Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly

By Kyoko Okazaki. Released in Japan by Shodensha, serialized in the magazine Feel Young. Released in North America by Vertical.

When I first heard about the new title that Vertical had licensed, and its basic premise, I started to formulate in my head an idea of how it would probably go. We already knew it would be about modeling and plastic surgery in some way. It was not a great leap forward to imagine there would be a younger, more successful rival, a controlling mother figure, and the hubristic slide into inevitable tragedy. And technically, that’s all present and correct in this volume. But that doesn’t begin to describe what a stunning ride this is, and how much you get drawn into its characters and storyline.


Liliko is the star here, and she’s far more self-aware than I was really expecting. She starts at the top of the modeling game, but it’s taken a lot of work to get her there. Moreover, a secondary plotline throughout the book discusses the shady characters who did her plastic surgery, and how the law is getting closer and closer to them. Really, while Liliko is flagrantly horrible at many points in this book – she notes at one point that she’s so broken that the only thing that gives her satisfaction is breaking others – she’s no worse than na lot of the top strata in the business she’s engaged in, which uncaringly throws away stars once they lose their looks or get embroiled in scandal.

Actually, the character I was most fascinated with throughout the book was Hada, the young woman who starts as Liliko’s gofer/assistant and ends up falling for her hard, in all the wrong ways. I was initially expecting Hada to end up killing herself – there are a few suicides in this book, and I wondered if one of the corpses I saw would be hers. Then, as things got worse, I realized that it was more likely she’d wind up arrested. Then I wondered if she’d be the chief witness for the prosecution. Then, as things really spiraled, it became clear that there was no separating Hada and her easily led boyfriend from Liliko for any period… not while they’re still completely codependent on each other.

There was one thing I didn’t think worked here, or at least that didn’t resonate with me as much as the rest of the book. Takao Nanbu, Liliko’s boyfriend at the start of the book, likes to speak in a philosophical, slightly smarmy way, and he simply grated on my nerves with all the Tiger Lily stuff and talk about past lives. Certainly he added a different element to the story (and oh do I feel bad for his fiancee getting caught up in Liliko’s psychotic drama), but especially towards the end I felt his monologues were simply overdone.

It’s hard to discuss the main selling point of this manga, as it’s basically an underlying tone. So much happens here that could be termed a car crash, but Okazaki is so compelling a storyteller that you read on anyway, even as modeling turns to adultery, assault and multiple suicides. The title is completely appropriate – and no, despite the song getting a mention right at the end, I don’t think it’s entirely talking about The Beatles. The Helter Skelter is a British amusement park ride (tornado slide for U.S. readers) that is a wild, out of control ride that makes the reader want to go back to the top when they hit the bottom. Likewise Liliko hits rock bottom at the end of this book, but that doesn’t mean that we should count her out, or that this is the end. Her story (and possible new downfall) is only beginning.

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  1. “It’s hard to discuss the main selling point of this manga”

    Well yeah, there are other elements in this work, there’s no doubt. But really, it can be sold as a real behind the scenes look inside celebrities. I mean, we get these types of stories on a daily basis in the news, but now we get one that’s pretty biting and sharp in manga form, and can always stay current xD


  1. […] C. on Heart of Thomas, To Terra, and From Eroica With Love (Comics Should Be Good) Sean Gaffney on Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly (A Case Suitable for Treatment) Ken H. on vol. 5 of Heroman (Comics Should Be Good) Matthew Warner […]

  2. […] Sean Gaffney makes a good point about the title, reminding us that a “helter skelter” is a British term for a roundabout slide, one that makes you want to go back to the top even after reaching the bottom. Many who read these kinds of stories think “ok, that happened to her, but if it were me, it would be different. I’d be smarter/stronger/healthier about it all.” Okazaki even hints at that idea with the presence of Liliko’s younger competition, a natural beauty who keeps modeling without apparently losing her mind. Helter Skelter is a depressing, gripping look inside the kind of personality who seeks out the validation of modeling, of wanting one’s appearance affirmed by the public, at any cost. (The publisher provided a review copy.) […]

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