While sharing his terrific cover for the next issue of Shojo Beat, Bryan Lee O’Malley makes me feel good about my taste in manga by saying the following:
“As well as Nana (the best thing ever), Shojo Beat also puts out one of mine and Hope’s new favorite manga: BEAUTY POP by Kiyoko Arai! I realize these shojo titles can kind of blur together after a while… flower this, beauty that, something pop, but this is the one about the best hairdresser in Japan!! I urge you to start picking it up.”
There are some really good manga about girls who don’t really give a damn that they’re surrounded by handsome boys. Ai Morinaga’s My Heavenly Hockey Club (Del Rey) is reliably hilarious, and I really need to read more of Bisco Hatori’s Ouran High School Host Club (Viz), but I think Beauty Pop is probably my favorite of this subgenre.
This is in spite of the fact that I only like about a third of the large supporting cast and would welcome an incongruous serial killer plot that took out another third of it. (On the plus side, there’s snack-obsessed nail artist Kei and lanky, apologetic massage therapist Kenichiro. On the DIE, DIE NOW end of things lurk pronoun-challenged aromatherapist Iori, and particularly Chisami, the painfully shrill little sister of the lead boy. Aside from being too stupid to live, Chisami refers to herself in the third person, which I almost always find affected and hate a lot.)
The price of admission for the book is consistently paid by lead character Kiri Koshiba, the most unsentimental shôjo heroine I’ve ever seen. As just about everyone around her panders and flails for status and attention, Kiri is all self-contained focus. She’s a doer instead of a talker, and she has a marvelous sense of perspective and justice. Her pure, effortless coolness can carry me through the most idiotic of plot arcs, and Beauty Pop certainly has its share of those.
In the sixth volume, she runs afoul of a grasping piece of egotistical trash and, pushed to her limit, stares him down and says, “You’re despicable.” No tears or shouting, just a flat declaration of sublime disdain. Her cold fury is as imposing as the bellowing rage of a dozen other manga characters combined.