Skip Beat currently rests at number one on my list of top 5 manga, so I thought it was about time I finally reviewed the manga. Considering that the series currently stands at 40 volumes and counting, I figured I would try reviewing the combined 3-volume manga versions as I slowly add them to my collection. This series probably stands at the longest-running manga I’ve ever kept up with, and for good reason. It keeps pulling me back with its likable and multi-faceted characters as well as a story that stands out from the rest by putting an interesting spin on the romance genre. And, after finally getting around to buying the physical volumes, I’m highly enjoying the little asides and notes from the mangaka that give interesting insight into the creation of the series and characters. I will never stop recommending this series to people, and I think it’s worth reading through all 40 volumes. I hope after I’m done with this review, you’ll be convinced enough to start reading along with me.
The back-cover reads as follows: “Kyoko Mogami followed her true love Sho to Tokyo to support him while he made it big as an idol. But he’s cashing her out now that he’ famous enough! Kyoko won’t suffer in silence—she’s going to get her sweet revenge by beating Show in show biz! Kyoko’s broken heart keeps her from getting into her talent agency of choice. The eccentric president at the agency decided to give her a second chance, but it requires her to wear a bright pink uniform, put up with spoiled stars, and try to live up to the name of her new position—the Love Me Section! Can Kyoko stand the indignity long enough to find her vengeance?” The manga is written and illustrated by Yoshiki Nakamura and was given a 25-episode anime series back in 2008. It is currently published by Viz Media for the US market.
Nakamura has said a couple times in her asides throughout these three volumes that she doesn’t think her art lives up to her own expectations for this series, and for the most part, I’d have to disagree. Whereas the style may not be as classically artistic as say Mars (number 2 on my list), it is still very classically shoujo with her use of expressive chibis and large eyes full of emotion. Besides a few instances of too-high hairlines or one or two character designs that look a bit too alike, I really enjoy the art. Her use of values really adds weight to any scene and her mastery of expressions allows her characters to feel real and full of life. You can really feel her care for the characters she creates by the amount of detail she puts into them. In another one of the asides, she talks about a question her editor asked her: What character do you love the most? It took Nakamura a while to figure it out, but her editor knew right away that it was LME President Lory from the amount of care she put into his design, outfits, and characterization. I would have to agree with him there, especially considering the 2-page spread she created for his introduction.
One of the key facets of this manga is its contrast between comedy and drama made apparent in her use of chibi characters versus her more detailed character designs. I also love how she has this weird mix of comedy and drama in her scenes where Kyoko goes off on her revenge tirades, giving rise to dramatic pictures of Kyoko surrounded by menacing spirits that trap and harass the people around her. Then we have panels where we get innocent Kyoko, showing us that there is still a bit of pre-Sho, naive, believes-in-princesses Kyoko in there somewhere. However, what keeps me coming back is Nakamura’s handling of the drama with her art. As I said before, I love the way she uses high contrast shading to bring out emotional moments in her characters. Combine this with her ability to bring out the character’s emotions through their eyes, and you get moments like Kyoko’s meeting with Sawara right after she lost the audition in which we see just how deeply her rejection by Sho and other aspects of her past have affected her view of love. Her realization that she feels she can no longer love anyone shows through her eyes to hit you straight in the heart with a sense of renewed understanding at how serious her feelings or lack-there-of actually are.
Skip Beat drew me into its story with its unusual romance scenario. Kyoko starts as a girl totally devoted to Sho, willing to look past his faults and generally sour nature to stay in Tokyo and take care of him. After their break-up, we get a Kyoko that is both on a war-path of revenge and one that is simultaneously grieving. It becomes a story of healing and self-betterment as Kyoko begins to learn to do and to want things for herself. Her motivations may still be targeted at beating Sho, but by the end of the third volume, we come to see her slowly finding meaning in acting and coming to enjoy it. One of the interesting things about following Kyoko’s story is seeing how she slowly grows into her career and finds meaning in it outside of revenge against Sho.
While I think this series does subvert the kind of typical romance story, it does follow a lot of the same kind of tropes as music, talent, or skill-based stories: the protagonist that’s a natural in her field. Kyoko comes into the talent and acting sector as a complete newbie, but manages to impress both the President of LME and the top actor in Japan with her guts and unpolished ability to act. Granted, a lot of that skill also comes from her training at a traditional Japanese hotel, and Kyoko at one point does make the comparison between the service industry and acting in that you need to please your customers/fans. What we begin to see is that Kyoko possesses an inordinate amount of guts that allows her to perform under pressure and never give up on something she’s set her sight on. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Ruriko arc that begins in Volume 2. This is honestly one of my favorite arcs because it really gets in your face about Kyoko’s level of commitment once she sets her sights on something. While escorting the temperamental and stuck-up idol Ruriko to her movie set, Kyoko sprains/fractures her ankle. Through a mix of jealousy and childishness, Ruriko threatens to quit the movie if she doesn’t get her way. It is only through a sense of competitiveness with Kyoko that she stays and finds a renewed sense of love for acting. But, in the process, Kyoko is forced to act a tea-ceremony scene with a fractured ankle. In a powerful show of guts, she manages to act through the pain and even impress Ren with her seriousness. It’s one of the scenes that I keep coming back to every time I want to read this series again.
Skip Beat may use those the gutsy protagonist trope as its basis, but where it really shines and grows is with its characters. President Lory, Ren, Kyoko, Sho and many of the side characters are fairly fleshed out an interesting. I can’t help but think that President Lory is becoming my favorite character the more times I read through. His expressions, his genuine care for the actors under his wing, and his weird personality really comes through every scene he’s in. I can’t wait to revisit more volumes, and I hope you’ll join me next time for my review of Skip Beat volumes 4-6. Please let me know in the comments what you thought of these first three volumes and who your favorite characters are so far.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
Volumes 4-6 >>>
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