Skip Beat 43

Skip Beat! Volume 43 by Yoshiki Nakamura

It says something about the enduring appeal of Skip Beat! that even though I have stacks of shoujo to read, whenever a new volume comes out it is my immediate priority. Kyoko has fought through an intense audition process to win the role of Momiji, but as usual in Skip Beat! this means that the drama is just beginning.

Skip Beat

Part of what made the most recent round of auditions so intense is that Kyoko and Moko had the possibility of working together. When Kyoko finds out that Moko isn’t cast, she has a torrent of emotions and anxiety about how her best friend might be feeling. It turns out that the producer has Moko in mind for a role in another project, and things get smoothed over. Kimiko does not accept losing the role of Momiji so gracefully, as she attempts to drug Kyoko and fling her off the roof of a building, only to be foiled by Erika putting a plan in motion to expose Kimiko’s insanity. This all seems like enough soap opera shenanigans for one volume of manga, but the story continues to unfold with Kyoko and Ren continuing to misunderstand each other, even though they’ve been able to acknowledge their feelings internally.

Kyoko’s quirkiness as a heroine is perfectly summed up when she calmly assesses her danger by concluding that she didn’t know how high up she was, and she probably would only have broken a couple of bones. There’s also a hilarious panel where Kyoko senses that Ren is looking at her and from her perspective his stare turns into the predatory glare of a snake, only for her to turn to look at him and be confronted by his usual pleasant expression. A innocuous picnic with a bento that Kyoko makes ends up turning into a prompt for some intense internal thoughts about budding romantic feelings. With the forced proximity element of Yashiro serving as manager to both Kyoko and Ren, I’m hoping that this story arc might move things forward a little bit. Then again, we are a good 43 volumes in to Skip Beat! and I’m entertained no matter what happens.

Skip Beat! vol 42

Skip Beat! Volume 42 by Yoshiki Nakamura

With such a long running series like Skip Beat! once it has caught up with Japan, the wait between volumes is long enough that I temporarily lose track of of the plot. But within just a few panels, my memory gets triggered and I’m back in the story again. In this case seeing Ren’s reaction to learning that Sho kissed Kyoko made the wait between volumes all worthwhile. It is always amazing how well Nakamura can portray someone attempting to be stoic when they are filled with turbulent emotions.

Skip Beat 42

Kyoko meanwhile has her own battles to fight, and Skip Beat! always excels when she has to fight for a role. She’s in the middle of a rigged contest, trying to get a role alongside her beloved Moko. Kimiko, the niece of the producer, is determined to use any advantage against Kyoko and she plays up an imaginary relationship with Ren just enough that Kyoko becomes totally distracted and forgets to focus when she’s receiving directions for the next stage of her audition. Moko ends up saving Kyoko by altering her body language just enough that Kyoko is able to intuit the rest of the scene, and she ends up turning in an impressive performance.

One of the most entertaining part of this volume was seeing Ren’s manager accompany Kyoko throughout the audition process. His interior thoughts as he observes Kyoko’s reactions and starts building up theories about Ren and Kyoko’s relationship are priceless. As the audition progresses, Kyoko is able to battle through her emotional turmoil and fully inhabit her character. One of the things about Skip Beat! that I enjoy so much towards the start of a story arc is being able to look forward to all the impending drama. Kimiko seems to be engaged in a strategic retreat, I’m guessing that she’ll return to cause even more chaos. Ren and Kyoko haven’t met yet since Sho kissed her, so I’m looking forward to that scene, I’m guessing in two more volumes or so? Skip Beat! always manages to draw the reader in, and even though the big confrontations and resulting emotional growth for the characters doesn’t happen right away the series always delivers.

Skip Beat!, Vol. 41

Skip Beat!, Volume 41 by Yoshiki Nakamura

There’s something about picking up a new volume in a long-running shoujo series that is the manga equivalent of comfort food to me. It is great to settle in to a story arc, even if the situations are similar to what has happened before, seeing how the characters have grown and evolved as they encounter new challenges still makes it rewarding for the reader.

Kyoko has a big audition in this volume, and even though this has happened so many times before in Skip Beat!, this was very satisfying to read simply to see the way she’s grown into her comfort zone as an actor. Also, Skip Beat! excels at serving up sweet sweet revenge as Kyoko proves people who underestimate her wrong with her unique skill set. In this case, Kyoko is competing for the role of the ninja Momiji against the spoiled niece of the director. Kyoko is able to bring something unique to the role due to her recent training in stage fighting, combined with her skills and instincts as an actor. One of the many things that makes Skip Beat! so special after 41 volumes is Nakamura’s gifts at drawing the process of acting. Kyoko’s body language and intensity utterly change when she’s inhabiting a role, and seeing her dynamic approach to her character’s demanding physical scenes makes it clear that the executives are crazy if they cast anyone else.

Kyoko is at her best when proving herself, and her agency isn’t afraid to pile on a little extra difficulties by manipulating the situation behind the scenes, in an attempt to improve the casting possibilities for all the actors who get started as “talent” on variety shows instead of the pure acting track. Rory’s oversight and machinations doesn’t just stop at Kyoko’s career. This volume is largely Ren free, but we get a hint at what might be happening in the next few volumes as Ren returns and Rory tips him off to a situation that might actually inspire jealousy in Ren! As always I’m having it hard to manage my anticipation until the next volume.

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.