Though certainly not to everyone’s liking, hands-on acne removal is a very popular subject on YouTube (click if you dare, but it’s potentially NSFW). Often referred to in comments as one example of the “the weird part of YouTube,” it’s somewhat curious that it hasn’t emerged as some kind of sub-genre of manga or anime. In fact, the only title I can think of where pimple popping is a primary focus or narrative device is the manga I’m going to be reviewing today: Chiyo no Kuchibiru (or Chiyo’s Lips) by Iwami Kiyoko.
As this subject can be disgusting to a lot of people, I’m going to put this behind a cut-off just for the sake of your lunches. For those who don’t mind (or even enjoy this sort of thing), read on:
Chiyo’s Lips is a one-shot manga, and the grand prize winner of the “Spring 2012 Afternoon Four Seasons Award,” a quad-annual manga competition by the magazine Monthly Afternoon—home to Genshiken, Mysterious Girlfriend X, Ah My Goddess!, and many more titles. It’s quite a prestigious title. I also previously reviewed the manga Traveler, which was a fellow grand prize winner of the Four Seasons Award.
The story of Chiyo’s Lips centers around a 5th grader named Chiyo, who has a crush on her teacher. However, she soon discovers that the teacher is having a relationship with one of her classmates, a mature-looking girl named Shiina whom Chiyo also admires. When Shiina discovers that Chiyo knows the truth, she confronts Chiyo, and the two eventually end up in a bizarre yuri relationship. In it, Shiina not only kisses Chiyo but insists on popping her pimples.
The artwork in this manga is quite strong, going for an almost tactile feel to the characters’ actions, but of course I can’t recommend it to everyone. Even putting aside the zit popping (which is a visual metaphor for transition from child into young adult but before actual puberty), there’s the matter of the teacher. Not only is his relationship with Shiina illicit, it’s highly, highly illegal! That being said, Chiyo’s Lips is certainly not pornography or anything close to it, as there’s nothing visually or narratively explicit. It just has an adult character who probably shouldn’t be teaching, but fiction is fiction.
Chiyo’s Lips is a title that invites controversy, but it also goes beyond simply exploring forbidden love or an acne fetish. What I find most interesting is that the story portrays Shiina in a particular position, appearing older in her relationship with Chiyo but younger in her relationship with the teacher, leading to a strange power dynamic between the three. The result is a manga that I’m not especially fond of, but I think is worth reading as an example of the range of storytelling possible within Japanese comics.
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