Thursday, April 12, 2012

Helter Skelter (manga) – Glamour in Decay

“Her beauty is a montage of images. In other words, the manifestation of our very own desires!!” -- Attorney Asada on Ririko, Japan’s top beauty-icon, and secret V.I.P. of a beauty clinic currently coming under investigation for offering unethical treatments.

Come watch Japanese quasi celeb Ririko model for magazines, act in major movies, put out professionally-produced CDs, and seduce wealthy men, all thanks to her flawless physical beauty. But when said beauty is entirely the results of unsafe cosmetic procedures and starvation diet, just how long could it last? To what heights will her superficial appearance take her in this superficial world forever enthralled by superficial beauty? And, when said beauty is to inevitably rot away from her treatments’ horrific after effects, just how hard will she fall?

Helter Skelter

Kyoko Okazaki

Manga Type

Ririko gets to model for magazines, act in major movies, put out CDs, and seduce wealthy men all thanks to her flawless physical beauty. But when said beauty is entirely the results of unsafe cosmetic procedures and starvation diet, just how long could it last? To what heights will her superficial appearance take her in a world madly in love with superficial beauty? And, when said beauty is to inevitably rot away from her treatments’ horrific after effects, just how hard will she fall?

Leading Character
Ririko  (no last name given the public)


Described as an “ugly, 190-pound slob”.  I’ve personally seen women at that weight-class enjoying what seemed to be colourful love lives.  But then again, they’re not living in weight-conscious Japan.  

Ultra-glamorous, in that leggy, wasp-waisted bombshell way that has long since become generic, yet almost always considered as physical perfection.  Parts of her face and body are said to resemble that of Clara Bow, B.B., Jean Shrimpton, Raquel Welch, Ginger Baker, etc in spite of her being Asian.  She should’ve known her cosmetic surgeons have gone too far when they actually wiped ethnic-features off of her.

Person (mild spoilers):
Ririko reigns as a top model/actress/singer in Japan, despite having little to offer in the way of talent or work ethnics.  What she has to offer, however, is something far more desirable to the biz and the public it caters to: flawless, skin-deep beauty.  What the public doesn’t know is that Ririko’s beauty is completely surgical, and requires constant maintenance eating into her both physically and mentally. 

Constantly taking arrays of dangerous medications prescribed by the beauty clinic to “keep her physical condition stable”, Ririko ended up with debilitating headaches and mood swings, which in turn drove her into abusing painkillers and other drugs.  To add to that, she’s also starving herself to the point of sleeplessness in order to keep herself slender.  But the worst has to be the bruises that would periodically show up on random parts of her face and body: a constant reminder to her that the clear, luminous skin she gained from problematic cosmetic procedures might actually decay at any moment. 

Thus, despite being an in demand beauty-icon courted by the wealthy and the powerful, the cost of maintaining her highly-unstable beauty is draining her of so much money, she doesn’t even have much left-over for her family (the only people she’d ever truly cared about in the series).  Pains, insecurities, and stress combined together to turn what is otherwise just a shallow, gold-digging bombshell into a demented monster, one who thrives on hurting everyone around her she’s capable of hurting. 

“I want to have fun completely ruining other people,” she reasons to herself. “I can’t help it, you know? Because I’m being completely ruined by other people, too.”

Heavy Spoilers (highlight to read)
Ririko was originally an overweight girl by the name of Haruko Hirukoma, who ran away from her low-income home, and ended up getting sold to a fat-fetish brothel.  Her dreary life took a decidedly more glamorous turn upon meeting Mama-san, the boss of a major modeling and talent agency.  Mama-san saw the beautiful face and body bone-structure the girl possessed underneath the fat and the unattractive facial features.  Taking Haruko under her own wing, Mama-san paid to have the girl undergo a series of high-risk (and ultimately unsafe) procedures at a high-class beauty clinic, including melting fat, shaving and stuffing flesh, pulling teeth, grinding down ribs, melting skin off with alkaline solution, then healing them with embryonic fluid . . .

Supporting Characters (may contain spoilers)

Attorney Asada/Harada
Asada is an attorney on a quest to crack down a series of sinister cases regarding beauty clinics using human fetuses, organs, and illegal drugs to physically reconstruct their clients.  Having a cool, analytical mind, he was the first one to notice clues of hazardous cosmetic procedures from Ririko’s much celebrated beauty.  Quickly linking her up with a clinic under his investigation, he then used her as pawn to bring about said clinic’s downfall.  

Mama-san, the one who discovered a then “unaltered” Ririko, is the boss of a major modeling and talent agency.  A glamorous model in her youth, the faded ex-beauty mentally relives her own youth by having Ririko surgically altered to resemble her own younger self.  While mercenary in nature, Mama-san nonetheless admits responsibility for Ririko’s subsequent health/mental problems.[br]It is worth noting that the term “Mama-san” is a Japanese slang for a brothel/hostess club madam.

Sawanabe Kinji (Kin-chan)
Kin-chan is an accomplished hair/makeup stylist working for the models at Mama-san’s agency, whose work naturally led him to discover Ririko’s horrific problems with cosmetic procedure after effects.  He was then bribed by Mama-san to remain discreet on the issue while updating the woman on all the problems the model is having.   Friendly yet cautious in his interactions with Ririko, he is one of the few people in the story whom the woman considers as a friend.

Hada Michiko (Hada-chan)
Hada is Ririko’s personal assistant.  A naïve and meek young woman, she quickly falls victim to Ririko’s manipulative games, and got both herself and her boyfriend reduced into becoming the starlet’s slave/sex-toy.  Her role is almost, but not quite, big enough for this Josei title to warrant a yuri tag.

The Doctor
The Doctor is a “mad-scientist” type obsessed with giving shape to perfect feminine beauty.  Utilizing “the latest in technology”, which apparently involves aborted fetuses and embryonic fluids and toxins, she gave her patients dramatic physical alterations that result in instant physical beauty – one that is dangerously shaky.  She explains the instability of her treatments away via the following reasoning: “In theory, so long as the patient continues to receive regular treatment and medication . . .”

Nanbu Takao
Takao, the rich heir to a huge family business, is Ririko’s wealthy lover.  Ririko wants to marry him to guarantee for herself a comfortable, high-end life.  Yet Takao is but a willing puppet to his powerful parents, who had already pre-arranged a marriage of convenience for him. 

Chikako Hirukoma
Chikako is Ririko’s younger sister, whose lower-class background and physical unattractiveness renders her a “less-than” in the eyes of society.  After being smitten with attorney Asada (who approached the girl to dig up info on Ririko’s past), she too starts aiming to alter her appearance as per society’s standards of beauty.  

Youshikawa Kozue
Kozue is an attractive teenage girl newly recruited by Ririko’s talent agency.  Endowed with natural beauty and a much healthier attitude towards her work, she poses a threat to the older, surgically altered starlet’s position as the agency’s No.1 Face. 


Using a peculiar art style that might baffle people who are used to lushly illustrated manga, artist Kyoko Okazaki gives her readers a macabre view of the Japanese Entertainment Industry, its disturbing connections to shady beauty clinics, and the most bone-chilling of all, a superficial society putting soul-crushing pressure upon all women to be superficially beautiful.

The story begins by showing a bunch of random Japanese females fussing over their weight, hair, and everything else they can think of to make themselves look cute (a.k.a. young and beautiful). Their conversation eventually turned towards the cutest of them all, the teen idol Ririko. They know nothing about Ririko’s personality, and are unsure of her acting/singing abilities. Yet these women/girls all want to see more of the starlet in the media, as Ririko’s stunning physical beauty presents a solid image of what they want for themselves (think J Lo or Beyonce’s appeal to female fans). In the next couple of pages readers are immediately introduced to the much-admired Ririko, in all her petty, greedy, spiteful, self-whoring backstage true colours. Before the first chapter is even over, very apparent dark clouds are already looming in Ririko’s immediate future, as her surgically altered body, along with her insecurity-plagued mind, start to show sinister signs of instability and decay.

In a one-volume manga spanning only nine chapters, we are treated to the traumatic downward spiral of a woman who, even as she exudes malevolence and greed, shall nonetheless draw out your empathy, as you watch her got helplessly crushed by a fickle and superficial world that is perhaps even more grotesque than even the after-effects of unsafe cosmetic surgeries. There are certainly a few characters in the story whom are aware of the ugly truth behind Ririko’s body and soul, yet still remain sympathetic to her plight. And, being that Ririko herself is only too aware that none of these people could offer her any actual help with her physical plight, she instead hurts them to vent out her own despair and frustrations.

Appearing alongside with Ririko’s darkly glamorous life are scenes of her poor, “ugly” sister being subjected to bullying and disdain from almost everyone around her. Along with the sad plight of “unattractive” girls, there are also multiple instances in the book where a disheartening point is repeatedly made: a woman will always be judged more on her physical beauty than any other quality she might possess, and that the easiest way for her to empower herself is by being physically beautiful. Thus, along with being a emotional mess, Ririko is also portrayed as a “strong” person, in that she dares to defy the odds against her by changing her appearance and social status. There is at least one major character admiring the desperate celeb for her “toughness”. At times, it’s almost like the author is approving of Ririko’s self-beautification, and that her heroine’s tragedy has more to do with her unfortunate choice of beauty clinic, and less her inability to built a life via education and/or hard work.

While the manga is violent in many parts, Okazaki (consciously?) tones down the gore via use of sparse artwork. Thus, the main horror-factor of the manga lies not in the ugliness of physical deformity – it lies in the ugliness of the human heart. Those into eye-candy need not worry though, as the many modelling/fantasy panels do look chicly glamorous despite the minimalist art. The in-book poster arts (some coloured) depicting the heroine’s many different sides are also stunningly glam.

Overall, Helter Skelter is a good piece of work in terms of character development and story execution. What weakness it has, however, lies in parts of the story-content, where a lot of the events (the diva fits, the outlandish surgical procedures) do read a bit like what you’d find in National Enquirer. But for people (like myself) who are interested in riveting, character-driven psychodrama, this is definitely a title not to be missed.

A movie based on the Helter Skelter manga starring Sawajiri Erika is set to be released this year on July 14.

Originally Published By
Feel Young: A Josei Monthly Magazine

Japanese Web Page URL:

Where to Get
You can get the manga in raw, Japanese book form online at jp queen, Sasuga or E-bay.

For as long as the title remains unlicensed by an English distributor, Helter Skelter in its entirety should remain readily available in scanlation form via a number of different websites. Search and it shall be found.


Hachiko said...

This is a really informative review of Helter Skelter, but I think the author means that Ririko's facial features/bodily features resemble those of foreign actresses to draw a parallel, not that Ririko's ethnicity has been wiped.

gorgeousshutin said...

Oh, I'm snarking on that one . . . but, thanks for reading and liking this post!