Friday, December 27, 2013

Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly

I'm a strange person. I love reading manga, but I have anxiety about it. I'm very picky, I don't like melodrama because it makes me feel weird, and I'm very afraid to read outside my comfort zone. But that often means I'm missing out on genuinely good stories. Not today though. Today I put my weak heart on the line to experience Kyoko Okazaki's 'Helter Skelter'.

Liliko is the modeling world's "it girl" right now. At the top of her game, she is even branching out in to television and music. Nothing can stop her now...Except the fact that her body is falling apart from excessive plastic surgery. With the inevitability of aging and a young new rival nipping at her heels, what depraved lengths will Liliko go to to stay in the spot light?

I don't "like" any of the characters in this manga. Not a one. Normally, that's a deal breaker for me, especially with the main character. But it's a little different with this manga. And it's not just because following Liliko's train-wreck life is compelling in itself. That wouldn't be enough. I don't like her, but I am sympathetic towards her. She's cruel, manipulative, vain, selfish, and just plain crazy. But she's also kind of a victim. Once far from the image of what is accepted as mainstream beauty, she was scouted because of her bone structure, and turned into a fashion monster though intensive plastic surgery. This situation has basis in reality. People see the "beautiful people" in magazines and on television, done up in make-up, plastic surgery, and Photoshop. Completely unattainable by normal means. Body image issues brought on by unrealistic role models and a narrow view on what is considered "beautiful" are a very real thing. Is Liliko completely faultless in this story? No. But you can definitely see the vicious cycle with her innocent little sister following in her tragic footsteps. I don't like Liliko, but I can't hate her for what she's become.

And now my awful attempt to describe the art...I can't quite think of the proper word for it. Not "sketchy". Certainly not "sloppy". It comes across as drawn really fast, with as few lines as possible, and with no erasing. Kind of like the difference between a live rock show, mistakes and all, versus a studio album with lots of takes overproduction. Of course the reality could be the exact opposite of this, with the artist painstakingly drawing for days on end to get it perfect, but this is just how it looks to me. Either way, I like it. And the seven beautiful yet creepy color pages at the beginning of the book where a really nice addition.

With a single volume, this story felt a lot more like a movie than a comic serialization. Very well paced,  and still dense with content, especially with the psychological aspect. Multiple plot threads were handled, with the clinic investigation and Liliko's downward spiral nicely coming together toward the end. And while still part of the big picture, I especially enjoyed the unhealthy relationship between Liliko and her manager, Hada. That aspect of the manga had value in itself. However, I felt like the investigator, Asada, was left a little too mysterious, almost like his character was just a plot device. Although I do suspect there was something about him that went over my head that I might pick up on a reread. Also, I enjoyed the "testimonials" of Liliko's make-up artist, Kin, and would have liked to see more of that and more of his character in general.

As I mentioned, I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to reading outside of my comfort zone. Psychological Josei with an unhinged and rather unlikable main character is just about as far as I can get from my comfort zone. And yet, I enjoyed this story immensely. If you're like me and are often afraid to try something new, I can at least assure you that you have nothing to fear when it comes to taking the leap and reading 'Helter Skelter'.

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