Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bishie Beat

So I was kind of on a manga hiatus for a little bit, having finished up some long series and wanting to take a break. I was flipping through some older volumes in a kind of "cleaning house" sting operation when I came across a few favorites.

I fell- hard- for Skip Beat. Again.

I started reading Skip Beat a while ago, but never really devoted much of my time to it because I get kind of that way when a series is long and ongoing. I enjoyed it...but only caught up to it a couple weeks ago. And then I decided to reread it, this time straight through...

And I loved it. It made me laugh pretty hard- and I really like all the characters.
Kyoko totally OWNING Love Me Division's ridonkulous pink overalls.

So what is so special about this manga, that makes it stand apart from other shoujo mangas you ask? Come closer my little fuzzy friend- and let's go on a ride together, shall we?...


When I first picked Skip Beat up, I knew nothing about it. So I put it down after a few pages because I thought Kyoko Mogami was such a stereotypical shoujo heroine- all devoted and obsessed over Sho Fuwa...Of course, that's the point. That's who she was at the beginning: a loyal and loving friend and fan of the emerging artist Sho, her childhood friend and first love. But then, spoiled brat that he is, he takes her for granted, appreciates nothing about her, and basically dumps her in an ego shattering way.

SO shattering that Kyoko is crushed. And from the debris and rumble emerges the new Kyoko. She vows, in a fit of anger that she will crush Sho, succeed in show business, and leave him in the dust. She also promises herself she will never be so foolish as to leave her heart wide open for the taking ever again. Love is for weak idiots, she concludes. She changes her appearance and attitude and goes out into the world.

Fueled by vengeance, our hilarious heroine lets her 'dark' side take over and decides to seek representation from a talent agency called LME, which not-so-coincidentally, also represents Sho's number one rival, the cool and handsome Ren Tsuruga, an incredibly talented actor.

LME is filled with colorful characters, including Lory, the president...But more about that in a bit.
Kyoko wants to be hired for the sole purpose of getting revenge. When Ren comes across her for the first time, he is not impressed. She doesn't care what she does as long as she can just shoot to stardom. As far as he can tell, wrong motivations all around.

But something interesting starts happening. When given an opportunity to try out, Kyoko begins to discover she does have some serious acting chops.

And this is where the manga is very cool. Acting here is not merely a forced pretext for throwing Kyoko into that world; it's an essential part of her being. So much of the story is about Kyoko learning about herself through acting- challenging her limits and perceptions, and using her imagination. It's very fun to read and well thought out.

As time passes, she begins to achieve some recognition for her work and this has her crossing paths with Sho once more. Sho doesn't recognize her at first, but when he does, he finds himself all bothered that his childhood friend has apparently moved on. He sees her in a new light: he used to take her for granted, but now that she is beyond his reach, he begins to notice that there us a lot more to the girl he used to call dull and ordinary. Being quite egotistical, Sho decides that the best thing is for Kyoko to continue thinking about him. As long as he is in her thoughts- even the vengeful and murderous thoughts she harbors for him- then it's unlikely anyone else will manage to creep into her mind...and heart. After all, they do have a strong bond, whether they like it or not.

Back to Lory, the eccentric, over-the-top president of LME. He sees great promise in Kyoko. He recognizes her natural talent...but he can't understand why she is so opposed to love. Lory things that until Kyoko can get a grip and become more balanced, she won't develop to her full potential as an actress... or as a human being. So he relegates her to the "Love Me" department of LME, which basically has poor Kyoko fulfilling Lory's demands in order to help her become a more lovable and loving person. Great hilarity ensues and friendships began to evolve among other actresses...and with Ren.

Ren doesn't know what to make of Kyoko, who insults his passion for acting because of her motivation (revenge). Over time, though, since he is her 'sempai' (upperclassman), he becomes a sort of mentor to her, with advice on all sorts of situations, and he discovers that somehow acting has become very important to Kyoko. She has talent and the love for acting: it allows her to create a new life and a new self. He begins to find himself interested in her. All the qualities that Sho had taken for granted are enormously appreciated by Ren. And Kyoko feels herself drawn to Ren. At first she fears and respects him...then she admires him...then she cherishes him. Being in deep denial about anything remotely romantic, she tells herself that her feelings for Ren are simply those of a "kouhei" towards a brilliant sempai. She is loyal, devoted, and supportive...but of course she is falling in love with him. She worries about him (Ren is a fussy eater and often skips meals unless she is with him), and seeks him out whenever she senses he may not be well. Ren is also in love with Kyoko, but he does not want to scare her and ruin any chances of having a relationship with her. He also realizes that he and Kyoko have met before: when they were both children, back in Kyoto. At the time a 6 year-old Kyoko believes that the fascinating 10 year-old Ren is a fairy prince. He is foreign, blond, and very athletic. They develop a sweet friendship and seek solace in each other.

Their past stories are sad: Kyoko is the only child of a mother who doesn't really love her and abandons her to the care of the owners of a traditional inn, Sho's parents. All her life she works so hard to please others, to be worthy of love, but never reaching the ones she cherishes (mainly, her awful mother and Sho). Ren, on the other hand, is the son of a half-Japanese, half-American action movie star from Hollywood and of a top model. His name is really Kuon, and he feels trapped under the weight of his parents' enormous fame. As children, they connect and make a deep impression on each other. Because of his strong American accent, Kyoko understands 'Kuon' as "Corn," and that is how she refers to him (still believing him to be a fairy prince). Ren sees her gentleness and Kyoko becomes a symbol of Japanese femininity for him. When they say good-bye to each other, Kyoko wants to stay in touch, but Ren feels he will be too far away, unable to properly communicate with her, and gives her a pretty stone that changes color in the sunlight. He tells her to use it anytime she feels sad, so it'll absorb all her worries. Kyoko believes he is returning to Fairy, which would explain why they couldn't stay n touch, and holds on to the talisman he gives her, even as an adult.

Years later, when Kyoko senses Ren is upset about something, she selflessly offers him her special talisman. When Ren sees this, he realizes Kyoko is the little girl of his youth. He is deeply moved she has cherished the talisman and his memory after so long, sharing the hopes she had for her young friend (mainly, that he be able to grow wings and fly on his own, beyond his father's influence- a sweet little metaphor). Ren is the only one who realizes their connection, and keeps silent about it. He is determined to compete with Sho for Kyoko's love and this leads to some very funny situations as the men realize what the other is up to, but also realize that Kyoko is pretty clueless. Add to the mix a psychic pop star, Reino, from the band Vie Ghoul (which Kyoko likes to call "Beagle") who gets Sho and Ren all riled up over Kyoko, and other actors who begin to notice Kyoko coming into her own, and there are some very laugh-out-loud worthy moments.

Currently things have gotten really interesting. In what I can only speculate is the ultimate method acting exercise, Lory has Ren and Kyoko working with each other on developing some very dark characters. Ren has to confront who he really is- apparently he was quite a violent person back in the USA, which is part of the reason he moves to Japan- and Lory has him inhabit the character Cain Heel. Cain Heel is a made up person who will be staring in a thriller movie about a remorseless killer. The director wants to keep Cain Heel's true identity a secret in order to build up buzz and mystery over the film. As Cain Heel, Ren has to tap into very dark places within himself- Lory feels this is essential to help him grow...and make peace with his past. Kyoko is ordered, as part of a Love Me division assignment, to watch over him as his sister, Shizu. The closeness of the sibling bond, and the fact they must try to emulate a certain familiarity and intimacy is something that tests their limits, boundaries, and challenges them to confront their true feelings.

Kyoko and Ren playing the Cain siblings. The good stuff happens outside their comfort levels...

I can't wait to find out how their relationship will progress. So far the writing has been very consistent and you feel the narrative is following a well thought out course. I just hope there isn't too much angst as things begin to wrap up. I feel Ren's past might be a time bomb- I am curious how it will be handled. As long as this manga is already and as much as I just want to see Kyoko and Ren together, I also know there is still so much to tell about these characters- and not just the protagonists: there are lots of other characters who are doing their own growing up and who may have been helped by Kyoko's own generous nature along the way.

And then there's the fact the art is very cool- and the guys are hawt, hawt, hawt. Ah, have your problems, girlfriend!

Wrap him up to go, please...  

Sho Fuwa, the one who broke Kyoko heart.

Reino from Vie Ghoul. He knows what you're thinking. No, really. He does. He's psychic.

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