October 12, 2009

Bento Bako Weekly: Skip Beat!

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Written by: Kristin
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Welcome Bento Bako readers!  It’s time to open up the lunch box and pull out another manga review.  We’ll be looking at the fantastic Skip Beat! manga today.  First things first.  I love this manga; I mean really, really love this manga.  So this review may be a bit biased by the great joy and mass amounts of entertainment I get out of every single volume.

skipbeat1Title: Skip Beat!
Author: Yoshiki Nakamura (whose other works include the fantastic Tokyo Crazy Paradise, which is dreadfully, unfortunately, not licensed in America)
Publisher: Viz Media
Volumes: Currently, the American run has reached 19 volumes (19 came out in October 2009); the Japanese run is currently ongoing with 22 released volumes, with the 23rd coming soon (if it hasn’t just come out already).  $8.99-$9.99
Vintage: Nakamura-san started Skip Beat! in 2002; Viz Media began publishing the volumes in America in 2006.
Anime: In the fall/winter season of 2008/2009, the animated version of Skip Beat! ran in Japan, and was also streamed on Crunchyroll. It ran for 25 episodes, with the story stopping just short of volume 12 of the manga (unfortunately just missing one of the best story lines in the series).

16-year-old Kyoko Mogami follows her childhood love, Sho Fuwa, to Tokyo on his quest to become a famous rock star.  She slaves away for him while he works to achieve his dream; she cooks, she cleans, she supports him by working herself to exhaustion.  When Sho finally makes it in the music industry, Kyoko feels that she is lucky to be living with him and be so close to him.  Until she overhears him telling his manager that Kyoko is little more than a maid that he brought along with him, a dull and plain person that he uses as a tool.  Typically sweet and docile Kyoko explodes with rage, and vows to get revenge against Sho by growing more famous than him.  The arrogant Sho taunts her and accepts her pathetic challenge, sure that such a plain and talentless girl could never climb to the same heights he plans to reach.  Little does he know that the spineless and obedient girl he once knew is actually full of incredible spirit, and she’s going to make him regret ditching her.


Kyoko's grudge spirits explode, and she throws them at Sho in volume 1 (click to enlarge, and remember to read from right to left!).

Kyoko is full of guts, but she can’t get her revenge all on her own.  After a surprisingly unique audition to get into the talento section of an agency called L.M.E. (she performs katsuramuki, the art of peeling vegetables), the president of the company, Lory, takes an interest in her.  Although she fails the audition in the end, he can tell she has potential, if she can only cultivate a certain emotion that it is apparent she has lost – love (and compassion).  So he creates a special program within the agency for her, called the Love Me Section, in the hopes that she will learn what it means to love others and be loved as a celebrity.  However, Kyoko isn’t the only one who lands in the section.  An outstanding actress who can memorize an entire script in seconds, named Kanae Kotonami, is also lacking the same essential emotion.  The two, particularly Kyoko, become Lory’s personal projects.

But even these rookie actors aren’t the only ones struggling with their acting.  Veteran (even at only 20 years old) actor Ren Tsuraga, one of the most popular actors in Japan, also has some secret issues regarding the same emotion.  When forced to act a scene where he is in love with someone he is forbidden to love, he freezes up, not understanding the emotion at all.  Strangely enough, as inexperienced as she is, it is Kyoko who helps Ren overcome his limitations.  Though as far as Kyoko is concerned, Ren is the god of acting, and he becomes a sort of mentor to her, giving her advice and keeping an eye on her as she works.  Things get really interesting when Ren’s mysterious past starts to come to light, and we learn that Ren and Kyoko also share a past together, though Kyoko remains unaware.  You can see the love triangle coming a mile away.  Although given that Ren is extremely dense when it comes to his own feelings, that Sho is absurdly arrogant and possessive, and that Kyoko’s heart has been broken nearly beyond repair…calling it a love triangle is almost a little over descriptive.

I know that sounds very silly.  “What?  She joins a section where she has to make people love her?”  Well, yeah….  Because you can’t be a celebrity if the people don’t like you; you have to want them to like you, and like them back.  Kyoko has trouble accepting this, with her nonexistent father, a mother who basically abandoned her, and a boy who tossed her aside like she was garbage.  What the manga is essentially about, is Kyoko’s growth as an actress and as a human being.  She’s very childlike and naïve, but she’s quite tough (a lifetime of bullying has helped with that).  It eventually becomes about Ren’s growth as well, and Sho kind of dissolves into the background for a while; but every time he resurfaces, he comes with a vengeance.


One of my favorite covers, featuring Kyoko and Ren.

Nakamura-san’s art style may not please everyone.  Her characters are all giants.  Kyoko is drawn quite tall, Sho is taller than her, and Ren is even taller.  They have long limbs, and in particular, extremely long legs.  Her faces are a little angular, and everyone is lanky and thin.  I like it personally; but where Nakamura-san really shines is in her facial expressions, expressing her characters’ emotions.  It’s so rare to find a mangaka who can convey such intense emotions through facial expressions.  A lot of the time they’re hard to read, or completely vapid.  But with Nakamura-san, every emotion is precise; even just a close-up of someone’s eyes is enough to express exactly what a character is feeling, even without words.

What delights me the most about this series is Kyoko herself.  She is far from the average heroine.  She’s tough, outgoing, talented, gutsy, pretty (but not overly or ridiculously gorgeous), feisty…and still manages to be traditional, polite, and fragile.  She is hilariously inept at simple things, but her past (that she mostly tries to forget, because of the connections to Sho) has given her some amazing skills that come in very handy.  Ren is also hilariously inept at understanding simple, common sense things and situations.  The biggest flaw in the series is that Nakamura-san has the habit of dragging story lines out endlessly.  Fortunately everything is so entertaining that you don’t even really notice…unless you get impatient that Kyoko’s relationship with Ren is moving along at a snail’s pace.  It’s there (this is a romantic comedy), but both of them are so dense about that sort of thing, that it usually goes nowhere.  But that’s also what makes this such a great series.

In the back of each volume, Viz has provided some translation notes.  They did away with honorifics in the text; instead using things like Mr., Ms., teacher, etc.  But they do leave some Japanese terms in there; I assume because there was no American equivalent that would maintain the proper feel.  So if you come across, say…a Japanese dish, a slang word or expression (one of the characters frequently uses the expression “Mo!” which is similar to “Geez!”), or some other descriptor, flip to the back of the book.  Viz lists the terms along with a definition, and the page number where they appeared.  I love that Viz puts this kind of effort into their books, though I wish they’d expend some of that effort on better proofreading.  Every volume through 18 is priced at $8.99; volume 19 starts reflecting Viz’s new price points with a $9.99 tag (an unfortunate effect of a dragging economy and a struggling industry, though unlike Tokyopop, they haven’t dropped the quality of their books along with their price hike).

Read this if you’re looking for a genuinely hilarious, warm and fuzzy romantic comedy, with a strong cast of characters and solid art and story.




  1. Wow! Your enthusiasm is infectious. I may have to give this manga a shot… and I don’t like manga.

  2. Kristin

    I really love it. I made the mistake of keeping up with the new chapters as they’re released in Japan (I’m still buying every volume though), which has made me rather frustrated and very impatient. The pacing is a bit different if you read a new volume every 3 months, or a new chapter every 2-3 weeks. But I’m SUPER addicted to it, so I’ll keeping reading it that way anyway.

  3. […] 1. Skip Beat Skip Beat continues to be one of the best shojo comics out there. I could talk for ages about it, or I could just direct you to the review I did here. […]

  4. […] it’s supposed to be telling.  As it is…if I want a showbiz story, I’ll stick with Skip Beat! If I want angsty teenage drama…We Were […]

  5. […] Skip Beat!, vol. 21, by Yoshiki Nakamura.  From Amazon: “Kyoko is basking in the glow of working a Christmas miracle and getting some birthday booty of her own.  But she’s so unused to this kind of joy that she ends up late to the script reading for her new drama.  Now her whole day is a mess and Ren is mad at her!  Can Kyoko balance revenge, a career and her own happiness?”  From Viz Media, $9.99, August 2010 (w00t w00t, looking like a good birthday for me!). […]

  6. […] thorough review of Skip Beat vol. 1 from Kristin at ComicAttack, as well as an overview of Skip Beat vol. […]

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