Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Episodes 1-25 Streaming
Kyoko's boyfriend Sho is an up-and-coming singer, and when he moves to the big city to further his career, dowdy little Kyoko follows. After spending every waking moment working her hands to the bone cooking, cleaning and paying his living expenses, Kyoko makes an awful discovery. She overhears Sho telling his manager that he only keeps Kyoko around because it's below his princely stature to do his own cooking and cleaning. Kyoko explodes. Personality warped beyond recognition by her ungovernable rage, she enters the world of show business, hoping for an opportunity for revenge. However her newly barren heart and swings into bitter cynicism (to say nothing of the smothering black aura she gives off) prevent her from passing the audition to get into the production company of her choice. Heartsick not so much at her failure as at the realization that she is missing an important part of her heart, Kyoko finds hope (and a job, however crappy)in LME Production's newly-founded Love Me Section. There she will fight to regain her lost emotions, and with the help of potential friend and acting rival Moko and handsome but severely disapproving actor Tsuruga, she may not only succeed, but also become an honest-to-goodness actress in the process.
The latest in a long line of shows about girls trying to break into the entertainment industry, Skip Beat! begins as a showbiz shojo confection and ends as full-course feast of fiendishly addictive entertainment for all ages and sexes. Sensitive, smart and exceptionally well-balanced, it's also a towering good time that hearkens back to well-crafted tales of lives less ordinary such as Yawara and Kodocha while maintaining an emotional agenda all its own.
Whatever expectations its opening episodes and chosen genre may give rise to, Skip Beat! is not a romance. This is one show about a girl trying to break into the entertainment industry that is actually about a girl trying to break into the entertainment industry (as opposed to her relationships with hunky but untrustworthy entertainment types). Kyoko's growing love of acting and evolution from disinterested amateur to true professional aren't dressing for the series, they are the series.
And from them mangaka Yoshiki Nakamura and director Kiyoko Sayama craft a nearly perfect mixture of show business drama, riotous humor, and yes, even romance. The unusually serious treatment of the art of acting (including some insights into the toll Method acting takes on its practitioners) keeps the series from growing frivolous, while the unspeakably funny things it does with SD add balance and even a little humorous perspective to the professional agonizing Kyoko and her acting mates do. The mixture is enlivened by acting showdowns that are as exciting as any shonen smackdown (and considerably more inventive, to say nothing of involving) and a lead who is as unpredictable as she is gifted. And the romance? It's quiet, incremental, and inextricably interwoven with Kyoko's quest to become a genuine actress (to say any more would ruin one of the great pleasures of the show).
As a lead character, Kyoko is an inspired choice. At turns brilliant, thickheaded, sweet and downright psychopathic, she's never boring to watch and is not only convincing in all her varied moods, but also convincingly written. Even her inexplicable devotion to Sho makes complete, and tragic, sense once her past comes into focus, and the bitter rage she feels at having been robbed of her ability to feel strikes a deep and sad chord of truth. That's she's unutterably cool when channeling her inner demons into knife-edged performances doesn't hurt. Nor does her carbon-steel will, brutal honesty, or occasional bout of heartbreaking vulnerability. And her comic timing is impeccable (as is her ability to transform even the most innocuous of jobs into Armageddon).
The rest of the cast is similarly well written, and similarly colorful. Sho has enough boyish charm to explain why people like him despite his contention for the title of Biggest Bastard of All Time, Moko is an amusing mixture of inflexible pride and prickly insecurity, and in Tsuruga the series has one of the most unexpectedly endearing male leads to ever grace the genre. Cold, distant and strict, in his unguarded moments he's also kind and good-humored, and is refreshingly mature at all times. If you'll pardon a literary reference, he's sort of a 21st century Mr. Darcy. All of them—Moko, Tsuruga, even Sho—are struggling in their own way with emotions that they too have lost. Moko must relearn the joys of friendship after a life soured by female betrayal; Tsuruga tries to understand love after being stripped of that ability by years of maintaining an imperturbable facade; and even Sho, detestable cur that he is, must occasionally contend with the ability to connect to others that he lost to a lifetime of narcissism. It's a recurrent concern; one that provides a consistent, deeply felt emotional core to what otherwise might have been a senseless kaleidoscope of fun.
With as many moods as it touches on, the series is of necessity directed with maximum energy. It has enough super-deformation to fill a dozen Fushigi Yuugi's and charges with breakneck speed through flurries of jokes, sight gags and MPD Kyoko personality changes. It does gut-busting things with the visual conventions of shojo (Kyoko is constantly swatting and manipulating to her own ends the little demons and angels that serve as the personifications of her feelings) and switches between straight-up hilarity, comic despair, and deadly serious introspection about twice a minute—when it isn't doing them all at once. Amidst all this hyperactivity somehow Sayama finds a way to keep the visuals out of the way of the characters and their emotions, eschewing melodramatic devices (except where funny) and letting the characters eyes and faces do the speaking. Through it all, Kyoko mixes rosy cuteness with eye-glinting intensity in funny and sometimes touching ways, while the lean-jawed male cast oddly enough looks best in SD mode. It isn't the kind of show to impress those who worship at the twin altars of high frame rates and CGI fluidity, but it never bores and never looks bad.
Much like Kyoko, Skip Beat!'s soundtrack tends towards extremes. It does high energy extremely well, giving a humorous helping hand with lively original compositions (including some hilarious electric guitar themes for “Black” Kyoko) and the occasional sarcastic classical quote (keep an ear out for cheeky snippets of Dvorak's 9th and Also Sprach Zarathustra). On the other extreme are composer Akifumi Tada's quiet, cutting piano themes—used mostly during Kyoko's darker moments—and subtle but potently uplifting musical evocations of dawning hope and awakening emotion.
With a loose cannon like Kyoko in the lead, there is of course an elephant-sized amount of fun to be had watching Skip Beat!. But what really lingers in the end is that quiet emotional core. Kyoko slowly realizing during a conversation with her sponsor that a very important part of her is dead; Tsuruga feeling the first pangs of love while discussing romance with a giant chicken (don't ask); Kyoko confessing to Tsuruga how important acting has become to her. These are the scenes that haunt us after the end credits roll. In a way Skip Beat! is as much about damaged people trying desperately to fix themselves as it is about show business or acting misadventures, and the hope and joy it finds in their successes is more addictive than any amount of mere fun could ever be.
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Hilarious, sweet and surprisingly grounded tale of a badly warped girl who finds a life worth living in the world of acting.
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