Helter Skelter

November 9, 2014

Kyoko Okazaki – Vertical – 2013 – 1 volume

I was so thrilled when this got announced! I’ve been dying to read this, but it’s a fairly niche book, and I’m surprised it came out after all these years. Fingers crossed for a similar title from Moyoco Anno! NOTE – I wrote this over a year ago.  You should totally read Pink by Okazaki and In Clothes Called Fat by Anno, though.

Helter Skelter is actually a pretty simple story. Supermodel Liliko is the flavor of the month, and the Japanese public can’t get enough of her. She’s on everyone’s lips, and she appears in print and television ads, on talk shows, in dramas and movies, and just about everywhere you look. She’s incredibly beautiful, but as one police detective notes, her beauty seems a little… off.

We soon find out Liliko is a terrible person. She constantly abuses and berates her personal assistant, and often goes out of her way to get her into trouble. She’s a bit of a prima donna, and has a habit of making big scenes. She has a secret boyfriend who’s heir to a corporation, and she hates her competition. We soon find out her beauty is completely artificial, and Liliko begins a downward plummet when the clinic she goes to for plastic surgery has a harder time fixing her and she feels her career rapidly ending.

This story goes some dark places. Liliko is determined to take her personal assistant (and later, the PA’s boyfriend) down with her. She gets them to do dirty deeds, literally and figuratively. She does everything she can to destroy their lives simply because she knows they won’t say no to her.  She also does everything in her power to destroy everyone’s life around her by using others.  And she destroys her own life.

Helter Skelter is an interesting book, with a smart and perceptive story that hasn’t lost its sharp edge in the 10 years since it was first published.  Very material, very mean, and with a lot of emphasis on wealth, physical beauty, popularity, and how life just isn’t worth living if you’re not the best.  Liliko is simultaneously repugnant and somewhat sympathetic.  She makes the decisions to commit all her own evil actions, but she is only what the system made her, and there’s hints that she was just like her much humbler sister, once upon a time.

The only thing I didn’t like about it is that the plot loses coherency towards the end of the book.  There are some sequences that are difficult to tell from fantasy and dreams, and it all runs together at the end.  The main “antagonist,” if this book can be said to have such a thing (a person working to shut the whole evil system down, so not much of an antagonist), is a police officer with a passing interest in Liliko as an… artificial person.  He has a hand in stopping the high-class plastic surgery clinic and thus ending her career and reign of terror on those around her.  But he also might be somewhat in love with her, and their exchange at the end of the book is rather surreal and not at all clear.

I did like the way the book ended, with the suggestion that Liliko wasn’t washed up at all.

Most of all, I’m so, so happy to see some work from Kyoko Okazaki, the mother of modern josei manga, translated into English.  This and Pink were both released over the summer from Vertical, and I hope they do well enough to try out some of her other work.  I would love to also read River’s Edge.  Happily, Vertical is also releasing In Clothes Called Fat, which is a very similar type of work and story.  Can’t wait to read it!