The classic series “Lookism” recently became the first Webtoon to receive a web animation on Netflix. As implied by the title, the Netflix series discusses pretty privilege in a way that is persuasive to even the privileged and the pretty.
“Lookism” appeals so widely in part because it offers its viewers ways to learn from the differences in the way the world treats people. The Webtoon, which has received massive success worldwide, with over 684 million views, expanded its outreach to a broader audience on Dec. 8 through Netflix after gaining success from its live-action Chinese television adaptation in 2019. The eight-episode Netflix release, created by Studio Mir, closely follows the comic and does a phenomenal job at satiating both new viewers and existing fans by replicating the tone of the Webtoon — whether it be through voice acting, graphics, aesthetic, fight scenes or the original soundtrack.
“Lookism” follows the story of Daniel Park, a poor, overweight and unattractive high school student who has the ability to switch bodies with a fit, attractive one. When one body wakes, the other falls asleep. The predominantly Shōnen comic exposes lookism, i.e, judgments made of people based on their physical attractiveness. The comic also delves into darker themes like gangs, bullying and homelessness, along with lighter themes like teenage crushes and relationships — all of which are affected by attractiveness.
While a typical coming-of-age story, “Lookism” excels in showcasing pretty privilege, especially through the prejudice held against Daniel and the differences in his male friendships. By having the story alternate between both versions of Daniel, it avoids falling into the “zero-to-hero” trap, as Daniel is constantly navigating relationships in both bodies while trying to reduce bullying by both the popular, attractive students and unattractive “losers” like himself. Daniel’s cognizance of being treated differently in both bodies helps him improve his life. He builds positive relationships with other characters in his new body at school while working a nighttime job as a cashier with his original body to help his mother out.
It is easy to see why the story is appealing to a large audience, teens and young adults alike. Despite revolving around serious, often violent issues, the main character, a self-proclaimed loser, has been given the opportunity to not only erase his title of “loser” but also strengthen his relationship with his struggling but dedicated single mother. What’s better for a loser nicknamed “the pig” except restarting his life in a different, more attractive body? Teens, who are more susceptible to feeling out of place, can empathize with every step Daniel takes to improve his life — from switching high schools to dressing better. While arguably hyperbolic in the comic, recurring themes of abuse, bullying, gang fights and attempted murder leave the reader awaiting new chapters each week to see how Daniel juggles the difference in his treatment and treads each situation to ultimately make friends.
The official soundtrack and background music perfectly complement Daniel’s circumstances throughout the story, with lyrics empathizing with his situation and melodies setting the mood of each scene. While the art style of the animation is similar to that of the Webtoon, which isn’t super appealing, the graphics — fight scenes, especially— were definitely impressive. The comic-like nature of the animation is apparent through the form of abrupt cuts and transitions, with a few scenes feeling like a slideshow with background music instead of a smooth animation. However, the animation style is certainly still watchable.
Since the Webtoon is still ongoing with 421 episodes to date, the eight-episode animation only covered up to 27 chapters in the original. Like with many animation adaptations, “Lookism” lost some of its nuance, like the appearance of minor yet important characters, many of whom bring comic relief to the rather dark story and elevate both Daniel and the audience’s mood. A consequence of the animation having only eight episodes, which many fans are disappointed about, is the rushed pacing, as the loss of nuance made the animation less memorable than the comic. While upsetting to fans such as myself, a positive about losing some nuance is that the animation is not as graphic as the comic when dealing with darker topics like gang fights and extortion, making it more tolerable to newer viewers.
A bigger disappointment though, is that “Lookism” doesn’t distinctly distinguish itself from other Shōnen comics, as the story does not pass the Bechdel test. While the comic and animation are aimed at a male audience and therefore have a male main character, the inclusion of female characters only as romantic interests makes the experience especially lackluster for female fans.
While the animation ends on a cliffhanger, it leaves fans anticipating a new season. The Netflix release makes it clear “Lookism” aims to reach a broader audience as it has taken a step in paving the way for other Webtoons to be adapted into animations on Netflix.