“One must suffer to be beautiful” is a common saying which Helter Skelter, a manga written and illustrated by Kyoko Okazaki (and assisted by Moyocco Anno, yes, that Moyocco Anno) takes to a whole new level, yet somehow keeps it down to earth and realistic in the dirtiest of ways.
Helter Skelter is a 1995 josei manga about Liliko, a supermodel who has had her entire body submitted to plastic surgery (except her eyeballs and private parts, by courtesy of her make-up artist) and her life when the effects take a toll on both her body and sanity – it´s only one meek volume long, and I´m still trying to figure out wheter it´s a critique on the industry, a social commentary, or something in between.
I heard about Helter Skelter a few years ago, but the idea and much less the artstyle failed to grab my attention – so I didn´t give it the time of day, and now I´m kinda glad I didn´t, because my 13 year old self would´t really get it. Now, in 2015, I was trying to fill the void the recently completed Aku no Hana and Oyasumi Punpun left in me, so after scavaging around the internet for a bit, I found Helter Skelter, a manga much older and much shorter than the former two, a josei manga and on top of that a manga about a topic that hardly ever gets covered in anime or manga, but then again, some parts of the concept, artstyle and tag reminded me of my all time favourite mangaka, Ai Yazawa, who wrote two of my all time favourite manga, Nana and Paradise Kiss – so I read Helter Skelter in two days, and oh boy oh boy, do I have things to talk about.
Helter Skelter is a social commentary and critique on the industry all at once – we suffer through it together with Liliko, a seemingly flawless icon who in reality is crippilingly depressed, depressed to the point that she´s narcissistic, perverted, manipulative and sadist.
The root of her insecurity begins in her teenage years, fragile years where we´re figuring ourselves out and trying to find our place in this world – Liliko was conventionally ugly; fat, sunken face, ugly eyes, bad hair and not like the girls on the cover of the magazine, Liliko wanted to change, and she wanted it quickly.
Enter plastic surgery, a thing everyone and their mother just can´t seem to agree on, personally, before reading Helter Skelter I found plastic surgery fantastic, I thought that, if people felt better with themselves over it, why the hell not? everyone has the utmost right to feel comfortable with themselves, and if achieving their dream body through plastic surgery is the way to get it, we should shut up and let them.
Helter Skelter shows us the real ugly side of the industry, of this society obsessed with conventional perfection and how superficial we all are – Liliko represents both the beautiful and the broken, throughout the manga she´s described to be “too perfect that it´s weird” because perfection doesn´t exist, perfection is subjective concept, but pop culture has taught us otherwise.
So is plastic surgery just a consequence of decades worth of unhapinnes, an unhappiness caused by the unrealistic goals set by us people in the first place? do the people going through plastic surgery really do it because they are personally unhappy with it, or because they´re unconciously pressured by society to look like the photoshopped models on the bustop sign? these are the conflicts I bring with me after reading this fantastic manga.
In the end, it´s easy to see why this manga is called Helter Skelter (if you´re as confused as I was and think it´s a closet full of skelletons, google it, it´s not a closet full of skelletons.) because Liliko´s path and the one of those bewitched by her looks goes from 100 to 0 real quick, to the shocking conclusion of how beauty eventually killed her.
But it doesn´t end there, because Helter Skelter isn´t the story of a sole, peculiar woman who got obsessed and addicted to the attention and superficial love her artificial conventional beauty gave her, nah, Liliko isn´t a quirky character created for the sake of a strange story – Helter Skelter is the story of thousand, millions of women and also men from around the world on bigger or smaller scale, one must suffer to become beautiful, and the media repeats this over and over and over again in the most subtle and not so subtle ways, advertisements, movies and posters, even manga and anime, the two mediums we adore are injecting this one template of beauty in our heads without us realizing – tall, skinny, big lips, small nose, lean legs, nice hair and au naturel – people suffer by the hands of conventional beauty and the fact is, people die by the hands of conventional beauty, Helter Skelter knew this back in the 90´s, and it has never been more relevant.