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.


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!

Skip Beat Volume 26

Skip Beat! Volume 26 by Yoshiki Nakamura

I’ve been in a bit of a post holiday blogging malaise, what with going on vacation, getting sick, coming back from vacation, still being sick, and just dealing with work. But there isn’t any better way to snap yourself out of a manga blogging funk than to pick up a fresh volume of Skip Beat! The plot arc introduced in this volume looks like it will be really fun, and this volume would be a good jumping on point for anyone who has read a few volumes of the series but hasn’t kept up with recent developments.

One of the ways Nakamura excels as a manga artist is that she’s great at drawing someone in the grip of absolute rage. We get treated to several panels of anger in the early section of the drama, where Kyoko and her fellow LoveMe Section members are dealing with the emotional fallout from their Valentine’s Days. The president of LME Lory asks how everybody’s day went and a dark cloud descends over Kyoko and Moko. Kyoko yells “It was a nightmareish evil day that threatened my peace and quiet!” Moko fiercely proclaims “It was a day that polluted society…a day that made idiots even more stupid!” Lory is disappointed in everybody’s progress and hands out new assignments with the word describing Kyoko’s as “Dangerous.”

Kyoko is told that she has to pick up a new actor named Cain Heel who apparently resembles a member of the yakuza. When she sees a man dressed in dark clothes, radiating such a hostile aura that all the other people in his vicinity are stepping away and staring at him, she walks up and says “Mr Tsuruga?” The man stands up without saying anything, Kyoko falls to the ground and he stalks off, stepping over her. Kyoko is mystified because she thought that the man was Ren based on his proportions. As she’s walking down the street trying to process her experience, a long dark arm snakes out from an alley and pats her on the head. It is Ren after all, and he’s portraying a new actor in order to further his career. Lory announces that Kyoko is going to be Cain Heel’s lucky charm, his treasured sister Setsuka. Kyoko gets a gothy-makover and the Heel siblings are ready to launch Cain’s new career. This means that Kyoko and Ren are going to be forced to be in close quarters, with plenty of agonizing moments and crazy fashion to look forward to. What more could any fan of Skip Beat! want?

Lory speculates that forcing his two actors together will result in great things, and he takes particular note of the fact that Kyoko must have been observing Ren very closely in order to penetrate his disguise. Kyoko gets to work thinking through the character of Setsuka, hoping that her acting will get Ren’s approval. In the meantime Ren is being tortured by the mini-skirts Kyoko has to wear as Setsuka. Skip Beat! is always entertaining, but I’m really excited to see what Ren and Kyoko will get up to as the Heel siblings.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Skip Beat 25 and Seiho Boys' High School 8

Skip Beat Volume 25 by Yoshiki Nakamura

Skip Beat is so great. For all the gangly limbs and oddly proportioned characters that Nakamura draws she is an absolute master at nuanced facial expressions, as evidenced in a series of confrontational scenes in this volume of Skip Beat!. I was happy to see some events happen to propel the slowly developing relationship between Ren and Kyoko forward at last. Sho, the evil pop idol and former target of Kyoko’s obsession and revenge shows up with an elaborate bouquet and engineers a dramatic kiss right in front of Ren and some of Kyoko’s co-workers. Since Sho is a spoiled brat who can’t abide not being the focus of Kyoko’s attention, he has decided to steal her first kiss and act obnoxious in the hopes that she’ll start thinking about him again. Ren goes from amazed, to annoyed, to dangerously furious as he watches this scene play out. Kyoko is left in hysterics about not getting her first kiss back and Ren chooses to deal with the situation in the best way possible; he appeals to her professionalism. When he notices her unglued he points out that it isn’t anything to get wrapped up over and that “What feels like your first kiss counts as your real first kiss.” He can’t maintain his impartial facade for long and warns her that he doesn’t want to see a repeat of the situation and Kyoko’s response is “I shall risk my life to preserve my purity!”

Kyoko and Ren dance around their emotions, not willing to admit anything to each other yet. Ren’s reactions and the way he behaves towards Kyoko are carefully calculated, not because he’s manipulative but because he doesn’t want to cause her any more emotional damage. His measured approach and awareness of her emotional fragility stands in stark contrast to Sho, whose innate selfishness ensures that he’s never going to be a good match for her. Kyoko has Ren on such a high pedestal, that she isn’t capable of entertaining the thought that he has feelings for her. It is a rare series that manages to rack up so many volumes and still keep me entertained when the romantic protagonists have barely kissed, but Skip Beat always manages to be both fun and interesting in the way the relationships between the characters continue to play out.

Seiho Boys’ High School Volume 8 by Kaneyoshi Izumi

This was a not-so-guilty-pleasure series for me, because it was much better than I expected a shoujo manga set in an all boys high school to be. The romantic issues of the main characters get a certain amount of resolution in this final volume, but the well worn plot device of misunderstandings serving to drive some of the couples apart makes me glad that the series stopped when it did. Maki is hearing that his girlfriend Takano has been hanging out with school heartthrob Kamiki. At first he resolutely denies the possibility, but then runs into Takano and Kamiki on the beach. Kamiki and Takano are only talking. She’s going through some changes in her life that she’s hiding from Maki and Kamiki warns her “Once you figure out that I can’t make you less lonely, talk to Maki.” Maki sees them together and abruptly breaks up, but Takano was hiding the fact that she’s headed overseas from him. Maki and Takano manage to get a little bit of resolution, but Kamiki is left to deal with his own problems.

Kamiki’s white knight tendencies are coming in the way of him actually getting to develop a real relationship with Miaji. She calls him out on this personality trait, saying “I don’t want your pity, I want your love.” She rejects his help and enters into a stressful project – taking care of a stray dog with Maki. Kamiki ends up helping anyway, saying “I wanted an excuse to talk to you, Miaji. Pretty sneaky of me, huh?” The series ends with the general sense that the main characters are all going to be ok. Having a shoujo series with a more male centric point of view was refreshing, and Izumi’s art has an element of clarity that ensures it is easy to read. The one thing that threw off my enjoyment of this manga was the back-up story called “Reverse Guilt” that has an extremely icky twist ending that contrasted with the more peaceful conclusions of the main story.

Review copies provided by the publisher.