Skip Beat!, Vol. 26

By Yoshiki Nakamura. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz.

It’s been a while since I reviewed Skip Beat! in depth – the last two volumes were Briefs for the Manga bookshelf team. Since then, the Natsu arc has basically wrapped up, although Kyoko is still doing that show. In the meantime, Chaiki has now joined the Love Me team. And, as with Kyoko and Kanae, her cynicism and inability to “love” is her undoing, at least as far as Lory is concerned.

Lory may be an eccentric (the python is quite typical of him, complete with the pun), but you can’t say that he’s not trying his best for these girls. Not only is his “punishment” acting assignments most young people would kill for, but they’re tailored perfectly for each of the victims. Chiaki in particular is trying hard to rediscover her love of acting, and swallows her pride a little here as she is well aware of what she needs to do in order to open up. Sadly, we only hear a bit of what Kanae is going to be doing. But Kyoko is the star, and as always the focus is on her.

Kyoko is ordered to go meet a “scary person”, and I was amused at the reminder of how out of place she is in normal society, especially in the Love Me uniforms (which are given a nice cover image here). Kyoko just stands out, and given that the crowd are already creeped out by Cain Heel, it makes sense that the combination of his aura with that of Kyoko’s leads to fireworks. Speaking of Cain Heel, Cain is, of course, Ren, something that we and Kyoko recognize right away, though Kyoko immediately doubts herself. I do sometimes wonder if Ren is an ex-Love Me member, and if Lory still gives him assignments in the same manner that he does for Kyoko. Certainly Cain Heel is designed to hit several of Ren’s buttons.

Naturally, Kyoko is now paired with Ren again, and we get to see her take on another role – this one outside of the TV camera, as she’s playing Cain Heel’s spoiled sister, Setsu. Seeing Kyoko get into the role is probably the high point of this volume. Each time she’s had to play someone “different” from herself it’s caused problems, and this time is no different. Yet she seems to get a hold of Setsu’s basic nature much faster, and has become adept at looking into the character’s motivations. Of course, this can be very problematic when they’re forced to live together in the same motel room…

Though obviously not explicit, there’s an incestual subtext here. The Heel siblings are close to the point of obsession, and Kyoko accurately notes that Setsu’s love of her brother is a bit disturbing. And it goes the other way as well, of course, showing us Cain’s love of his sister intermingling with Ren’s feelings for Kyoko. Ren has always been about repression and masks, so seeing him losing it and cracking is a treat. He really desires Kyoko here, and we start to see the real reason that Lory paired Ren and Kyoko together. Of course, he regards his desires as deeply wrong, so we’re still not actually going anywhere, but…

This new arc promises to be a lot of fun, and is already mixing together humor, romance and drama in equal measures. It’s still running in Japan, so we’ll be seeing a lot of the Heel siblings in future volumes. For now, though, we’ll enjoy the comedy, be amused at the pseudo-romance, pretend not to notice Ren’s obsession merging with “Cain Heel”, and try to forget that terrifying panel of Ren’s huge hand reaching out to grab Kyoko and drag her into an alleyway, which would be genuinely horrible if we didn’t know it was him.

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