My Thoughts on "So Pretty/Very Rotten" by Jane Mai and An Nyugen πŸ“–

Hey everyone! Long time no see!

I've been pretty quiet lately as work has more or less taken over my life! I work full time, but I also work on my business in my free time, and I have an event coming up I've been frantically preparing for on the off chance I get time and energy to spare, so things are pretty chaotic for me at the moment! It has been nice, though, when I do find those snatches of time before bed to do something calming, such as reading. 

As someone who got into lolita fashion during a time when livejournal was the central hub for the community, and an English literature grad, I became very interested in purchasing "So Pretty/Very Rotten", as it had been a long time since I had heard of a lolita related project heavily focused on experiences, essays, and interviews like this. The following is my personal response towards the book. I hope you enjoy it!

I really like the colours and artwork used for the front cover! It's romantic, and suits a book about lolita fashion perfectly!

The lace design used on the back is really cool!

When I received it, I was at first surprised by how chunky the book was. I expected it to be maybe 150 pages maximum, but ended up with over 300.

However, this is by no means a text-heavy volume, with most of the pages dedicated to several lolita-centred comics.

From what I've seen on other blogs etc, the general reception to this book has been very positive, and I do understand why. I have a huge appreciation for people who carry out careful research, and put the time and effort into creating content to be enjoyed by the community at large. The book consists of brief, but interesting, interviews with Novala Takemoto, who is apparently in the process of putting together an extensive book detailing the history of lolita fashion from its beginnings to present day.  There are comics introducing us to a variety of characters, many of whom seem to be "broken" or incomplete in some way. There are also essays looking into what makes up the aeesthetics of the fashion, its influences, as well as musings on the subculture at large. Others who reviewed the book seemed to see it as an interesting introduction to lolita fashion and the thoughts of the community's members. 

Did I have a lot of fun reading this book? Well, not really. I didn't find it to be particularly informative (but hey, I got into lolita rather a long time ago after all), and it certainly did not uplift me with its often brooding themes. But I will say that this book surprised me. My initial reaction was that I hadn't enjoyed it. I closed the book one night before bed feeling a little empty, and like the ending had been very abrupt and inconclusive. On reflection, though, I realised the book had probably done what it set out to do-- it made me think.

I enjoyed the variety in the artwork-- some of it was soft, simple, and adorable like this! Also, I appreciated the well-dressed wlw couple!
So many of the sentiments in this book hit really close to home: that sense of being made unhappy by something that once brought you immense joy, the struggle to remain passionate and healthy-minded in the face of a increasing sense of competition amongst your peers, and the pressures of consuming more and more in what started off as an alternative, rule-breaking subculture which encouraged modification and creativity in clothes.

A huge reason for me losing a lot of interest in lolita fashion is because of the way in which the fashion changed (the current trends bear little resemblance to the fashion I initially fell in love with, and certainly don't feel like a street fashion anymore) but also the way in which the community became overwhelmingly large, and as a result felt less like a subculture as time went on. Everything became too accessible and no longer "special", over-saturated, and oftentimes meaningless as common interests held by its members became fewer and farther between. I could be surrounded by people at meets and yet feel inescapably lonely and discontent. These comics explore some of these sentiments, from a grotesque exaggeration of someone who would do anything to fuel their creative pursuits, to a short story involving an emotionally distant girl who eventually leaves the fashion altogether, to another to shrouds herself in the beauty of these clothes to escape the sad reality of her living situation. There are moments in which this book takes disturbing turns and poses the question: do we see ourselves within these characters? I think for many of us, the answer would be yes.

This was not a feel-good read for me, but it left a huge impression on me, and a desire to do my own explorations of similar topics. Why is it, I wonder, that even the most beautiful things can be so ugly, so rotten at their core? Perhaps it's just a law of nature, that "yin and yang" that means that everything is interconnected, both the good and the bad. All of those clichΓ©d expressions are true-- there is a fine line between love and hate, and while exploring that can be scary, it's absolutely necessary.

I really enjoyed this illustrated lookbook accompanied by a really lovely, anecdotal commentary!
I think the parts I enjoyed the most were the passionate accounts of how different people got into lolita fashion in the first place-- what their first introduction was, what getting their first pieces felt like, and why it was meaningful for them. But of course, those inevitable counter stories about drifting away from the fashion had their place, too, and I couldn't help but be overcome by a wistfulness for simpler times. I was a mere teenager in the noughties when I first got into this fashion, and while so much has changed with it, so much has changed within myself, and reading this book felt like a way of confronting and coming to terms with that fact, as I have been for a while now.

As this book managed to get me mulling over it for days afterwards, it's only natural that I would recommend you get yourself a copy. I expect you might have a different reception to it, but this is what it did for me, and I never have any regrets about reading anything that makes me think, or allows me to continue on with a newfound perspective. I didn't always find it enjoyable, and there were parts that I felt could have done with a re-write because they were clunky to read. But certainly, it instilled within me the motivation to write this review, but also reminded me how important it is to keep writing in general. It's important to document any alternative fashion, subculture, or interest. I'm very much an "archivist" and I would like to think that here and there, I have contributed in some way to archiving thoughts, feelings, insights and information that will give people an understanding of what lolita was for someone in the 2010s.

My rating for "So Pretty/Very Rotten" is 3 out of 5 stars. Jane Mai and An Nygen deserve a pat on the back because this book is a wonderful achievement in terms of adding to the library of lolita-related content, but it certainly won't be for everyone, and won't teach any seasoned lolitas anything new.

Did you read this book? What did you think of it? I would love to hear your responses to the topics it covers in the comments! Thank you so much if you read all the way to the end, and I'll see you next time 


  1. Thank you for the review, I found it interesting to read about your thoughts and feelings that the book gave you. Though I don't think I will buy it for now because I don't like comics and I wouldn't find new information about Lolita

    1. Thanks for reading!
      It's very comic-heavy (which I didn't enjoy at times-- I would have preferred fully fleshed out stories!) so I don't think you would like this book! I didn't exactly "like" it either, but it definitely gave me some food for thought and I can appreciate the idea behind the project, even if it didn't teach me anything new.