw the first couple episodes of the anime way back in the day and just didn’t have easy access to the DVDs and wasn’t able to finish it. I liked it. I just wasn’t so enamored with it I had to go out and buy it right that second. So, getting around to reading the manga has been on my list for forever, because I read Nana and I watched Nana, and I really enjoyed Nana. And people spoke highly of ParaKiss, especially the two of you once we all started chatting.
So, yeah, it’s been forever on my list, but this was finally the excuse to be like, “Okay, I’m gonna buy the dang thing. Let’s do the podcast.” But yeah, I’m fresh to it, as opposed to you guys.
VRAI: Yeah! I’m very excited about that, honestly.
DEE: What was y’all’s experience with the series? Because I know you’ve been fans of it for a while.
CAITLIN: When Tokyopop first put it out, I looked at it like, “I don’t think that looks good. I don’t like the art,” because I was like 13 and had bad taste.
VRAI: Well, in fairness to you, the original release of the first couple volumes were really ugly.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] The covers were bad. The covers were terrible. The covers did nothing to show how nice the art was. And then, at a convention, a couple of my friends got the first couple volumes, and I read them and I was like, “Oh, actually, this is really pretty and really good.” I actually don’t think I’ve ever managed to own the entire series.
But my appreciation of it grew over the years. The anime came out. Osamu Kobayashi is a really distinctive director, I think is a good way to put it. And then, an early article that I wrote for Heroine Problem back in the day was about Paradise Kiss and how it’s really this absolutely incredible coming-of-age story. Yeah, it’s really just a super well-crafted story, and I love how it handles the relationship between Yukari and George. No, it’s great. It’s fabulous.
VRAI: I’m surprised to remember that this is actually the only Yazawa series I’m familiar with because I never did watch or read Nana, because I didn’t want to have to deal with the heartbreak of it not being finished.
DEE: [knowingly] Mm-hm.
VRAI: And sometimes I kinda regret that decision because Yazawa’s a very good writer, but also, my heart. It already has Stars Align in there.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Oh, I remembered another thing. Sorry to interrupt. I cosplayed Mikako for Anime Expo one year. My friend went as Miwako.
DEE: Oh, that’s cute.
CAITLIN: Then we discovered that my other friend’s boyfriend, who is tall and skinny, just happened to have, basically, one of George’s outfits, the one with the big cowboy hat.
DEE: Oh, nice!
CAITLIN: He literally just had the elements of that outfit with him. And it was funny because he didn’t live in the area. He had traveled from out of town. And so, we just tossed that on him and went as a Paradise Kiss/Go-kinjo Monogatari group.
VRAI: It is also completely wild to me that ParaKiss technically shares a universe with another Yazawa series, Neighborhood Story, that has just never made it to English-language audiences, either the manga or the 50-episode anime that got made in the ‘90s.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, it’s unfortunate because it is a good series. I read it in my own way back in the day.
VRAI: [laughs] You “acquired” it.
CAITLIN: This is a pro-licensing site, but…
VRAI: Sometimes there ain’t no license, if you dig.
CAITLIN: It was many years ago.
DEE: Things were different. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Things were different.
DEE: Things were different. Please support the official release.
VRAI: Please do, which does exist. But yeah, ParaKiss is my favorite josei manga. It’s actually one of my favorite manga of all time. It would probably make the top ten list if I actually sat down to make it.
I read it when I was just out of college. I was probably 22 and was spending a summer at this commune… artist thing, and I had heard ParaKiss spoken of with high regard. God, I think I watched a video Jacob Chapman made about it back in the day. But I had never been able to get my hands on it because this was just after Geneon had collapsed, by a year or two, and the bubble had burst. Stuff was hard to get hold of.
But the person who was running this thing that I was at happened to have the first two volumes of the manga with her randomly, and I devoured them in an afternoon. And while I was there in a shitty farmhouse in Iowa, I went on my computer and ordered the Tokyopop volumes off of eBay so they would be there at my parents’ house when I got back.
And I still have those, actually. And I even managed to get a hold of the Geneon individual discs of the anime, which was bastard hard even in 2012. They’re about impossible to get now. It’s not the worst thing. If we had to pick a version to be available, I’m glad it’s the manga, honestly.
But yeah, I love this series so much, and I’m really glad that (A) we can talk about it and (B) maybe some people will read it. I might have teared up again re-reading these to get ready for the podcast.
CAITLIN: Every single time for me. Honestly, I cry every time I read it.
DEE: Which part gets you? Which part evokes the tears? Is it just periodically throughout, or is there a particular scene that gets you guys?
CAITLIN: It’s a few different points near the end. So, the part where they’re at the fashion show and Yukari goes out and she lets go of George’s hand. And then the part where she gets the key and she goes and opens up the room, and it’s all the outfits that George made, and she just collapses in tears, and I always cry at that part.
VRAI: See, for me it’s completely different. For me, it’s when little George gives Isabella her first dress.
DEE: Aw, yeah.
CAITLIN: I don’t have the same kind of connection to that part that you do, but yeah, I can totally see that.
VRAI: And the scene on New Year’s. I really think that’s a well-done scene. I guess that leaves… Dee, how’d you feel about coming to this series with the incredible baggage that it has with it, honestly?
DEE: I really liked it. Like I said, I was familiar with Yazawa’s work. I know some of her tendencies from Nana, and it was interesting to see some of those also displayed in Paradise Kiss.
It was weird. I kept catching myself sort of comparing it to Nana and then also sort of comparing it to Higashimura’s josei series, because Princess Jellyfish also has a fashion element to it, but they’re extremely different stories. And not comparing in an “is it better or worse?” kind of way, just how these josei series that are technically about the same thing handle those elements differently.
This is one of the few times we’ve done a podcast where I hadn’t read it or seen it before; I was reading it for the podcast. And any time you’re taking notes while reading a thing, I think that it’s a little bit harder to just engage with it as a reader. So, I did not have any big emotional reactions to it like you guys have. But also, it’s The Unpleasantness as we’re recording this, so I’m sure that made it harder to have those as well.
But anyway… No, I absolutely understand why you guys like it as much as you do. I think there’s some really, really high highs in it. I think it’s a complicated coming-of-age story in a way that you don’t often see in manga. And it’s something Yazawa’s good at—and also, it’s a fine line with Yazawa’s work because she likes to portray unhealthy or straight-up abusive behaviors and not necessarily take a firm moral stance on them. And I don’t think that’s an inherently bad way to write, but I think that you have to be super careful with it that you don’t accidentally end up romanticizing or excusing it. And I fought with that a little bit at the tail end of the series.
VRAI: Yeah, there are… I think we should acknowledge straight-up… [assumes an ironic tone] 20 minutes in, “straight-up.”
VRAI: There are parts of this series that haven’t aged super well. I think, given a lot of other series that I’ve read from around this timeframe, it has actually held up astonishingly well, but there are definitely a couple things that have aged poorly, like… George is kind of the stereotypical promiscuous, fuck-around bi character.
DEE: We’re told. We don’t really see him doing that, though, so I could never really tell if he was just always kind of joking and putting that on as a persona or if he actually was.
CAITLIN: Yeah, there’s a fair amount of ambiguity in it, because George is deliberately very opaque. And so, the little flashes that we get, on the rare occasion where he does allow himself to be vulnerable, there is a sense that maybe Yukari is not the most reliable narrator because she is also very caught up in her own stuff and the way she views the relationship as a power struggle.
And she’s not wrong, but George and Yukari, I think, have… I like the sort of ambiguity and complexity about the relationship. I think one of the things that I really like about josei over shoujo is that there is more room to explore that complexity and that sort of in-between space in relationships, like “Is it unhealthy? Is it abusive? These two people, are they good for each other?” Yeah, it’s definitely very complicated.
DEE: Yeah. And I think ParaKiss is pretty open about the fact that Yukari and George do not have a healthy relationship. I mean, that’s one of the reasons they break up at the end, is they have that conversation about “We want different things out of this relationship, and we keep trying to push our own wants onto each other, and that cannot be good for either of us.”
DEE: Which, props to them for realizing it at the end and doing the mature thing and parting ways. So, yeah, I don’t know what the fandom conversation around ParaKiss is. I would imagine that there is some question about whether that relationship is abusive or just unhealthy.
To me, it’s a quintessential, very well-written unhealthy relationship. Both of them are not handling it well, mostly out of a lack of communication or an unwillingness to be emotionally vulnerable with each other. I don’t see either of them as actively trying to manipulate or lord power over the other one, if that makes sense.
VRAI: Yep. It’s a bad relationship, but neither of them are bad people, and I feel like that’s such a hard thing to portray: that they’re so important to each other but also just really bad together. And I have seen very few other pieces of media pull that off so well.
CAITLIN: Right. I agree. It is a big conversation in the fandom of whether they are abusive or just unhealthy or “OMG, the most romantic thing ever.”
DEE: Well, I’m gonna say “no” to the last one for sure! [chuckles]
VRAI: Oh, my sweet summer child.
CAITLIN: I lean towards unhealthy as well because, like I said, there are hints that they are both totally messed up and confused and [don’t] understand the other one in their own way.
DEE: Deeply flawed and need to work out their own shit before they try to have a serious relationship. Also, both of them kind of come from abusive households. And you can see them trying to work through that in their own relationship with each other. Yukari’s mom is terrible, and George’s mom is maybe not as bad, but also pretty awful.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s a case of physical abuse versus emotional neglect in their backgrounds and what it teaches them about their expectations for others.
CAITLIN: I do think that they are who the other person needs at this moment in their lives. The fact that they connected because George told Yukari, “Of course you can talk about your problems. They’re not dumb. I’ll sit and listen to you,” that was such a big deal for her.
And I think that they, yeah, drove each other crazy, but they also inspired each other and pulled each other out of their comfort zone, and that was really important for both of them because they would have been on completely different tracks in their lives without each other. And then once that relationship has run its course they break up, and that’s good.
VRAI: I kind of hate the assertion that assholes like Nicholas Sparks tend to make, like “Romance that ends sadly is more serious or meaningful than stuff with a happy ending,” because I don’t think that’s true and I think it tends to be derisive of media specifically, largely made for women.
But at the same time, I think we’ve talked about on a lot of podcasts how we wish there would be stories that acknowledge that a first love can be powerful and really shape who you are as a person, but isn’t necessarily who you want to be with for the rest of your life.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. There needs to be more media like that.
DEE: Yeah, I agree. I like a nice, fluffy romance. I love My Love Story; it’s adorable and sweet. Someday we’ll do a podcast on that one. But anyway…
DEE: But if that’s all you’re getting all the time, it can lead to some unrealistic expectations, which we talked about a lot in the Fushigi Yugi watchalong as well, about when you’re in high school and thinking like, “I must find my true love now because that’s how the stories work.”
So, yeah, I think having something like Paradise Kiss where she has this really intense first-love relationship with George and then they both realize they’re not good for each other and they break up, and then she ends up with a much steadier, more supportive presence in her life… Because Tokumori’s a good boy. He’s not in the story much, but he’s doing his best out there.
CAITLIN: Right. [unintelligible beneath crosstalk]
VRAI: I had intended to save me yelling about this till later in the podcast, but fuck it, I might as well do it now. [laughs]
VRAI: This’ll be in the can forever, so I’m officially saying as my thing—to finally finish the article I’ve been doing for four years—that I will have written an article about this by the time this podcast drops.
CAITLIN: Called shot.
DEE: [crosstalk] There you go.
VRAI: It really honestly makes me quite angry how much… There is a significant chunk of the fandom that’s like “George and Yukari are such a beautiful ideal romance, and I can’t believe they broke up, and that sucks so much.” And on the one hand, it’s irritating, but also Fandom Gonna Fandom. Whatever.
CAITLIN: [baffled] What is reading comprehension?
VRAI: That’s just like, “Whatever. I wanted something else from this story, and I’m gonna make my fanfic about it. It’s whatever.”
DEE: Yeah. I mean, that’s fine.
VRAI: Yeah. So, that is whatever, but the fact that all of the adaptations of this work either downplay or straight-up get rid of the fact that it’s so important and healthy that they broke up. And I hate that.
DEE: Oh, that’s too bad. Yeah, I’ve not seen the anime, but I knew you hated the ending and I wondered if that was why.
VRAI: Mm-hm. The anime is… On one hand, I’m kind of sad that it’s not really easily available because it gets rid of some of the cute fourth-wall stuff in the manga but otherwise it’s a pretty beat-for-beat faithful adaptation up through the fashion show, and it’s quite lovely to see it made so sumptuously with voice acting and the colors on the clothes, and it’s really quite lovely to look at.
DEE: [crosstalk] Also, Franz Ferdinand does the ending theme, somehow!
CAITLIN: Yes! Also… I mean, both the theme songs are incredible.
DEE: But I remember when that came on, when we watched the first couple episodes—I think it was in anime club—and the ending theme came on and we were all like, “What?!”
DEE: “We know this song! That doesn’t happen. This isn’t JoJo’s!” Yeah, it was excellent.
VRAI: But yeah, basically the entire fifth volume is done in one episode in the anime.
CAITLIN: It’s a good chunk of story.
VRAI: That’s a fifth of the story, in one episode of 12!
CAITLIN: A lot of very important character development happens in it because this is the point where Yukari and George start to realize that their relationship has run its course and that they want different things; it’s not healthy for them to continue on this way. The whole plotline about George’s friend—
VRAI: Kaori, yeah.
CAITLIN: —Kaori, yeah, and Yukari realizing that she is starting to turn super jealous and not a person that she likes with him.
VRAI: Oh, I love that entire subplot, because so much of George and Yukari’s relationship is… A lot of their fights on Yukari’s end are her pushing these expectations she has of heteronormative romance onto him. She doesn’t call him and then gets mad because “Why didn’t he call? He’s the man. He’s supposed to do that.” And he’ll be like, “But I left my phone on, and I was really upset that you didn’t call me either.” It’s not making a definitive statement, but it’s touching on the fact that these expectations she’s been taught are hurting both of them in their relationship.
And then when Kaori comes into the picture, she looks like the kind of spunky josei/shoujo heroine: she’s got the short hair, and she comes from “noble poverty,” as it were, and she’s focused on her dream, and she pushed off this playboy and won his admiration, and they’re good friends. And Yukari is realizing, “Oh, no! I’m the jealous, bitchy girlfriend who’s getting in the way of the main couple.” And I love that entire subplot and how smart it is about genre.
CAITLIN: And in addition to that, you see how George is when he has somebody who he’s comfortable with and happy with and how different he is with Kaori than he is with Yukari, because they’re not playing mind games with each other.
DEE: Yeah, it’s nice to see George in other relationships because you get a much better feel for his character, because he’s always sort of guarded with Yukari and he’s guarded with his mom. But then with Kaori he’s much more open, and then the handful of scenes we get with him and Isabella are just golden, top to bottom.
CAITLIN: Oh, so good!
VRAI: Yes, hello, I ship them.
DEE: [laughs] I don’t blame you. I think it would be very sweet if the two of them ended up getting together while they were in France.
VRAI: [tearfully] She’s gonna make the patterns for his dresses forever, you guys!
DEE: Yeah, his total, wholehearted acceptance of her when they were kids is really sweet and genuine and gives you— Because, I think, for the first half of the story, you really only get George from Yukari’s perspective. You don’t get a lot of him on his own or from another character’s point of view.
And so, there is very much that sense of “Is he just kind of a dick, or is he actively manipulative, the way Yukari sees him?” So when you get to see him with other characters, you get a better feel for the fact that he’s mostly just kind of shitty at communicating and hesitant to open up with new people—for understandable reasons, I think.
She feels like he’s trying to turn her into his ideal girl, but when you look at the story, he’s really just being upfront about “No, I don’t really want a clingy girlfriend. I’m just not into that. So, we’re done here.” And then she decides she’s gonna become independent for him and resents him for that. But a lot of that is her own perspective and her having to work through who she wants to be versus what other people want her to be.
And it’s really well done over the course of the series, because there definitely is that question in the early going, and then, as you go, you start to realize that we’re seeing it just through Yukari’s eyes and, like Caitlin said, she’s not the most reliable of narrators. And, again, I really appreciate that in the writing and the way that gets teased out over the course of the story.
VRAI: And I do love that Yazawa allows this idea of being a strong, independent woman to not necessarily be the be-all, end-all goal either. It’s clearly working for Kaori, and she’s happy and independent and making her way and it’s great; but for Yukari, she’s also equally unhappy not being allowed to voice these moments where she wants to be vulnerable and supported.
DEE: Yeah, and I think that’s totally fair. The relationship is unhealthy because Yukari does want somebody in her life who she can go to when she’s feeling down who will take care of her a little bit—and I think that’s totally fair to want that in a relationship—and that’s just not something George is willing to give. And I don’t think that’s either’s fault. It’s just the reason the relationship isn’t going to work.
VRAI: It’s good shit.
DEE: It’s really well done, yeah.
VRAI: I did want to talk about Isabella a little bit, too, partly because I love her and she is my daughter.
DEE: That’s partly why I brought her up, because I figured we’d want to spend some time on her and then [audio cuts out briefly] just how the series handles queerness in general, I’m sure.
VRAI: Yeah. And Isabella is one of those things where I think she mostly holds up as one of the better portrayals in manga and anime to this day, even. But it also is one of those things I mentioned earlier that has aged a little bit, because the first couple chapters have Yukari being insensitive because it wants to show that she’s insensitive, and then she pretty quickly apologizes.
But also it has that shitty through-joke at the end where they got almost all the way to the end, but they didn’t make it. They ended up deadnaming her at the very end, and I hate that. They were so close, ParaKiss!
DEE: Yeah, Arashi can die in a fire.
VRAI: [chuckles heartily]
CAITLIN: I mean, I appreciated how, when Arashi deadnamed Isabella, everyone was just like, “Dude, what the fuck? Arashi! Don’t do that!”
VRAI: [crosstalk] George prepares to murder him, and I support this boy.
CAITLIN: “You don’t do that!” Everyone’s shock and horror at it was, I thought, appropriate. And Arashi sucks. Like, let’s be real.
VRAI: [crosstalk] He does!
DEE: Oh my God, he’s the worst! You don’t realize it until the very end how much Arashi sucks.
CAITLIN: So, it’s in character for him to do something garbage like that, but honestly, even flipping through, it was a dumb, one-off joke where Isabella chopped through meat with a bone in it with a cleaver and Yukari’s just like, “Way to go, Daisuke,” and I’m just like, “Really?”
VRAI: If you wanted to have that moment where Arashi’s being a dick (because why would you need one more?), you could have still done it in a way… kind of like the shit in the 2003 Kino’s Journey where they talk around Kino’s deadname, basically, without actually stating it, to get the effect.
DEE: Yeah, I think for the most part, Yazawa treads that really careful line where the story is very supportive of Isabella and it’s just some of the characters are flawed and we see that on display in the narrative because that’s how the characters are. Does that make sense? Like you said, Yukari in the early going, or the fact that Arashi’s queerphobic through the entire story, or Isabella’s butler who is trying and kind of fucking it up but he’s getting better.
VRAI: That whole scene is such a mood for anybody who’s got older parents or family who’s from a conservative environment but really doing their best. I love that scene.
DEE: Yeah. And so, I think for the most part the narrative does a good job of… Again, there are characters who say things that are insensitive or prejudiced or what have you, but the story overall is supportive and accepting of Isabella, which is really good. And then, like you said, it’s that deadname thing at the end that feels off and like a joke about it instead of following the supportiveness of the story, which sucks.
VRAI: I do want to give a shoutout to the new translation, though. It has done so much good work that the Tokyopop translation surprisingly did not. There are a couple moments in the Tokyopop translation that I like—like the entire Christmas scene with Yukari and George, I actually like their version better. I feel like it’s a little more direct and punchy, but other than that, the Vertical translation is great.
DEE: Yeah, you said there’s a lot more… like they went all in on the transphobic shit in the Tokyopop version, yeah?
VRAI: Yeah, it sucks.
DEE: And none of us have the original Japanese in front of us, so we can’t do a comparison to the original text. But it is one of those things where it’s like, if you have the option to go hard or go soft based on whatever the original said, maybe don’t go hard on it. Maybe don’t alienate readers, would be a good idea.
But yeah, the Vertical—I thought the Vertical one, overall… I really liked Isabella’s arc. I was glad we got those flashbacks with her and George because those were really, really nice. And the way the characters talk about clothing having power, which, again, took me back to Princess Jellyfish.
VRAI: Yeah. I can’t believe I’ve never actually read any of Higashimura’s work.
VRAI: I know!
DEE: Maybe we’ll do a Princess Jellyfish retrospective further down the line. We’ll knock out both the big fashion series.
VRAI: There you go. I mean, I do have a soft spot— If anybody’s listened to the old Kill la Kill watchalong, you know that I get on a high horse a little bit about fashion because my wife makes clothes, so I know just enough about that shit to be dangerous.
VRAI: I do really love the attention to fashion in this series—not just how sumptuously Yazawa draws clothes, but also just the casual, clear breadth of knowledge that she puts into it and how the world works.
DEE: Yeah, the conversations around fashion as a, um… How do I word this?
VRAI: A professional industry?
DEE: Yeah. And in a way that certain forms of art aren’t as much. It is inherently about… you make the goods so the consumer will buy them. It’s art, but it’s closely tied to marketability. And they talk about having to make those compromises between what you want to design versus what people will actually wear because of price or style or what have you.
CAITLIN: Right. It’s the difference between, like, haute couture, the stuff that you see on the runways and you’re like, “What is that? Who would wear that?” and stuff that is wearable and accessible and affordable. And sometimes, it is hard to reconcile the two; like the fact that George can’t work in Japan because his fashion sense just doesn’t jive with Japanese sensibilities. It’s too couture, so he has to go somewhere where that will be appreciated.
DEE: I like that he eventually gets a job designing costumes on Broadway because that’s such a good place for someone with George’s stylistic eye to end up. I thought that was a cool way to show he did have success while being able to stay true to what he wanted to do.
VRAI: I love the way it ties into the themes of the relationships, too, because couture is all about these shows that are fashion for fashion people, where you make these things that obviously nobody is going to wear but you’re showing off your talents to one another as designers.
They talk about it in the series as spinning these illusions, which is kind of what George and Yukari are doing to each other, kind of pushing one another into being what they want their ideal partner to be, and it collapses on them. And George can’t function that way—although he then goes to France with Isabella, who is gentle and supportive and also really likes wearing his fancy clothes… Anyway, moving on.
CAITLIN: A fancy lady.
VRAI: [chuckles; assumes a posh, sing-song accent] Fancy laaady. [returns to normal voice] But then also, that idea of ready-wear and stuff that’s… it’s not bad, but it is made for practical wear and to sell as a consumer. And that contrasts with this down-to-earth, less romantic, but very supportive relationship that Yukari has with Hiroyuki. And they ultimately end up getting married. It’s nice.
DEE: Yeah, that’s a good point, the way that ties together. And then, I guess, at the same time there’s also that element of fashion helping you become your true self. We see George giving [Isabella] dresses helps her come out and live openly as a trans woman; and then you also see Yukari starts to find her footing and her place in the world through dressing the part until she kind of becomes the part. But it’s not somebody else forcing it on them. It is a decision that they get to make for themselves.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I noticed that in the beginning. When she’s talking about how she doesn’t have much of a sense of self, she talks about how she has the uniform for this prestigious high school and people see her wearing that uniform, and that is the only real sense of identity she has.
She is so empty, she is so adrift, she has no actual interest in academics, and she’s totally burned out from going to a school that is too hard for her. But the uniform is what gives her pride and identity.
So, I think that’s a really important part of the themes. And once she starts wearing other clothes, she can develop her own identity, and she starts having a real sense of herself, then she’s wearing more interesting and exciting clothes and not just defining herself by her uniform.
VRAI: Mm-hm. I keep coming back to the series and wondering why the things it’s exploring, like this issue of “clothes help define who you are” and this idea of beauty and excelling, don’t— I’ve complained about them in other places, shows like Wandering Son or Smile Down the Runway, where they’ve touched on these similar things and I don’t think it works quite like ParaKiss.
ParaKiss is still dealing with that idea of clothes as identity and there’s not a lot of body type diversity in this series, but it doesn’t bother me here, and I’ve never been able to quite articulate what it is.
DEE: They don’t call attention to it. One of the big issues with Smile Down the Runway in the early going—which, I ended up enjoying that anime a fair bit—but one of the hurdles early on is the way it’s trying to be a story about body image and positivity and what is culturally considered beautiful, but it’s doing it with a bunch of characters who would culturally be considered beautiful. And so, it’s trying to do A Progressive, and the fact that it’s trying to do that calls attention to the fact—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Makes it worse.
DEE: Yeah, makes it worse. And ParaKiss isn’t about that. It’s about identity. It’s about more the emotional side of it. The clothing can help you find your confidence or what have you, but it’s not trying to say something about Yukari being secretly beautiful and she doesn’t know it or anything like that. That’s not the point of the story. So, I think that’s probably why it doesn’t bother you, is because that’s not what they’re going for.
CAITLIN: Right. And Paradise Kiss does specifically call out, “I was born with these things. I was born with these long legs and my height and my natural thinness.” It is aware of her genetics being an advantage. It doesn’t try to make any show towards “She’s overcoming these barriers,” because she’s like, “Yeah, these barriers aren’t here for me, just because I was born this way.” And I respect its willingness to recognize that versus making a big show of “This beautiful short girl…”
VRAI: “She doesn’t know she’s beautiful, guys.”
DEE: Yeah, Yukari gets scouted, and once she figures out that she wants to keep doing this, it actually comes fairly easy to her. The struggle isn’t breaking into the industry, necessarily, because she is what agencies look for when they’re hiring models. Her struggle is more figuring out what she wants and then getting her mom to accept it.
VRAI: And also, specifically being aware of business acumen and all the things she has to be savvy about, which I love that the series includes that.
CAITLIN: Yeah, modeling is hard work.
VRAI: I do feel like, as we’re about three-quarters of the way, we have to talk about Arashi and Miwako, as much as perhaps we don’t want to.
CAITLIN: There’s the fact of Arashi being a garbage human being.
DEE: That’s the thing that soured me at the tail end. Throughout the story, he’s possessive and jealous and controlling, but it’s in that way that I could go, “Okay, they’re shitty 18-year-olds. Yukari is also kind of jealous and possessive and controlling. They can work through this.” And then we get to the final volume.
CAITLIN: [shuddering] Ugh.
DEE: And they drop that bomb on you about the fact that Arashi raped Miwako and that’s how their relationship started.
VRAI: [baffled] How—
CAITLIN: And it’s all through Arashi’s perspective?
DEE: Yeah, he’s talking to Tokumori, and Miwako’s not involved.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Miwako is not part of the conversation about her own sexual assault, and that’s really not okay, for one thing. And the terms they’re talking about it [in], it’s bizarre because it is in such male perception of women’s sort of ways.
Tokumori talks about “Oh, you feel guilty because you turned her into a sexual being.” It’s like, “No, she is a sexual being on her own. You raping her didn’t automatically flip a switch, like something went in her vagina and now she’s a sexual being. That’s not how it is.” The way they talk about it is so different from Yazawa’s usual approach to sex. I almost wonder if it’s intentional but she fumbled it.
VRAI: Yeah, it does feel intentional because they’re super talking about it as though she was an innocent being who wasn’t aware of sex until this terrible thing happened to her, which is clearly some bullshit. But it doesn’t matter whether we’re intended to read it as an unreliable bit of text because we never come back to Miwako and how she feels about that.
CAITLIN: No, it is poorly handled. The best, most charitable reading is that Yazawa meant to do something and did it badly. And the least charitable is that she thinks that this relationship is okay. But he breaks her phone. That’s abuse.
VRAI: He forces her to end her friendship with Hiroyuki because he’s jealous and insecure. That’s not okay!
DEE: It’s one thing to have a conversation where you say— Miwako’s situation is that she kind of wanted a poly relationship. That’s my read on it, is that she loved them both about equally.
And Arashi wasn’t okay with that. And it’s one thing to have a conversation where you say, “Yeah, I don’t think that’s the kind of relationship I want, so we have to move forward from that point.” But that’s not what happened. He basically gave her an ultimatum and forced her to cut ties with Tokumori entirely.
Yeah, he’s awful, start to finish, and then you get that scene where all the background stuff comes out, which makes it so much worse in retrospect. And then he has a conversation about “I need to trust her more, and I need to be less shitty” and seems to be moving in that direction. They start hanging out with Tokumori again, the three of them, which is good, I guess, but at that point, I really just wanted him to die.
And then he deadnamed Isabella, so fuck off. [pained laughter]
VRAI: I feel like I could have forgiven him… The resolution at the end where he’s like, “I’m sorry. I want to try to patch this up, and I know that I’ve been treating you wrong.” I feel like a lot of that could have worked for me, like you said, because they’re dumb, shitty teenagers, if the assault element wasn’t there, if he was just being shitty and jealous.
DEE: Yeah, the possessiveness up to that point, I was like, this is bad and—like Caitlin said—abusive behavior, but they’re 18-year-olds; they have time to change. And so, if his character arc was him getting better, I could’ve worked with it. But yeah, when you find out that the relationship began with assault, I was kind of done with that, and that put a sour note at the end of the series. I really liked everything else it did, and I was like, “Why? Why is this here?!”
CAITLIN: [pained] And then they have kids!
DEE: Yeah, they stay together. That’s the couple that lasts? Blah! [pained] Miwako… You can do so much better. She’s such a good girl!
CAITLIN: [sadly] I know.
DEE: I feel so bad for her. She has anxiety—physical manifestations of anxiety—and is clearly trying to do her best, and her relationship with Yukari is really sweet. I really like their friendship. She’s the one who really brings Yukari into the fold, more so than— Obviously, Yukari is attracted to George, but her friendship with Miwako, I think, is what really seals the deal.
And I just feel like she gets a raw deal there at the end, especially [since], like you said, we don’t get her side of the story. Maybe if we’d gotten her feelings on it, it would have made it work better? I don’t know.
Like I said at the beginning, Yazawa has—she does this in Nana as well—she has a tendency to depict these toxic or abusive relationships, and she doesn’t romanticize them, but she doesn’t necessarily condemn them, either. And sometimes it can lead to these really well-written, complex relationships like Yukari and George, which I think is a good depiction of an unhealthy relationship. And sometimes it can lead to situations where it feels like she’s normalizing abuse, and that’s the way the Arashi/Miwako stuff shook out. And that made me deeply uncomfortable.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, I think Nana handled it better than Paradise Kiss.
DEE: Agreed. She gets a second crack at it in Nana, and she handles those elements a lot better. It’s much clearer when characters are being abusive and awful, and it’s not condoned at all.
CAITLIN: Yeah, although some people still miss that point. It’s very frustrating to me.
DEE: Well, Yazawa’s not— Again, she is a writer who’s not going to smack you over the head, necessarily. You really have to pay attention to what the characters are saying and thinking and feeling.
VRAI: Yeah, this is the part where I drop in that at the end of the live-action movie, Yukari and George get back together at the end, and I die. I die.
DEE: I am completely unsurprised that there are versions of this story out there that are like, “Hey, but what if they stayed together? What if?”
VRAI: “What if this was good, actually?”
DEE: And I’m like, “Well, they’d have to be probably completely different people for that to happen, so…”
VRAI: Yeah, it sucks to have that one really wrong note that’s in there in this story that I otherwise think is completely masterful. And honestly, even with that screw-up, I’d still call it one of the best josei series of all time.
DEE: We don’t have enough josei in English for me to make that [chuckles]—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Zinger. Hey, fair. Fair.
DEE: —statement about josei at this point. I feel like I can count the number of josei series that are available and that I’ve read on two hands. And the number has gone up exponentially in the past few years, which is amazing and I’m very excited about it. But I would be hesitant to make any broad statements about josei because I just don’t feel like I’ve read enough at this point.
CAITLIN: I think it does have a lot of the elements of what makes josei… Like all of the josei, shoujo, et cetera, et cetera, it’s kind of a genre, it’s kind of a marketing demographic. The lines are blurry. But it has a lot of what the josei that appeals to me has, because there’s a lot of josei that’s like harlequin romances or “I’m working too hard, and I really want to get married and have babies.” But anyway…
DEE: And listen, there’s a place for those stories…
CAITLIN: Yeah, if you like those, that’s whatever. I’m not judging you; that’s just generally not my bag. But Paradise Kiss offers a lot of complexity and a certain degree of realism and this gorgeous art and a very strong sense of being grounded in reality—and depicting reality without a sense of moralizing or didacticism. Just a really well-told story for people who can think about it.
DEE: Yeah, that’s something I will give a little bit more… And that’s one other thing: a josei series are targeted at adults. So, I don’t necessarily think that you have to take a firm moral stance on things, even if that can sometimes lead to story arcs that leave a really bad taste in your mouth.
But yeah, I agree. I think the way she writes the more complex character arcs is really well done. And it is something that I think in many ways only the josei demographic will tackle. You don’t see it in a lot of the other demographics as much. So, yeah, I can totally see what you guys mean about ParaKiss being a quintessential example of a particular style of character-driven josei stories.
VRAI: It’s definitely quite different from my other favorite josei, which is Helter Skelter, which is an altogether more raw singular experience.
CAITLIN: Right. But also, Helter Skelter, once again, it is that complexity—flawed, complicated characters. It has those same elements, because I was thinking about stories like Kyoko Okazaki when I was talking about that.
DEE: No, I agree. I think ParaKiss is much closer to that style of josei than… I guess the other style that I enjoy is the more upbeat… your Higashimuras, your romcoms, that can hit hard but are ultimately more stories that you can laugh about and look forward to an unambiguously happy ending; or something like Chihayafuru, which is—I love it—
VRAI: Which I still mean to watch, damn it.
DEE: Yeah, I love Chihayafuru to pieces, but it’s a sports series. Again, the demographic labels at a certain point become meaningless. But I think that character focus that you see in a lot of josei series—and I really appreciate that—that willingness to write these complex, messy people and just let them exist in the world and let the reader come to their own conclusions about them.
CAITLIN: Right. “Challenging” is the word that I was looking for.
DEE: Yes. That’s a good one.
CAITLIN: And I mean, yes, when I was doing my “Abuse in Shoujo” series I would like to pick up once the libraries reopen, I chose not to do josei because it was like, well, these are not aimed at teenage girls. Adults are not immune to picking stuff up from media, of course, but our sense of the world is a lot more strongly formed, and I don’t want to feel like I’m moralizing and telling other adults what to think. You know what I mean?
CAITLIN: So, yeah, Paradise Kiss is a really good example of that, because how would I handle George and Yukari in that mode of conversation? They don’t function— Because of the—
VRAI: They don’t function, yes!
DEE: They don’t function. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: [chuckles] They don’t function. They don’t function, but also, the complexity of their relationship makes… Bleh. God, okay, I’m losing my [unintelligible due to crosstalk].
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s okay. We’re getting up to the end of the hour.
VRAI: It’s okay. We’re at about an hour. I guess this is as a good a time as any for anybody to say final thoughts. Read more josei, but definitely do read Paradise Kiss. Keeping in mind a couple caveats we’ve mentioned, I recommend it very highly.
DEE: I would say there’s definitely some content and trigger warnings, specifically for the rape/assault plot that is not shown but is told at the very end. I would mark that as an active trigger warning. And then, the caveats being it depicts unhealthy relationships—I think in a way that is well written and does not romanticize them as being awesome; but again, apparently a lot of people think George and Yukari are the perfect couple, so what do I know?
DEE: So, yeah, caveats aside and even with the sour taste that that one plot point left in my mouth, I think overall it is a story that I am glad I finally read and I would recommend it to folks, just going in with the knowledge of those… areas of concern, I guess.
VRAI: Yeah. And do pick up the Vertical translation. As much as I have some fondness for some of the choices in the Tokyopop translation, you’re gonna have a bad time.
DEE: And the Tokyopop versions are really hard to find nowadays. The Vertical one just came out, it’s readily available, and it’s extremely reasonably priced. What is it, five volumes for 30 bucks? That’s a good deal.
VRAI: Less than that. It’s like 20, although sadly it’s not available digitally for whatever reason.
CAITLIN: It is $29.95, full MSRP. You can get it cheaper.
DEE: Yeah, everything’s always on sale on Right Stuf, so… [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Shop Right Stuf. Don’t shop Amazon.
DEE: Hell, yeah.
CAITLIN: If you’re in the US.
VRAI: Shop as ethically as you can when you can.
VRAI: Well, I think that that about wraps us up for this episode of Chatty AF, which I am still so very happy we got to do. Thank you for joining us, listeners.
If you liked this episode, you can find more of us in audio and print format on our website at www.animefeminist.com. And if you really liked this, please consider giving us a donation of $1 or more at patreon.com/animefeminist. Every little bit really does help us to pay our contributors and to keep the site running and to keep a roof over our little staff’s head. We all do our best, but it’s all of you that help us to do what we do.
Thank you so much for joining us, listeners, and until next time, stay beautiful.