Skip Beat!, Vol. 38

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

This volume has been a long time coming. 38 volumes, to be precise. And I’ve sort of known in the back of my head that we would eventually have to deal with it, and I’ve been half dreading and and… well, no, all dreading it. Because Kyoko is a child of abuse. Not physical abuse – as this volume takes pains to point out, by the way – but mental and emotional abuse. Along with Sho’s casual cruelty, it’s what has shaped Kyoko’s actions to this day. Her mother was cold, always regarded her with scorn, and later on insisted she had no child. Kyoko has had nervous breakdowns just thinking about her. And now we’re finally getting the backstory and explanation for what happened with Saena in the past and how, presumably, she came to have Kyoko. And of course it’s very well written, because Nakamura is excellent at this sort of thing. But I will stay worried till the 39th volume comes out. Thinking “will this be another easily forgiven abusive parent?”.

As I mentioned earlier, the writing in this volume is top notch. 38 volumes in, we know these characters better than almost any other translated shoujo manga out there, and we’re still getting new depth and layers. (Watch for Maria here, who I don’t think we’ve even seen in over a dozen volumes, being mature enough to realize that now is not the time to talk to Ren.) Oddly, it’s Ren who provides most of the lighthearted comedy in this otherwise serious volume, as his reactions to Kyoko’s moodswing flipouts are brilliant, and his teasing of Yashiro is also wonderful. But the volume is subsumed by the confrontation between Kyoko and her mother. Again, we get to see Kyoko’s growth and maturity in action – in fact, Nakamura lampshades it, showing that Kyoko is now able to look at Saena’s seemingly cold face filled with hatred and see nuance and layers that she had missed as a child. This comes from her observational skills as an actress, and I feel proud of her.

It just so happens that it was Kyoko running off to be with Sho at the start of the series that really set Saena off, as it reminded her of her own manipulation by a man in the past. (Speaking of which, Misonoi is a top tier smiling villain, and I hope he gets the shit kicked out of him in the next volume, though am realistic enough to know he likely gets away with everything.) Saena is really well done here, much as my teeth were grinding at times. “I was terrified that I would hurt you” made me want to reach out and slap a “YOU TRIED” sticker on her forehead. But of course, the main issue with this otherwise excellent volume is that we end mid-flashback, and I don’t know how things will ultimately be between Kyoko and Saena. And since we’re caught up with Japan, I have till September to cool my heels. But either way, this volume is a must read for any shoujo fan.

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