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March 12, 2012

Bento Bako Weekly: Skip Beat! Omnibus volume 1

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Written by: Kristin
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Title: Skip Beat!
Author: Yoshiki Nakamura
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volume 1 (contains volumes 1-3, ongoing), $14.99
Vintage: 2002-2003 by Hakusensha in Japan, 2006 (originally) and March 2012 (omnibus) by Viz Media
Genre: Romantic comedy

Kyoko Mogami followed her childhood friend and first love to Tokyo to support his dream of becoming a top class idol. She works two jobs to support him, pays the rent on an expensive apartment, and devotes herself totally to his happiness. Sho Fuwa, who asked Kyoko to come with him after the graduated from junior high, is rarely home, treats her like dirt, and expects her to support him financially and take care of the apartment. Blinded by her love for him, Kyoko simply views this relationship with Sho, who is quickly becoming famous, as an honor, because it means she can get close to him where other girls can’t. One day, she overhears Sho talking to his manager about how he left home to avoid marrying a plain, boring girl, and basically brought Kyoko along to be his housemaid (funnily enough, she is also this so-called plain and boring girl he was supposed to marry). Hearing this revelation unlocks something deep within Kyoko, shattering her heart into pieces, and she unleashes a grudge-filled curse upon him by furiously declaring her intent to get revenge on him. The best way, she decides, is to become more famous than Sho as soon as possible, so she gives herself a makeover and approaches the LME talent agency. After virtually stalking and haunting Talento Section Supervisor Takenori Sawara, he finally gives in and points her to an upcoming audition for the agency. Unfortunately, while at the agency she manages to get on the bad side of LME’s top talent, Ren Tsuruga, and his poor attitude towards her causes Kyoko to add another person to her grudge list. When the day of the audition comes, Kyoko finds herself verbally accosted by another auditioning actress named Kanae Kotonami, who takes acting very seriously and is out right insulted by Kyoko’s presence. On the other hand, Kyoko’s warped personality does manage to draw the attention of a certain someone’s granddaughter…. After a rather flashy entrance by LME’s president, Lory Takarada, the auditions begin. Kanae wows the judges by memorizing a script in the blink of an eye and reciting it flawlessly. Kyoko takes a more…unique approach, and showcases her skill at katsuramuki (the art of vegetable peeling). The next round of auditions requires the girls to react to a voice on a telephone. Kanae reacts by crying within mere seconds. Kyoko, however, is overtaken by her hatred of Sho and explodes in a fury, essentially blowing her chance. For some reason, though, the President takes an interest and offers her a deal. Realizing that Kyoko has somehow lost the ability to love and be loved, Lory creates the Love Me section to allow Kyoko to, hopefully, nurture such feelings back into her heart. In the Love Me section, Kyoko is assigned a wide range of tasks, from carrying an actress’s luggage to cleaning gum off the floor, and being an assistant to one of the agency’s top stars. It’s during this third assignment that Kyoko gets an opportunity to show how serious she can be about acting, as she squares off with the spoiled Ruriko Matsunai. She manages to make an impression, even though she has to draw upon the skills she learned when she was trying to curry favor with Sho’s parents at their inn, but unfortunately, the acting battle is meant to kick Ruriko into gear and make her stop acting like a spoiled brat. Still, even though she is injured, Kyoko manages to get Ren to act seriously against her by acting professionally and with pride. The unintended side effect is that Kyoko is angry that Ren was able to fool her with his acting and draw a response out of her without her even realizing. That, coupled with the fact that the only acting she did manage was based off of things she learned to get closer to Sho Fuwa, makes Kyoko realize how empty she is inside. Everything in her life up until now was for Sho Fuwa; nothing was for herself. However, though he likely didn’t intend to, it’s Ren that give Kyoko a new motivation going forward. She now wants to become a better actress, so she can act on equal footing with Ren. Improving her acting skills will be the first real thing she’ll be doing just for herself. It’s not for Sho, it’s not for revenge; it’s a way for her to rebuild herself from scratch. Kyoko’s next task will be more of a challenge, as the President of LME himself has a personal request. His granddaughter, Maria, has been causing problems at the LME acting school, and Lory thinks Kyoko is just the person to help mend her heart. Especially since the troubled Maria is already quite fond of Kyoko.

I’ve talked about this series before, and there’s really not much more I can say about it, but I certainly won’t pass up the chance to try. Skip Beat! is entertaining, often hilarious, frequently touching, completely charming, and an absolute joy to read. Kyoko remains one of my favorite shoujo heroines, strong, independent, and working to better herself for herself. Well, later at least; she starts out solely focused on her revenge. It’s part of her journey to move on from that. Kyoko has, sadly, completely lost her ability to love, and to even want to be loved herself. Sho’s harsh rejection tore that out of her and left her an incomplete human being. President Lory sees this, though he doesn’t know why it’s happened, and his heart overflows with sadness for her. He makes it his personal mission to rebuild Kyoko’s broken soul, and comes up with plan after plan throughout the series, many of which end up involving Ren Tsuruga, who is another pet project of Lory’s. Watching Kyoko grow over the series is what makes it so engaging. And it’s not just Kyoko. Kanae also transforms, as does another actress Kyoko meets later in the series, and even Ren has his struggles. They’re all sort of broken in some way, traumatized by something in their pasts, and under Lory’s watchful eyes they’re given the chance to regain what they have lost. That’s the heart of the series – Kyoko’s growth from broken-hearted teenager to skilled actress and complete human being. She will eventually find her first real friend in Kanae, an acting mentor in Ren, and a feeling of having a home from the owners of Darumaya (a restaurant she works at, where she’s allowed to live after she breaks up with Sho). Through acting, she is able to explore different sides to herself, and create new selves. She may even learn to love again, eventually, if she can get over her intense fear of once again giving in to such feelings. If you’re a shoujo fan, and especially if you enjoy a dynamic heroine, now is a good time to check out this series.


Review copy provided by Viz Media.



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