Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, May 3rd 2012
Skip Beat! [Omnibus]
Kyoko Mogami has devoted her entire life to Sho. Ever since her mother left her with his parents at their traditional Japanese inn, Kyoko has been determined to be as perfect as possible, all the while selflessly chasing after her beloved, even to the point of moving with him to Tokyo after middle school (the end of compulsory education in Japan) to help him pursue his dreams of stardom. But once she gets there, she learns that Sho isn't the wonderful person she always thought he was, and she transforms herself in order to take her revenge. Joining his rival agency, Kyoko is determined to make it to the top...and make Sho suffer!
What is the most often aired complaint about Yoshiki Nakamura's infectious shoujo revenge story? That each volume is too short and therefore over too quickly. That is certainly not the case with this volume, which packs in all three of the series' first books in 562 pages of revenge, grudges, and generally enjoyable lunacy. It's heavy in the hands (although with a very flexible spine that resists creasing), but if you missed reading or buying this before now, take the opportunity Viz has just handed you.
The story opens somewhat surprisingly for those who have just looked at the cover image – Kyoko is a mousy, dark-haired girl with a sweet face, working her hardest at multiple jobs and maniacally collecting goods about Sho, a popular idol singer. We soon find out that she in fact lives with him and works all of these jobs in order to pay for their apartment and food. She and Sho grew up together in Kyoto, and due to her massive crush on him, she gladly overlooked his character flaws and joined him when he decided to move to Tokyo instead of going to high school. Essentially she is playing Cinderella to his spoiled Prince. Instead of the happy ending that her childhood love of fairy tales implied, however, the prince is no better than Cinderella's own family, and she slaves away much as she always has. It looks like she will continue thus for the foreseeable future until she one day learns what Sho is really like. Furious with him and herself, Kyoko banishes all of her gentle emotions, gets a makeover, and vows revenge: she will humiliate Sho by forcing him to realize that she is the bigger star.
One of the interesting things about this series is the way that Nakamura incorporates fairy tales into it. Kyoko very clearly relates to Cinderella, and later volumes will tackle other specific stories, but the imagery introduced on the very first page of a secret locked box is itself reference to a little-known story included as the final tale in every edition of the Grimms' fairy tales edited by Wilhelm Grimm. This is “The Golden Key,” a story about a child who finds a mysterious key and locked casket. The tale, no more than two paragraphs, ends before the child opens the box. Nakamura, similarly, begins Skip Beat with the story of a locked box created by God and placed inside of people that cannot be opened by its owner. When Kyoko learns of Sho's deception, the box is opened and her iconic grudges come flying out. While this may seem more in line with the myth of Pandora's Box than the Grimms' “The Golden Key,” the fact that Nakamura so clearly sets up other fairy tale parallels within the first three volumes, to say nothing of what will come later, it feels safe to say that she may very well have been deliberately using this relatively obscure text on purpose.
These first three volumes cover Kyoko's transformation and rocky entry into the world of show business. As the back of the book freely tells us, she auditions for the LME agency, but due to her inability to love anymore, she is relegated to the newly formed “Love Me” section, one designed to help her think of others and to regain her softer emotions. Not only does this force her to wear a bright pink uniform with the embarrassing logo clearly stamped upon it in two places, it also essentially gives the actors, singers, and “talentos” in the other sections free reign to treat her like a slave. Her reward is a stamp in her heart-shaped notepad, giving her a job rating of 100 to -10. Along with this plot conceit, we also meet several important characters here: Ren Tsuruga, Kanae “Moko” Kotonami, and Lory Takarada and his granddaughter Maria, along with apparent fan favorite Mr. Yashiro. Readers who have been following the series will be surprised to see how Ren in particular started off – he is far from the charming character we know from later volumes. Nakamura herself says that she is uncertain of both he and Sho in these early books, and while hints of who Ren will become shine through every so often, it is difficult upon rereading these three books in quick succession to reconcile him with who he is today.
There do not appear to be any real translation touch-ups here, as was also the case with the Hana-Kimi omnibus, and cultural notes remain intact as well. They are still separated by volume, which can make it a bit tricky when looking something up in the first two, since you first have to find the book's end somewhere in the many pages. Viz particularly gets props for leaving Moko's trademark exclamation of “mo!” intact rather than trying to give both it and her nickname an English equivalent. While it may seem odd that after that the honorifics were switched to English – Mr. Yashiro vs Yashiro-san – the formal nature of some of the interactions in a workplace setting make it fairly incongruous.
If you don't already own it, now is a good time to pick up this series. For those who have been collecting right along, the omnibus isn't an improvement from the single volumes, and unless you really need your book to be slightly shorter in terms of height, there's no reason to double-dip here. But if you've somehow missed this tale of a girl, a jerk, and a lot of flying grudge demons and you want an alternative to sweet and romantic shoujo, give this a try. Skip Beat is well worth the praise that readers give it.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : B+
+ Fun, engaging story that takes a different route than most comparable shoujo. Interesting use of fairy tales and Japanese mythical imagery.
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