Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Complete Series BD
Kyoko Mogami has spent most of her sixteen years worshipping the ground her childhood friend Sho Fuwa walked on, so it comes as a rude shock when she realizes that he sees her not as a girlfriend, or even a friend, but as a maid. Furious with herself for having been fooled and livid at Sho, Kyoko, who followed him from Kyoto to Tokyo to support his dreams of fame, declares that she will get revenge on Sho by making it in showbusiness herself. She gets herself into prestigious agency LME with her tenacity only to find that she has real talent – but as leading actor Ren Tsuruga sets himself against her because of her motives, can Kyoko really succeed in beating Sho at his own game – and finding out who she is without him?
Skip Beat!, as fans of the manga by Yoshiki Nakamura it's based on know, is a story that's much more than the sum of its parts. Nominally the story of sixteen-year-old Kyoko Mogami getting revenge on her childhood friend Sho after discovering that he's been using her, it's really the tale of a young woman overcoming her own past and demons, the largest and most vicious of which is her deep-seated belief that maybe she's not someone worth loving. While the anime adaptation doesn't delve too far into the issues that initially made her that way (her mother's abandonment, both emotional and literal), there are enough hints that we can see that Kyoko's relationship with Sho was a symptom rather than the actual disease. It's great to see her rise above him and to see her relationship with Ren begin to blossom, but the true success and thrill of this series is in watching Kyoko begin to realize that Kyoko is worth it.
The story is an appealing blend of emotional content and humor. Kyoko was taken in by Sho's family, which runs a traditional inn in Kyoto, when her mother basically dumped her there, and Kyoko, desperate not to be abandoned again, does everything she can to make herself worthy of their care. This includes latching onto Sho, who more than anything doesn't seem to know what to do with her attention and begins to simply take it as his due. When Sho decides that he's going to be a pop star, Kyoko goes with him to Tokyo – as his (girl)friend in her mind, but as his maid in his. When the stark difference in their views rears its head, Kyoko is livid: she's given up everything for him and he simply doesn't care. Giving us an idea exactly what Napolean Bonaparte meant when he said that some sleepers' awakening is terrifying, Kyoko throws her nice-girl persona out the window and vows revenge on Sho – by declaring that she'll beat him in showbusiness.
What makes this special is that while Kyoko does maintain that stated goal (despite disapproval from pretty much everyone), before too long it also becomes about finding and helping herself. As everyone continually underestimates her, Kyoko keeps rising to the top, using their low expectations to springboard herself into someone to be reckoned with. But more importantly she begins to grow into a person she wants to be and likes being. From making her first real friends to her growing relationship with Ren Tsuruga, one of Japan's top actors and a man who goes from detractor to ally and romantic interest, Kyoko is coming to realize that Sho doesn't have to define her. She's not there yet, and the series ends in the middle of the “Suddenly, A Love Story” arc from the manga, but her growth over the twenty-five episodes is the major strength of the show. Episode ten's “I'm okay” speech is a particularly good example of this, as it allows us to see the hurt Kyoko still harbors, even if most people only see the revenge she's vowed. It's also the turning point for Kyoko's relationship with Ren, as it forces him to realize that swearing she'll get revenge on Sho is the only selfish thing she's ever allowed herself. While he might have known this somewhere within him, episode ten marks where is lets himself understand that she's been playing a part her entire life, and now those wounds are allowing her to pick herself up and do something for herself, even if that's harder than she lets on.
It's clear that the English dub production staff understands this. In the brief interviews included as on-disc extras, both Mela Lee and Christian La Monte discuss how inspiring Kyoko is as a character, and how the scene when Kanae (Moko) stands up to her lifelong bully meant a lot to them. It's easy to see why; if you've ever been bullied or spent a long time being put down, the girls' rise and ability to get, if not revenge, then at least satisfaction in the faces of their abusers is empowering. It's an ongoing theme in both the anime and the manga, and seeing them stand up to their abusers feels like wish fulfillment that could actually come true.
None of this is to say that Skip Beat! is a super-serious show, however – all of the characters have a wonderful versatility in that they can go from meaningful to totally absurd in the change of a scene. This clear in both the art and the voice acting, with judicious use of chibis (which are actually better proportioned than the regular art), Kyoko's grudge demons, and wild mood swings from both characters and music. This is also where the dub really shines – while everyone does a good job, Caitlin Glass' Kyoko is outstanding. Vic Mignogna's understated Mr. Yashiro – Ren's romantic manager whose attempts at playing Cupid suffer from dense romantic leads – is also a particular strength of the dub. In an unusual move for contemporary dubbing, the theme songs are also performed in English, and they work quite well; “Dream Star,” the first opening, is particularly catchy. The only major glitch in the dub is that there's no explanation for why Kyoko nicknames Kanae “Moko;” in the sub, it's clear that it's because of her habit of making exasperated exclamations, for which the sound effect is “mou” in Japanese. Since English uses a variation on “argh,” and “Arghko” really wouldn't work, the nickname simply goes unexplained.
Art and animation for the show are more of a mixed bag. Largely this stems from the fact that Yoshiki Nakamura's people look as if they've been grasped by the head and feet and then stretched, a stylization that works a little better in the manga. Shifts between visually serious and silly moments are well done, but things do begin to slide off-model towards the end of the series. The colors, however, are bright and the picture on the blu-ray clear and sharp. The case is a bit more of an issue, as the plastic on my copy is exceedingly brittle; as of this writing one of the hinges has snapped off the inner case and the bottom of the outer is shattered. The set does come with a “Love Me” sticker, however, so that's fun.
Skip Beat! as a series has aged well since its production in 2008. Kyoko's story still feels relevant ten years later and if you can ignore all the flip phones, it isn't hard to just dive right in. With its strong characters, good sense of humor, and well-produced English dub, Skip Beat! is the kind of series you don't need to be a shoujo fan to enjoy.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Kyoko is a terrific heroine, good character development throughout, strong English dub
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