Our latest rountable, the subject of which you can read in Book-Off without paying or just find the scanlation on the web. I recommend the first.

Kyoko Okazaki, still recovering from the car wreck that ended her career, plastered “I Wanna Be Your Dog” on one of her books. It wasn’t Pink, the work that made her name, which features a girl who buys brand goods in her favorite color by selling her body. It wasn’t her last book Helter Skelter either, though the Stooges would fit it better than the Beatles.

Helter Skelter, serialized in FEEL YOUNG in 1995 & 96, follows Ririko, a model and “talent,” as the Japanese call their starlets (without irony). You get new models like sushi on the kaiten. They pose, pout, squeal. The lucky ones marry their managers; the unlucky are disappeared on their expiration date. Everything’s managed by a paternalistic network of talent agencies. It’s quite efficient, as if Hollywood applied kaizen, Toyota’s art of continuous improvement. Starlets assembled by robotic arm.

The story’s part TMZ, part theater of cruelty, as Ririko goes from spoiled brat to unhinged maniac. She rebels against her manager, seduces her makeup artist, breaks things. Her fall starts in three deft pages, when she finds a bruise near her hairline. Jump to Tokyo Tower scraping clouds while she screams; then the broadcast needles on top of a TV studio, echoes of the surgeon’s needles that can no longer freshen up her plastic body.

Things get arch and ragged. The melodrama occasionally seems telegraphed to this jaded member of a media culture. Fame’s Faustian, yes, and the odd subplot with a detective/stalker seems grafted on. He’s stalking Ririko because something’s amiss at her plastic surgeon’s, with hints of Fruit Chan’s 2004 movie Dumplings if not its logical conclusion. An opening and almost-closing page do what they have to: frame Ririko’s story with materialistic girls nattering over the fashion magazines she used to rule.

What they don’t do is prepare you for the off-the-rail moments, like the what-the-hell coda. Or the half-flaming, half-tiger rug when the 60s take over. Or Ririko’s kinky sadism, a WTF smack in the face for the jaded.

Or, most of all, the signature. Okazaki’s an auteur, this is her handwriting. The art reminds that she worked as a fashion illustrator. Her line’s lively and precise: Ririko’s body, for instance, seems plastic yet inhabited. Compare most manga’s art, lifelessly stamped out on an assembly line to fill those 23 volumes in 3 years.

And Helter Skelter feels like a very personal work. If it were “about” celebrity, then it would be seriously dated by real-life stars’ ever bizarre meltdowns. If it were just groundbreaking, it would look weak, since latecomers always finish the excavation. Since it’s about whatever on earth goes on inside Kyoko Okazaki, it’s still fresh. Rather like Iggy Pop, slathered in burning wax, no pants, reminding all the youngsters they have no idea what punk is right before the saxophone (the saxphone!) kicks in.

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Dovetail! Seemed appropriate to listen to Ringo Shiina while writing this, because she’s the anti-Ririko in just about every way. Then I found out that Shiina recently did the music for the movie Sakuran, adapted from a Moyoco Anno manga. Anno was Okazaki’s assistant, and helped prepare Helter Skelter for publication.

Update (by Noah): Tom’s contribution to the roundtable is here; Noah’s is here.

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