Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #30: Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki

We might not need to be told that fashion is cruel and unforgiving, that the interest of the public is fickle and fleeting, and that beauty is contingent and ephemeral. We know all of those things. But it takes a superior artist to make us feel that cruelty and fickleness -- and that's what Kyoko Okazaki does in Helter Skelter.

Okazaki was a decade into a strong career -- the only other piece of which currently available in English is the excellent Bubble Economy allegory Pink -- in May of 1996. But, then, soon after  finishing the serialization of Helter Skelter, she was hit by a drunk driver and suffered life-changing injuries. It doesn't look like she's been able to create comics since then; it's not even clear if or when she was able to live a normal life after that crash.

There's a part of me that wants to spin that as irony: hot creator struck down horribly after exploring the toxicity of fame and riches! But there's no real comparison: Helter Skelter is about a young woman who knows exactly what she's doing, and exactly what it will all cost her in the end. She does it anyway, because she wants the fame more than anything -- she will give up anything to get and stay famous.

Liliko is that driven young woman; as Helter Skelter begins she's a couple of years into a brilliant career as a model that's transitioned into some acting and musical work. She's not all that good at any of it -- her greatest skill is in standing still and looking beautiful while people take pictures of her. And her dark secret is even that isn't real: her gorgeous body and beautiful face are the result of a SFnal level of plastic surgery, so that only a few parts -- eyeballs, ears, bones, organs, vagina, as one character puts it -- are original. And that new body requires regular maintenance -- expensive and ever-more painful and complex -- just to stay where she is. It can't last; it won't last.

So Liliko is another metaphor come to life: she's The It Model, with a self-destruct mechanism built into her. She's a monster of fame and appetite and ego, horribly demanding to her support staff as "Mama," the fan-club president who made her what she is and owns her, is horrible and demanding to her.

It can be hard to feel sympathy for Liliko at first -- at least for dumpy male middle-aged American me; your mileage may vary -- but her plight is very real as the story goes on and her inevitable decline and fall loom larger and larger. And Liliko is only the center of this story; not the whole of it -- Okzaki explores the whole toxic world of fame that Liliko fought so hard to dominate. It's not a pretty picture, but it is a compelling one -- and Okazaki fixes our attention on it with an unsparing eye and her light, airy line.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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