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.

Bookshelf Briefs pointer

For those who read my site by looking at the category archives, I have reviews of Eyeshield 21 36 and Skip Beat 24 on this week’s Bookshelf Briefs. They can be found here: Bookshelf Briefs

Skip Beat! Volume 23

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

So I’ve been going on for some time about this volume of Skip Beat!, and how I would be interested to see the reaction of the readers who had not been following it in Japanese. And, as it turns out, the reaction has generally been ‘it’s another volume of Skip Beat”. Now I’m trying to look back and see *why* I had expectations of this volume being controversial, and why that didn’t pan out.

First of all, it’s not serialized. When Chapter 135 came out in Japanese, there was a 2-week wait before the next one. On the forums and fan message boards, therefore, there was a lot of speculation about what would be happening, and the majority of folks felt that Kyoko and Chiaki had “gone too far” and would somehow be punished for it. Obviously, this did not happen – the opposite, in fact. But here in mid-volume, we see the consequences immediately, so there isn’t that sense of dread that you get when waiting for the next chapter, nor are we making up resolutions in our head.

Secondly, on a more personal note, I’m not a big fan of method acting. This is purely down to my own biases, of course, but I do have a drama degree, so I have dealt with it in my lifetime quite a bit. In general my opinion is similar to Laurence Olivier’s in the apocryphal story of him telling Dustin Hoffman, who had been up for 5 nights and looked horrible in an attempt at realism, to “try acting”. Much of this volume of Skip Beat! is about immersing yourself in a role, and trying to live the life of your character, something which Kyoko (and later Chiaki) prove that they excel at. But damn, they’re torturing an actress! And yes, it is torture, going beyond bullying with the nail polish remover and lighter. We do see a bit of fallout, as the actress’s manager reams the director out for not stopping it, but it gets defused when the actress in question wants to be as ‘in the role’ as Kyoko and Chiaki, and agrees to reproduce it in the take. That said, I feel something more should have been made of it, and it wasn’t. Things got too dangerous.

Aside from that, this volume of Skip Beat was fantastic. I may have been uncomfortable with Natsu and Yumika in 135, but I suspect that was very deliberate, and the setup was beautiful. I particularly loved the reaction of the actress playing Kaori, who ended up feeling relieved and touched that Natsu did not consider her something to be “thrown away”. Even though it was undercut immediately afterwards, the feelings were drawn beautifully. As for Chiaki, her arc essentially ends here, as she’s able to put her past behind her and attempt to love acting once more. Not that it will be easy – she has no idea what she’s in for in the “Love Me” section.

We also start up a Valentine’s Day arc, which also seems to be around the same time as Ren’s birthday… and leads to a nice cliffhanger, as Kyoko has forgotten it, and hasn’t gotten him anything. To make matters worse, Reino has shown up again, and wants Kyoko to give him chocolates for Valentine’s. This is possibly the funniest scene in the volume, as Reino tries everything he can to show Kyoko he’s fallen for her (in his own jerkass way, of course), but gets nowhere as Kyoko’s “love circuits” are still broken. Though it’s also hard to top Lory’s entrance as well – any time Lory shows up is a potential funny highlight in itself.

So Kyoko now has a handle on Natsu, has the support of the entire crew, and has finally worked things out with Chiaki. Good thing, too, as it looks like this next arc, which appears to focus on Ren’s birthday and Valentine’s Day, won’t be very easy on her. Despite my misgivings about the ‘method acting’ bullying scene, this is still highly recommended.