Skip Beat which you probably have heard me speaking about in some detail at various points on this blog is one of my favourite long running manga series. I believe it is currently on the 39th volume and it is available in English through Viz who translate and publish singular volumes as well as 3-in-1 editions.
It is one of the more popular shoujo manga series in Japan (according to my sources) and it has fans all over the world. It has been adapted to an anime version as well as a rather terrible Taiwanese live action drama. However, it is in its original medium that Skip Beat truly shines because though it is, to all appearances, a shoujo (basically, girl’s) manga, the topics it considers are rather considerable and dealt with in much more detail in the manga form than in the anime or the live action due to time (and other) restraints.
Romance, or rather the lack of it, is a central theme but it alone is not responsible for why so many people continue to wait desperately for the one chapter that comes their way every month.
Kyoko, at the beginning of the series, is a rather naive young maiden who has followed her childhood friend, Sho Fuwa, to Tokyo after he asked her to forget about high school and accompany him to the big city where he plans to make his debut as a singer. Silly, idealistic Kyoko follows him and slaves away at crappy jobs just to provide him with an apartment and other amenities. She cooks for him, cleans for him, and ensures that his every need is met. Though they have a platonic relationship, there is a potential for more, an expectation of more–at least from Kyoko’s side.
One day, she prepares a bento for her childhood friend/recently famous Shou Fuwa and takes it over to his agency only to overhear him describe her, among other unflattering things, as his unpaid maidservant. That is when Kyoko’s naive assumptions about her relationship with Shou crumble and she, betrayed and humiliated, vows to get revenge on him.
And how will she take revenge on him?
Why, she’ll enter showbiz and prove herself to be a better actor/celebrity than Shou Fuwa, of course.
Obviously, it’s not that simple and the very first obstacle she faces is in Tsuruga Ren an actor at the celeb agency she is auditioning at, who loathes her impure motivations for entering showbiz and tells her that she’d be better of staying away from the business. But Kyoko is nothing if not determined.
The first transformation:
Kyoko cuts off her hair and has it dyed. Along with the hair, she sheds her naivete and expectations of a fairytale forever. She locks up her heart and seals it deep inside, hating the person she becomes when she is in love. The experience with her ex-childhood friend has deeply scarred her and it, when combined with her non-relationship with her mother, leaves her feeling that love is something she never wants to partake of.
Funnily enough, it is this very quality that leads her getting signed on to the agency by the (very) eccentric president who announces that Kyoko is the inaugural member of a brand new section he creates that is called Love Me. Members of the Love Me section are trainees who help other members of their agency and try to regain the elusive emotion called love. (Ha. And wear horrendously pink overalls while doing so.)
Kyoko discovers she loves acting almost by accident when she helps the president’s niece recover from her trauma. (It’s a manga, everyone has traumas.)
Skip Beat distinguishes itself from other manga series set in show business by the attention Yoshiki Nakamura (the mangaka/writer/artist) pays to the art of acting. Kyoko starts off as a fledgling talento who has no idea what it means to create a character and bring a character to life but gradually learns by acting different roles some of them very different from each other.
One of the very first roles she takes on is as an angel in Shou Fuwa’s music video. She plays the role of the best friend to the lead angel (ha) who has to kill the demon who made the lead angel fall in love with him. Kyoko agonizes over the feelings her character must feel, knowing that the demon will corrupt the her best friend but knowing that if she does anything to the demon, her best friend will hate her.
The second role is when she’s invited to become Mio, a twisted rich young lady (it’s a thing in Japan). Although Kyoko is a bit sad at being asked to play a rather evil character, she, with the help of Ren, creates a chilling reincarnation of the character who had been hated by the audiences when the earlier version of the drama aired years ago. It is particularly interesting to read Kyoko’s thought processes as she tries to create a character that is true to the drama but also true to her vision of the character.
Her interpretation of the character is challenged by several of her colleagues but the strength of her acting puts paid to any objections anyone may have had.
The next role is also of a bully and the manga takes particular time to consider how an actor may get trapped by a particular role so much so that they are unable to do any other role but that it is a shade of the original one. Kyoko struggles with this but help from an unexpected quarter leads her to create Natsu, a schoolgirl who will go to extremes to amuse herself at the expense of her classmates. The rather psychopathic character is confident and beautiful, both qualities that Kyoko wouldn’t recognize if they came and yelled in her ear. Kyoko grumbles that she has always been a victim and never the bully so for her to convincingly play one will be a miracle. And yet, she is able to transform herself yet again to an extent that disturbs her fellow actors who uneasily realize that while they are simply acting, Kyoko has become Natsu.
In the current arc, Kyoko becomes Setsu. Out of all the characters Kyoko has taken on, Setsu is perhaps the one who is the most unlike her. Setsu cares nothing about anyone except her brother. She marches to her own tune and the only one she will heed is her brother.
Skip Beat plays with the idea of fluid identities but Kyoko remarks in one of the chapters that it is precisely by trying on different characters and playing different people has she found who she really wants to be, who she actually might be. The acting, though it focuses primarily on Kyoko, is not limited to her alone. Ren Tsuruga who is honestly as much of a protagonist as Kyoko is, also struggles to express his characters though for him acting is more than just a profession. By creating “Ren Tsuruga” he is able to extricate himself from the toxic clutches of his real persona who has experienced debilitating trauma due to his mixed ethnic heritage. Acting for Ren becomes a kind of therapy, a way to create a distance between the anger and hurt that ruled him in his youth.
The manga is rich in storytelling–I am particularly impressed because the chapters come out once a month so if you think about it, Nakamura plans her story years in advance. Her set up may not pay off until two or three years later and I admire by how she foreshadows events in such a subtle way that only makes sense way later. The romance is subtle and a very slow burning one so i if you’re looking for the usual shoujo flame and burn, you’ll be disappointed. Kyoko’s trauma at Sho’s hands is intense and it makes sense that she refuses to trust in her burgeoning feelings for Ren but it’s a losing fight because let’s face it, who can resist Ren?
Yeah the manga has many volumes but rather than being a negative thing, I feel like this should make it more appealing because hey, these take half an hour to read/volume, are available in most libraries, and offer a lot of fun.
Read this. It’s excellent.