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.

Skip Beat!, Vol. 29

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

I hope you enjoyed the Black Bird-esque cover art, as that’s really the closest thing Skip Beat gets to romance. Oh yes, there’s Kyoko and Ren teasing each other briefly, but the point of that scene is the same as it’s been before – when pressed, Kyoko freaks out completely and shows, as Lory lampshades in this volume, that she’s not remotely ready for love or romance. Which is one reason why Skip Beat is at Vol. 29 and things are still up in the air. Not that we’ve any doubt that the final pairing will be Ren and Kyoko – if Sho somehow manages to win her heart I’ll be mind-boggled (and I think angry fans would storm Hakusensha’s offices). But there’s simply demons in Kyoko’s past that really haven’t resolved yet.

Honestly, I wish we’d see more of Kyoko’s mother. Yes, she’s horrible, and I certainly don’t want to see more of her interactions with Kyoko. Except I totally do, because her emotional abuse at her mother’s hands is what continues to drive her story. Every single time she twitches or reacts poorly to someone getting angry with her – even when it’s obviously meant to be comedic – it reminds me that she’s hypersensitive to everyone’s reactions. And one reason she may be so good at method acting is that she grew up trying to be the good child – or, as she increasingly got pawned off on Sho’s family, the dutiful wife/sister figure. Kyoko’s ability to immediately sense when Ren is upset with her, and her over the top reactions, are incredibly funny, but they’re also built on a foundation that screams ‘trigger warning’.

In a way, Kyoko’s emotional maturity when it comes to love and romance (and even simple things such as friendship) is trying to catch up to the personas that she’s put on her entire life. Which is why she’s still so incredibly naive about love. Her discussion with her Bo costume about Ren’s ‘playboy’ ways show that Lory isn’t kidding about her being completely unable to love. He may glibly tell Ren to avoid taking ‘that final step’ with her, but there’s a reason behind it – if Kyoko is freaking out to the point of bolting across the room when Ren even suggests seducing her, she’s not ready for anything else.

As for the rest of the manga, despite the fact that we’re twenty-nine volumes in, not much time has passed within the manga itself, as we can see given that Dark Moon is only just wrapping up. Meanwhile, Cain Heel’s drama finally starts filming, and we meet one of his fellow actors, Murasame, who seems to be a combination of rival and tsukkomi, as he points out to himself all the weird things Cain and Setsu are doing, but is also clearly attracted to Setsu. Of course, he shows this attraction via his own emotional immaturity – after pondering the best way to introduce himself to her, he starts by insulting her brother. Kyoko’s not the only one with issues.

I love the fact that this cute, funny shoujo manga can make me write about serious things. It doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon, so here’s to more volumes (and perhaps Kyoko conquering her love and affection demons).

Skip Beat!, Vol. 27

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

We left off last time with Ren and Kyoko posing as siblings – and all of the awkwardness that comes from this, including having to share a room. Volume 27 does now pull back on this at all, but makes things a whole lot worse, as we get to see, for once, Ren lose control rather than Kyoko.

Before that, though, we have some highly amusing scenes in which Kyoko finds, once again, it’s hard to act method when you have no idea what something is like – in this case, being spoiled. You can tell Ren is having an absolute ball with this, and Kyoko’s faces throughout as a picture – especially as she realizes that seeing Cain acting like a petulant child is actually sort of a turn-on for her/Setsu.

This cuteness is just a setup, though. The real meat of the volume is what happens next, where Kyoko is accosted by a gang of young guys looking for “a good time”. She, naturally, sics her “brother” on them, which is fine, as Ren is quite good at dodging, and these thugs are nothing special. At least until they start pulling out weapons. When one of them knocks Kyoko to the ground, the sight of Ren losing control is rather scary. If not for us (we’ve had flashbacks spoiling us for Ren’s traumatic past for some time), then certainly for Kyoko, who is stunned. It’s made worse by the fact that she can’t break character, but has to break up the fight. Strong stuff here.

Afterwards, in the hotel room… well, we’ve done comedy. We’ve done drama. Now it’s time for some romance. Well, quasi-romance, that is – it’s only Vol. 27, after all, you shouldn’t expect any real development just yet. But Kyoko gets into character too easily, which means that if she’s worried about her brother drowning in a tub, she’s gonna walk in on him. What follows is both hilarious and sexy, showing the depth of feeling Ren has for Kyoko (and his complete misinterpretation of her reaction), as well as Kyoko’s growing love for Ren – which she’s oblivious to, of course. The highlight here has to be Kyoko upset that she didn’t see “all” of Ren… so that she could make her doll more realistic.

Meanwhile, just because Kyoko’s doing Setsu doesn’t mean she’s not also still involved in Box R. Indeed, her two roles are bleeding into each other, and it can be hard to switch. I like the way that Skip Beat! shows us that, even though Ren and Kyoko are prodigies, acting is still a difficult profession – and that even if you’re method acting, you still have to keep your head in the game. Which is definitely something Ren is having trouble doing. He begs Lory to have Kyoko “fired” as Setsu, as he worries he won’t be able to control himself around her. Lory agrees – provided Ren fires her himself, saying he “doesn’t need her”. Oh Lory, you’re such a wonderfully manipulative ass. XD

I mentioned this volume is Number 27, so it seems appropriate that it ends with everyone realizing just how much Kyoko has grown up recently – and how gorgeous she’s becoming. Poor Ren. He’ll have rivals before you know it. In the meantime, one of North America’s longest shoujo series continues to show why it’s so popular. Lots of fun.