Skip Beat!, Vol. 38

Skip Beat! Volume 38 by Yoshiki Nakamura

Skip Beat! is always emotionally harrowing, but after 38 volumes, there are plenty of different character relationships and plot points that can be explored for maximum drama. This volume finally confronts Kyoko’s relationship with her mother. After seeing the ways Kyoko has been damaged by her abandonment as a child throughout Skip Beat! up until this point, this confrontation is a long time coming, and Kyoko’s reactions and resilience show just how far she’s come.

This volume of Skip Beat! starts out with Sho being an idiot, because a little bit of comic relief is useful before delving into childhood trauma. Kyoko and Ren are also firmly locked into the misunderstandings and delicate emotional balance that causes any interaction between them to be weighted down with layers of unspoken feelings, elements of comfort, and pure anxiety. Kyoko’s encounter with Ren is helping build up her up psychologically, and she comments “I’ll prepare myself body and spirit, since I’ll be fighting a psywar in a blizzard”.

As Kyoko heads towards meeting her mother, she’s keeps her “Love Me” stamp with an infinite number of points that she received from Ren close by, like a token to take into battle. Kyoko first has a conversation with one of her mother’s co-workers in leading up to the main event. Kyoko begins to wonder about her father, and if her mother Saena experienced something similar to the rejection that she experienced from Sho, that kicked off her desire for vengeance. Saena is caught up in biases and assumptions, thinking that Kyoko dropped out of school and that she had a physical relationship with Sho. Saena’s stubbornness and strong facade makes it difficult to communicate with her.

As Kyoko and Saena face off, Nakamura’s portrayal of demons lurking in the background of the conversation and dramatic micro-expressions shows the charged nature of the confrontation. Their conversation is interrupted by flashbacks of a younger Saena struggling to make her way as a lawyer, and seemingly torn between her job and the idea of love. While Saena’s backstory might place her actions in context, it doesn’t really the cruel way she abandoned her daughter. This storyline is obviously going to be stretched out over several volumes, and I have to admit I’m feeling more anxious about Kyoko than I have in awhile! I’m hoping that the maturity that she’s built up over time helps her deal with whatever emotional bombshell her mother is about to drop. Skip Beat! continues to be extremely rewarding for readers, and I’m happy it is still going so strong after 38 volumes.

Skip Beat!, Vol 37

Skip Beat! Volume 37, by Yoshiki Nakamura

I always do a mental happy dance whenever a new volume of Skip Beat! comes out, because it is just so consistently good. This volume brings the pain, as Kyoko has to deal with her mother. Kyoko’s family has always been consistently absent from this series, and now the reader knows why. There was a bit of a reference to family difficulties when Kyoko had to get her mother’s permission to sign with a talent agency, but she hasn’t appeared in person in the manga before. Kyoko’s mom appears to be a cold-hearted lawyer who doesn’t want to be inconvenienced by her own daughter.

Coming off of the Heel Siblings arc, Kyoko is back in Japan, working as a Love Me section member again while the first few episodes of her new drama are airing. She runs into her mother by an elevator, but she only displays a few hostile micro-expressions before walking by her daughter, utterly ignoring her. Later, it turns out that Saena Mogami is filling in for another lawyer on a variety show and when responding to questions about her cold demeanor, she replies that she’s never had children. Both Ren and Sho witness this moment, and they think about Kyoko’s feelings, rushing to be by her side.

Sho arrives first, right after Kyoko sees her mother deny her existence. Kyoko’s response to this event is to utterly shut down her emotions. Nakamura does such a great job with Kyoko’s facial expressions in this scene. Kyoko is usually so animated, swinging from one emotional extreme to another that to see her be both beyond sad and blank at the same time is shocking. Kyoko’s eyes are shadowed in grey, and the aftermath of her mother’s interview settles on Kyoko like a physical weight. Sho being Sho, his response is to try to provoke some sort of emotion out of her, and he fails miserably.

Skip Beat! has that rare combination of gripping plots and lovely art, even though the characters might have the leg proportions of giraffes. There are always several pages in each volume where I stop to appreciate the art, like the panels that show Kyoko’s devastation, a photo shoot with Ren that shows the charisma he has that has made him a star, and the moment where Kyoko finally finds some comfort.

Kyoko goes on the run and finds Ren, but she thinks he’s Corn! Oh the tangled web we weave, etc! Still, no mater what side of himself Ren may be portraying, he’s the refuge that Kyoko needs at the time. I can see this storyline spinning out over several volumes, and as usual when Skip Beat! embarks on new direction I can’t wait to see what happens next.

skipbeat37

Skip Beat! Vol. 36

Skip Beat Volume 36 by Yoshiki Nakamura

I feel like most reviews of Skip Beat could just be summed up as, “Skip Beat, long-running shoujo series, continues to be relentlessly excellent,” but as I was reading the latest volume there were several specific things that struck me about it. I absolutely loved the Heel siblings plot, and while the manga has to move on from Ren and Kyoko being forced to be in close proximity to each other as they pretend to be gothic semi-incestual siblings in order to further Ren’s acting career as he acts in a drama while pretending to be an entirely different actor than “Ren” which is itself a totally different persona from his genuine personality, I’m glad that this volume eases out of the story line gently, with Kyoko getting one last big scene as Setsu.

Early in this volume I was reminded at how good Nakamura is at drawing Kyoko in freak-out mode, as she suffers agony in telling Ren that she kissed her long-lost fairy prince Corn (who is also Ren). Ren is pushing Kyoko a bit to get an emotional reaction from her, but he also is genuinely grateful for her help as they part and she heads back to Japan to resume her own acting career. Kyoko has matured so much as an actress and a person, and while she’s handling a crisis on her new show, things get complicated fast when Sho visits her home.

A settled and stable shoujo heroine doesn’t make for much drama, and now in addition to Sho’s reappearance, Kyoko is confronted with the specter of her long-absent horrible mother. Just when she starts to get a bit of emotional equilibrium, something happens to throw things off!

Lettering Skip Beat! must be a fun and challenging job, as there are different fonts used for Kyoko when she’s beset by the angry demon side of her personality, when she’s yelling at Sho, and when she’s calmly giving advice to a fellow actress. All in all, this was a very entertaining volume helping Skip Beat! transition away from one story line into a new direction, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

sb36

Skip Beat! Volume 28

Skip Beat! Volume 28 by Yoshiki Nakumura

I always enjoy a new volume of Skip Beat! but I’m enjoying the most recent story arc even more than usual because there’s more emotional payoff with Kyoko and Ren being forced into more contact with each other as they prepare for their reality-tv like roles as the gothed-out Cain siblings. They still have to wrap up their current projects though, and things get dicey when Ren has a near miss with a potential accident when he is rehearsing some stunt driving. The experience puts him in a bit of a fugue state, where he relives a dramatic accident in his past before he became “Ren Tsuruga.” Kyoko is filming nearby and rushes to Ren’s set and she is the only person that he responds to after the accident. Later on, Ren indulges in an odd psychological ritual where he cooks a horrible omurice and eats it as an act of endurance. Kyoko comes along to help him out and witnesses Ren putting himself together again, despite the unfortunate specter of Death that hovers nearby as they consume their dinner.

Kyoko and Ren were really both destined to be actors because with their pasts, traumatic in different ways, inhabiting a role becomes a refuge. I think in this next story arc we’ll see how much of “Ren Tsuruga” is a role and how much is actually Ren. Kyoko’s on the verge of a change too. Everyone that she meets seems struck by the sense that she’s matured, and as she spends more time with Ren when he’s at his most vulnerable it seems like she might finally be on the verge of acknowledging her feelings. Overall, this was a very satisfying volume of Skip Beat!

Review copy provided by the publisher

Skip Beat Volume 27

Skip Beat Volume 27 by Yoshiki Nakamura

I feel that the latest volume of Skip Beat can usually be summed up as “Skip Beat – still great!” In many shoujo series around the 27th volume we’ve seen some plot recycling, the introduction of a sudden fiance or evil male model, or random fights that break romantic couples apart only to bring them closer yet again. The current Heel siblings arc in Skip Beat is enormously entertaining just because it places Kyoko and Ren in close physical proximity all the time, and seeing how they each deal with their unexpressed feelings for each other while maintaining their steadfast commitment to their roles as freaky goth siblings makes the whole series seem new and fresh.

Every experience Kyoko and Ren undertake is a method acting exercise. The relatively simple act of shopping for clothes becomes a tangled transaction involving sibling manipulation and far too many pairs of pants. When Kyoko gets hit on by some random guys, is Ren’s violent reaction due to his character’s feelings for his sister or his own feelings for Kyoko? Ren seems to be approaching an emotional breaking point, but his attempts to send Kyoko away are futile. While Nakamura might draw her characters with freakishly long limbs even by manga standards, her mastery of facial expressions really helps her add more nuance and layers of meaning into the story of Skip Beat. In the more emotionally intense scenes, the reader sees not only the reaction of the character the protagonists are portraying but also the internal feelings and struggles of the actors behind the characters. Ren shifts from shock to fury almost instantaneously when he thinks that Kyoko is threatened, and his posture and aura shift so completely when he’s in character that it is easy to see how his dedication to his craft brings out the best in Kyoko’s acting as well. I’m looking forward to more emotional torture with the Heel siblings in the next volume!