Among the things I simply don’t understand about manga is why there aren’t more titles by Ai Yazawa available in English. There are two irrefutable reasons there should be more Yazawa in more places: Paradise Kiss (Tokyopop) and NANA (Viz), the Yazawa titles that have already been licensed and translated. Paradise Kiss is a five-volume treasure about young fashion designers and their gawky, ambivalent muse. NANA is a sprawling soap opera about two young women who share the same name and are in the thick of Tokyo’s music scene. Both series are as emotionally engrossing as they are stylish, and while I’m not sure either has ever topped the sales charts (in fact, the publication of Paradise Kiss actually predated specific attention for manga on such lists), the fondness for Yazawa is palpable. (And she’s a superstar in Japan, where NANA does regularly top the sales charts and has been spun into movies, an animated series, and, unless my memory is failing me, a café.)
For this week’s purposes, I’ll focus on two Yazawa titles. First up is Tenshi Nanka Ja Nai, originally serialized by Shueisha in Ribon. It spans eight standard volumes, though it’s also been collected in four double-sized books. French publisher Delcourt chose the four-volume version when it published the series as Je ne suis pas un ange in its Akata imprint. I prefer the covers of the four-volume version (example above), and I suspect I’d like the heft, so that would also be my format preference. Tenshi (or I Am Not an Angel) is described by Delcourt as Yazawa’s first major commercial success. While the synopsis at Wikipedia sounds fairly conventional – friendship, love, and jealousy in high school – I would love to see how Yazawa executes that familiar formula. (As others have noted, this is not to be confused with Takako Shigematsu’s Tenshi Ja Nai!! [I’m No Angel!!], published in English by Go! Comi and well worth your time.)
Next is Gokinjo Monogatari, also originally serialized by Shueisha in Ribon. Aside from being a Yazawa creation, Gokinjo Monogatari (or Neighborhood Story) has the added allure of being a prequel to Paradise Kiss. (Okay, maybe “prequel” is the wrong word. That’s reserved for stories set earlier in continuity than the one that spawned them, right? Then again, since it would be published in English after Paradise Kiss, it would technically count as a prequel, right? Sorry. Moving on.) Mikako, the story’s protagonist, is the older sister of Miwako, one of the designers from Paradise Kiss. It follows the lives, loves and ambitions of students at Yazawa Arts, and nobody portrays young artists quite as well as Yazawa. It spanned seven volumes, so it wouldn’t lend itself to easy doubling, but seven is a lucky number. Delcourt has also published Neighborhood Story as Gokinjo: une vie de quartier.
And since I’m on the subject of Yazawa, I’ll restate something I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. I would really love it if someone published a handsome omnibus of Paradise Kiss. At five volumes, it would be a bit chunky, but the story and style almost beg for high-end packaging, and it would be a great way to introduce the series to readers who may have missed it the first time around. If Tokyopop isn’t up for it, they could always partner with Dark Horse, which seems to be quite interested in repackaging super-stylish manga (mostly by CLAMP) in aesthetically worthy vessels.