Mikako dreams of being a fashion designer, so she sets her eyes on attending Yazawa Arts with her childhood friend Tsutomu. But, he looks like a famous rock star and attracts more attention than she'd like, especially from a popular upperclassman. Incapable of dealing with her own feelings towards Tsutomu, Mikako devotes all of her time to a new 'flea market' club she's created with her friends on campus. But, it seems to bring her more into contact with Tsutomu than ever before.
Ai Yazawa is a mangaka renowned for her diverse range of shoujo manga and here you’ll see the manga that influenced both Paradise Kiss and Nana. Gokinjo Monogatari is a Shoujo, Romance, Comedy Drama that shows an interesting take on dependency however it’s rife with humour that can ruin even the most serious moments.
Just as you’d expect, the story is set in an Art Institute where Mikako Kouda, our eccentric heroine, is able to study fashion design to her hearts content. Although it is known that Mikako hasn’t had the best childhood one can imagine but what has helped her along the way is the
support from her childhood friend Tsutomu. This short synopsis does feel like it has been pull out of the “anime cliché” filing cabinet, since a romance story about childhood friends is a fairly common commodity. On the other hand the artistic elements were implemented well enough, so even people who aren’t into art & fashion design are able to appreciate it and even if the story is cliché it does take a few interesting turns that the reader wouldn’t expect.
This mostly had to do with the characters who each had there appealing and unappealing sides. Like this story’s heroine the reader is supposed to empathize with (Mikako), who was cute but personally I just didn’t like her self-centred personality. The good thing is that her and all the other characters around her develop, as they learn more about life’s hardships; and what makes this manga truly remarkable is how it takes a break from the two main characters in order to spend a fair amount of time developing some of the side characters, giving them a story of their own.
The artistic design is certainly able to capture these moments fairly well, including the eccentric style in the earlier 90s. Unfortunately since this is one of Ai’s earlier works, the artwork does suffer from lack of detail. This in turn makes it difficult to tell similar looking characters apart and inconsistencies in the character designs don’t help one bit.
Overall Gokinjo Monogatari is an interesting mix of romance, comedy and drama that has been crudely sewn together. I say this because even though each side of the manga was individually well made, in the end it couldn’t come together as a whole and I believe the comedy is at fault. Sure there’s a whole lot of laughable comedy in this but the mangaka really made it into a running gag to take digs out of her own work (just for lulz) and after a while it became excessive. Good thing the whole “dependency” theme was played off more subtly and didn’t detract from the more prominent “artistic” theme of the story. So if you’ve seen and enjoyed anything made by Ai Yazawa, then check this out. It may not be as good as her newer stuff but it’s a great read for anyone who enjoys a good shoujo/romance.
++A review of Gokinjo Monogatari for fans of Paradise Kiss++
Gokinjo Monogatari (Neighborhood Story) is probably best known as the prequel to Ai Yazawa's international hit, Paradise Kiss. While the setting is the same for both manga, and the events of Gokinjo set up some events in Paradise Kiss, they are quite different manga.
++Moral content and target audeince++
First of all, Gokinjo was published in Shoujo magazine Ribon, whose target audience, according to Wikipedia, is 9-13 year old girls. Ribon titles tend to glisten with innocence, like Full Moon wo Sagashite, Mint na Bokura, Ultra Maniac, Gals! and Fancy Lala. I wonder if Ribon has very
tight rules as far as what kind of content can be in their magazines, as Gokinjo is full of mentions like "We can't do that! It'd give bad ideas to the readers!" or "We can't show that! This is a shoujo manga!"
On the other hand, Paradise Kiss was published in the magazine Zipper, which is actually a fashion magazine. In Paradise Kiss, Yazawa-sensei stops mentioning what she can and can't show the readers, and proceeds to show us a lot more than she did in Gokinjo.
Interestingly, while Yazawa wrote over 10 titles for Ribon, it seems that she has had growing pains. Or maybe her tastes in writing have matured beyond the morals of Ribon. With the exception of her short three-volume series "Kagen no Tsuki," (which is, by the way, easily the best manga I've ever read) she has not returned to Ribon since Gokinjo.
As a result, Paradise Kiss is properly labeled a "josei" manga, a manga for young women, while Gokinjo is definitely a shoujo manga.
To me, Yazawa-sensei does two things better than anyone else: Drawing, and making characters. Her art is fresh, fun, and it stands out among other titles targeted for girls and women. Gokinjo is definitely up to the high art standard you see in Paradise Kiss.
The character designs are beautiful and diverse, and the characters stand out from each other.
I'd say, one of the characters designs that I was impressed with was Mikako's father. Unlike in a lot of shoujo manga, where the characters are either beautiful and young or old and ugly with not a lot of variation, the father is a character who is clearly older, yet is also handsome.
Her character's are very lovable and very real, and they too stand out among the stereotypical princes, bad boys and mary sues of shoujo manga. These characters have an air of reality about them, and they may remind you of someone you know in real life.
Her characters, just like humans, have their fair share of flaws. Sometimes this can grate on your nerves some, but I'll take a character who has a sense of reality over one who is perfect any day.
However, Gokinjo seems to have too many interesting characters. One of the major flaws of Gokinjo is that there are many characters who seem to only stand on the sidelines and trade banter. I'm thinking there are a good four characters who hang around with the main cast, but remain undeveloped and uninvolved in the plot.
Another problem I see in the characters is that sometimes they spring character development out of nowhere. For example, (excuse some slight spoilers) in the beginning, Tsutomu doesn't want to go out with his long time childhood friend and neighbor because he feels like he needs to do more than just what seemed to be pre-ordained in his birth. However, this attitude vanishes after one conversation, and later, he seems to suddenly suffer from the exact opposite problem, that he lacks ambition.
Frankly, it seems that his weak character development is injected to add drama in to his otherwise perfect relationship with the heroine.
Gokinjo doesn't seem to have a story. After the initial arc ends and the problem presented from the onset of the story is resolved, the rest of the story seems to be... non-existent. Rather, it's more like a slice of life story that focuses mostly on the development of and relationships between certain main characters.
However, like I mentioned, certain characters get more development than others, and the development of certain characters, especially Tsutomu, seems hasty.
The story also seems to end without a real climax or resolution.
But there are arcs, and side plots that are fantastic. For example, Ayumi's love for Yuusuke is a good story, despite the lack of resolution. How Mikako met with her father is also a pretty touching story, and it's very well done! However, it also suffers from a hasty, though enjoyable, resolution.
Gokinjo is different enough from Paradise Kiss that it needs to be treated as it's own animal. Liking Paradise Kiss is not enough to guarantee that you'll love Gokinjo.
It is not the perfect manga, and has a fair share of flaws. However, it's amazing art and enjoyable characters will make it worth the read.