It’s a less then well-known fact that reviewers sometimes don’t get to choose what they are to review. More often than not it’s a curse, having to watch such terrible fare as Space Adventure Cobra. But every so often there is a surprise like Air Gear, Elemental Gelade or in this case Paradise Kiss.
Paradise Kiss follows Yukari Hayasaka, a young high school student who is floating through high school and life; not striving to be the best, but not being an abysmal failure either. One day, she is approached on the street by Arashi, a punk-styled fashion student out looking for someone to model clothes for a group of students in their third year at a fashion and design school. She meets the rest of the group: childlike Miwako who is the girlfriend of Arashi, Isabella, a transgendered person that identifies as female, and George, the leader of the group and main designer, whom Yukari develops an attraction for.
Paradise Kiss feels to me like a version of Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad designed for a female audience. Where Beck was about a young male student gaining success and confidence through rock, PK offers a similar path for a female character through modelling and fashion design. Sadly, while Beck might be an easier sell to the opposite of its gender target, PK will have a much tougher time getting a male audience. This is a shame — while it isn’t something that rocked my socks, it was something that I did enjoy watching.
Considering that it’s a show largely about fashion and modelling, you’re probably wondering how it all looks. Being no great lover of clothes (My usual standard of dress is a t-shirt and jeans, and if they’ve been washed it’s a bonus) I think the character designs and costume designs work really well and are quite detailed, even if it means a slight drop in the animation when these creations are on the screen. Speaking of animation, I should also make mention of the interesting choice to include moments where a stylised still photograph is invaded by cartoon UFO’s, ferrets and Godzilla. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot, but it is fun to see something different, breaking up the standard animation fare with cartoonish creations invading the stoic reality of the still images.
In the past I often made a point of watching everything twice to listen and compare the two language tracks that are often on Madman releases, so that I could let people know whether they should run for the hills from bad dubbing or embrace a good turn from the dub. With time being at a premium these days I rarely do that any more, but I did switch briefly over to the English track and was disappointed by it. Characters sounded lifeless, and Miwako in particular sounded ear-gratingly horrible. If you can, watch it with the original Japanese language track and English subtitles.
I enjoyed my time with Paradise Kiss and while it’s going to be difficult to recommend to fans of anime brought up on DragonBall, Cowboy Bebop and Ninja Scroll, fans of Beck, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and other high school dramas will have a good time with this romantic, slice-of-life tale of a teenage girl finding her way to the beginning steps of adulthood.