Paradise Kiss Vol. 1
My defenses were up pretty early, as our heroine is a bit of a Naomi Campbell early on. Yukari is a high-school student gearing up for her college entrance exams. We don't know much about her interests and skills, other than some off-hand comments about how smart she must be because of how exclusive her academy is. In the first act of episode 1, she "is so over this city," "has a life," and "doesn't have time to hang out with the likes of you!"
"You" being the teenage makers of the Paradise Kiss fashion label, who have just invited Yukari to be their model. The invitation is not formal: Arashi, sporting a punk hairdo, paperclip lip piercings and a spiked dog collar just rolls up to Yukari (a complete stranger) on the street and compliments her on her appearance. Playboy used to recruit this way, offering their business cards to attractive women at American malls. Yukari, however, faints at the offer and finds herself in the Paradise Kiss studio, known as "The Studio."
Yukari's frostiness doesn't smooth over the situation, and harsh words are exchanged. She jets, but leaves behind some valuables. That's the "in" for Paradise Kiss's fearless leader, George, a bisexual fashion designer so cool, he wears sunglasses at night.
George has skills. He's a manipulator extraordinaire as well as debonair. He's able to charm Yukari into being Paradise Kiss's resident model, and more. Yukari even admits in episode 3 that she "has been at the mercy of his whims" since they met. That revelation is one of the series' subtle achievements, and it's easy to miss. It's also easy to overlook the many small ways relationships develop. I was particularly impressed by the history of Arashi and Mikado's coupling, though I wish a lot less exposition were used.
The aforementioned realism in the character design is undercut by the minimal movement. Players barely move within frames, and don't show much emotion. Occasionally, characters will morph into unimpressive comic models, but the transitions aren't very smooth. In some scenes, characters morph without in-between frames, settling for dissolves between models. Personally, I would have preferred if characters didn't switch models without changing shots; the effect is too jarring.