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Japanator Recommends: Helter Skelter

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It recently came to my attention that Helter Skelter, the award-winning josei manga by Kyoko Okazaki is in the process of being adapted into a live-action film. While I am always very skeptical of live-action adaptations, I was somewhat intrigued by the story summary provided in the author's official press release and I very soon found myself unable to put her book down.

You could say that my initial interest in Helter Skelter, the manga, was more grounded on an oddly sadistic desire to see it fail than on genuine curiosity. As soon as I learned about the story's premise, my first reaction was to assume that the book would be a preachy cautionary tale about the dangers of vanity and body insecurities; one of those "real beauty lies within" stories, if you will.

Helter Skelter
Creator: Kyoko Okazaki
Licenced by: unlicenced
Release date: 1995-1996
MSRP: N/A

In a nutshell, Helter Skelter tells of story of Ririko, an idol who falls apart both physically and mentally as a result of her obsession with plastic surgery. Born with a less-than-average physique, except for a supposedly prodigious bone structure, Ririko feels compelled to undergo painful and often life-threatening cosmetic procedures in an attempt to become as beautiful as she can possibly be. 

Faced both with the inevitability of ageing and the short lifespan of cosmetic tweaks, Ririko eventually plummets into a dangerous depressive state. As Ririko's skin slowly begins to crumble from excessive surgeries, so does her ability to reason and relate to others. While what exactly happens to Ririko is not entirely clear, it is safe deduct that she continues to deteriorate beyond recognition. 

Contrary to what I originally expected, a lot of thought went into the writing of Ririko's character. Instead of being presented as just another a victim of the entertainment world, Ririko is portrayed as a vicious and calculative woman. Her terrible demise is attributed not only to the pressures brought upon her by fame and fortune, but also to her toxic relationships and selfish life decisions. 

Ririko's malice is also addressed intelligently. While superficially Ririko may appear to be the quintessential queen bitch --attention-starved and inexplicably cruel-, she is actually a moderately complex character. Like any good villain, Ririko is guided by a set of seemingly valid motivations turned pathological. In her case, a key motive appears to be a desire to meet her mother's expectations.

Of course, Ririko's mother is a little Mommy Dearest meets Toddlers and Tiaras. Dissatisfied with her lack of achievements in life, she commits herself to being Ririko's manager. While having VIP access to just about every aspect of her daughter's life, mom does very little to prevent Ririko's downfall. Habitually coercing her daughter into sacrificing her health for financial success, she is in some ways responsible for some of Ririko's most harmful episodes. 

There are no are sympathetic characters in Helter Skelter; even Ririko's audience is made up of narcissistic jerks. Those envious of Ririko's former wealth use her downfall as a means to exert their believed moral superiority. Those envious of her former beauty use it as a tool to validate their own self-esteem. Absolutely everyone in this book is a self-absorbed asshole. And so am I, for wagging my finger as I watched them suffer for nine consecutive volumes.

In the end, Helter Skelter ends up turning into a "no John, you are the demons" kind of tale: everyone is a monster, including the reader himself. Okazaki asks us to questions the limits of our own humanity and cleverly pokes fun at our ridiculous moral delusions. This message is made particularly poignant by the fact that Helter Skelter is an ero guro title. 

As far as the artwork in Helter Skelter goes, I thought that Okazaki's style was interesting and fitting; a little Paradise Kiss meets Belladonna of Sadness. There were a lot of clean, swift traces and organic curves similar to those you would find in fashion drawing. The book's opening illustrations were especially creepy. The best way I could describe them would be by saying that you could really see the crazy in their eyes. 

My only complaint about the manga, if you could call it that, is that wished for it to be a bit more gory. More graphic depictions of Ririko's decaying body would have added to the horror; but hey, I'm weird like that. In addition, I would have also liked to see Ririko's mother developed a bit further; she really gave me the creeps. But overall, Helter Skelter was a great read and I strongly recommend it. And about that adaptation; yeah, they're gonna screw it up. 

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Michelle Rodanes
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Filed under... #Japanator Original #Japanator Recommends #manga #top stories

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