Shoujo – Romance, comedy, slice-of-life
10 Volumes (complete)
Although her father runs a salon, Kiri has no interest in being a beautician. Meanwhile, three guys at her school run a makeover club called the Scissors Project. Shogo, one who cuts hair, won’t stop until he becomes the best stylist in Japan! But there may be another person with Shogo’s skill nearby…
The awesome protagonist makes this manga worth reading.
Are you looking for a heroine who isn’t a genki girl? Someone who doesn’t aspire solely to fall in love? Someone who doesn’t blush every two seconds? Then meet Kiri. Like a lot of heroines, she loves eating and sleeping. But Kiri is calm, seemingly indifferent, and has a sarcastic streak. She acts uncaring, but she will help those who need assistance. It’s her snarky comments that I love the most: not overtly rude but enough to rattle and annoy others (like forgetting people she has met or declining when someone makes a big deal about doing her a favor). She’s a bit like a nicer version of Ryoma from The Prince of Tennis. (His seiyuu voiced Kiri in the Beauty Pop drama CD.) I absolutely love Kiri. She easily took first place in the character poll — no small feat since love interests often outrank shoujo protagonists.
But what about the rest of the manga?
Most makeover manga focus on the heroine suddenly becoming becoming beautiful; some are about changing to get the guy of her dreams, and in others, she falls in love with her beautician/helper. Beauty Pop is pretty much the reverse of these manga: Kiri herself never gets a makeover, and the guys fall in love with her. (More on that later.) While makeover manga is among my least favorite genres, Beauty Pop is an example of the plot done right. Yes, some of the visual changes are drastic, and lives seem to be happily changed, but the message in this manga is much healthier than in other series. For Kiri, haircuts are her way of giving others a push on the back, a pep talk. The makeover a step to a happy life, not the cause of it. It’s a seemingly subtle but major difference from other manga. Even the lead generally walks around in a ball cap and a T-shirt, but she’s comfortable with herself. That’s the whole point, having confidence and being comfortable with yourself.
The manga is divided into two main arcs. The first involves Kiri essentially wandering around, hears someone with a beauty problem or complex, and then gives them a haircut. One member of the Scissors Project wants to challenge her while another wants to scout her. There’s a mini-battle and a bit of a love triangle in the first arc, but the second (Beauty Pop Stage 2) features a more important beauty contest and a different, more significant love triangle.
There are quite a few side-stories in the series. A lot of these, unfortunately, focus on new, random characters. There’s six main members of the Scissors Project, Kiri’s two friends, a little sister, Kiri’s parents, and Shogo’s father. Plus some rivals are added late in the series. Instead of these characters, most of the side stories are wasted on “another life is changed thanks to Kiri”. One bonus chapter also adds fantasy elements, and I dislike when a realistic manga suddenly drags in the supernatural.
Beauty Pop has a bit of a shounen feel with wanting to be the best in the field and legendary items. With challenges like speed cutting, 5 vs 5 beauty battles, and three-legged races while cutting hair, the series can be ridiculous. But many shounen manga can be exaggerated to the point where it’s barely realistic anymore (again, think The Prince of Tennis). These sports-like sections could have been expanded, but this might be a good starter shoujo for shounen manga fans; it’s neither too long nor lovey-dovey. There’s also not much objectionable content, so I think manga fans of all ages can enjoy this series.
The biggest downside to Beauty Pop is that it tells instead of shows. First, there’s simply way too many side notes explaining what the characters are doing, how they got here, etc. As this is a comedy, Arai wants to keep the action moving and dialogue flowing, but it feels rushed at times. The ending, for instance, has to quick to solve a couple of crises, and one person suddenly moves away. It just feels like Arai wanted to end the series. But the biggest victim of rushing is the romance. We get to see Kiri become more aware of her future husband’s good points, but it feels like her feelings barely rise to the level of a crush, let alone true love. The bonus epilogue, while one of my favorites due the hilarity of getting the girl and still being a butt monkey, again comes up very short in the romance department. In the main story, characters are paired up also with little development. Again, those side stories could have been put to better use. The series could have gone on much longer between expanding some scenes, adding new ones, and, most importantly, developing the characters and romance.
As for the other characters, Arai notes that Shougo, Kiri’s (self-proclaimed) rival, was very much disliked in the beginning. The dude spends much of the early chapters being angry, yelling at everyone who annoys him (which is pretty much everyone). He is such a hot-blooded tsundere that the word was practically made for him. It tells you something when he finishes only two — TWO — votes ahead of Kiri’s pet cat. I’m not saying Shougo is a terrible character, but he is overshadowed by Kiri’s awesomeness (and almost overshadowed by a fat cat who eats a lot). I originally thought his best friend would be like Kyoya from Ouran High School Host Club, but Kazuhiko is much more mellow. Kiri’s best friend Kanako is more important early in the story before just becoming a cheerleader. No one else really stands out. Even Kei, an original member of the Scissors Project, doesn’t get any special moments outside of hinting he’s insightful. I do love the side-plot of Chisami and her prince. Chisami starts off pretty annoying, but her support of her prince is funny.
The art is what you would expect from a shoujo targeting a younger demographic. It’s pretty bright and cheerful. Since this is one of her later works, Arai has comfortably settled in her style, but most readers probably won’t have read her earlier (unreleased in English) works to compare. Arai has an unique take on most male eyes: they’re pretty much black blobs. The before-and-after makeovers are not as drastic as most makeover manga; most just focus on shorter or more styled hair. It’s a bit unusual for a manga focus on beauty transformations to not focus more on fashion, but most characters hang around in simple clothing. The main visual draw to the characters is their hair. Some wear it spiky, others mussy, some fancy, some simple.
In a rarity for Viz Media/Shojo Beat manga, honorifics are used. The manga does not use accent marks in characters’ names like the original Japanese, instead writing out the long vowels (e.g. “Shougo” instead of “Shōgo” as it’s written in the Japanese volumes). Komatsu’s nickname of “Komattaro” is adapted as “Taro-tard”. Iori’s mixed speech has the English words bolded.
Some Japanese words are kept. In one instance, a guy keeps freaking out because he keeps hearing words beginning with the syllables “kiri”. The English version just keeps the Japanese words. I know some people dislike this sort of practice, so I’d love to know how others would have adapted it. I guess they could have just focused on the first syllable? Key, kebab, maybe even kimono? I don’t know, I can’t think of anything else. Just focusing on the first part of Kiri’s name makes the guy seem really oversensitive when the others are actually saying words like “kirigisu” (grasshopper). I would have done the same thing, but I’m sure many people foam at the mouth in anger at what they would consider taking the easy way out and/or pandering. What is more debatable is mixing English words with Japanese honorifics like in “cat-san” or keeping words like “shinro chousa” with no translator notes.
Some people will love the way Beauty Pop was handled, but others will despise it. I will say I am surprised they used so much Japanese due to a) the manga not being too big on Japanese culture and b) the younger target demographic.
It’s a crappy romance, and the sports part ends too soon, but Kiri is a breath of fresh air. It’s also pretty funny to have a male lead who is a full-blown hot-blooded tsundere. I may have seemed harsh on the series, but I enjoy it each time I read it.
Volume 10 of the series (at least the first printing) includes stickers. It’s a nice bonus.