Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Kyoko Mogami followed her childhood friend Sho Fuwa to Tokyo in order to nurture his career as a pop idol behind the scenes. But when she finds out that he has merely been using her, she swears VENGEANCE~!!! She will become a bigger celebrity than Sho can ever hope to be, and he will be left groveling in a sea of his own tears at her feet. After many ups and downs, this plan has been going very well. Dark Moon has been getting great ratings, and Kyoko's role as Mio is bringing in mountains of other offers. Unfortunately, they are all for Mio-like roles. Does she want to be typecast? Meanwhile, Ren Tsuruga is getting awfully friendly—will his burgeoning affection for her dispel her rage for good? Or will a new assignment as the first Love Me Section member rekindle her fury?
Although Yoshiki Nakamura (Tokyo Crazy Paradise) is a gifted, veteran shoujo storyteller, in volume seventeen of Skip Beat! she has written herself into the proverbial corner. The manga's central appeal is the comically exaggerated—yet eminently sympathetic—driving rage of the heroine. She has been horribly used and abused by the central figures (invariably men) in her life, and you cannot help but cheer her and her army of ghostly “Grudge Kyokos” on. While, of course, laughing yourself senseless at the visual extremities of her antics. However, like virtually all mainstream shoujo manga, Skip Beat! is also a romantic comedy, and practically by definition romances succeed inasmuch as the two lovers are able to surrender themselves to one another. Anger, obviously, cannot abide in the same place as love. And herein lies the essential paradox: The deeper this series' forays into romantic comedy, the more the series' central appeal is compromised.
In this volume, this aforementioned paradox plays out in almost painfully obvious fashion. Among the many supporting characters against whom Kyoko bears a grudge is her Dark Moon co-star Ren Tsuruga. Ren, though, is secretly in love with her, and their relationship has of late reached a sexually charged détente. The ostensible reason behind there being no movement in the World of Kyoko Loves Ren Back is because she's too busy hating on Sho to notice that there's a guy who has fallen head over heels for her right next door, as it were. (Never mind that she still does not realize that her fairy prince was actually a young Ren.) Needless to say, it's an excuse that is getting thinner by the page…and an excuse that is also thinning out most of the reading pleasure that the series has to offer.
The clunky Vie Ghoul subplot in the middle parts of volume seventeen, where lead vocalist Reino confronts Kyoko with his bizarre, ongoing plan to win her hatred away from Sho, is quite possibly the single worst plot choice made thus far. Kyoko's sinister aura and chibi army of “Grudge Kyokos” make for great comic relief. But they are not something that ought to be taken too seriously in light of the manga's otherwise real-world setting. So Reino's psychic powers, now revealed as efficacious beyond a shadow of a doubt, may be a convenient way to advance Ren's back story, but they also grate terribly on the pre-established atmosphere of the series. Serious supernatural stuff should never have been included.
By the end of the book, though, Nakamura seems to have decided that it is high time to return to the basics. A new assignment from the Love Me Section puts Kyoko at the beck and call of expatriate actor Koo Hizuri…who proves to be an arrogant jerk of heretofore untold—even by Skip Beat! standards—proportions. For example, his first act of Kyoko abuse is to instruct her in English to make him an elaborate meal and then tell her to order room service instead. Needless to say, Kyoko's outraged, and plot-wise it's a good save on Nakamura's part. But alas, there are only so many directions in which the story can redirect Kyoko's anger; too many more new characters of the Koo sort will strain reader patience to the breaking point.
Skip Beat!'s primary downside, if it could be called a weakness at all, is its artwork. Although they often require a idiosyncratic, method of visual reading, the pages invariably boast excellent layouts that, once you get accustomed to the mangaka's style, provide an easy, natural reading experience. She also has wonderful expressive range, taking her characters from seductive to silly and back again with grace and élan. Yet the character designs themselves are, let us not mince words, shrewish at best and ugly at worst. The strangely feral facial features of the principal characters, especially the female ones, may be enough to discourage casual book store browsers from buying altogether.
So, although this is the weakest volume to be published so far, Skip Beat! remains one of the best contemporary shoujo manga series—hands down—that Viz Media is currently releasing in English. It is simply not to be missed…especially if you have a weakness for showbiz stories spiced up with a heroine's epic quest for vengeance.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ A positively protrayed heroine whose motivating anger is both eminently sympathetic and absolutely hilarious.
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