Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
It's Valentine's Day! Kyoko has already accidentally missed Ren's birthday, so the pressure is on for her to get this one right. But Reino from Vie Ghoul has made an unpleasant demand of her and Sho's found out about it...with Reino encouraging his misconceptions. Caught up in romantic geometry that she is completely unaware of, Kyoko has a rough time ahead of her on this supposedly romantic day.
Kyoko's romantic cluelessness is all part of the charm of Yoshiki Nakamura's show biz spectacle. That obliviousness plays a large role in this volume. Longtime series fans should remember that Kyoko was utterly turned off of love by Sho's callous treatment of her feelings, so it is no wonder that she doesn't notice Ren's growing attachment to her. That romantic subplot has been absent for a few books, so when Nakamura dives back into it head first, it feels like a breath of fresh air rather than a story growing stale after so many volumes. All three potentials are accounted for: Ren, Sho, and Reino. While it may not seem fair or even palatable to count Reino given Kyoko's feelings about him, to say nothing of his previous actions in the series, he considers himself to be among the suitors. Of course Sho feels that Reino has no right to be there, nor does Ren, given that Kyoko was his devotee first. This egotistical interplay is one of the highlights of Nakamura's work. When everyone is convinced that they are the star, entertaining head butting is sure to ensue.
The primary action of this volume, in contrast to the two previous, is romantic. We open with Kyoko realizing that she had the wrong date for Ren's birthday, thinking it was closer to Valentine's Day. This introduces her to her conundrum for the book: should she give him chocolate AND a birthday present? For most shoujo heroines the choice would be obvious, but Kyoko has her romance blinders on. In the meantime, she has been instructed to make Reino chocolates “full of her feelings for him.” This, in some ways, showcases Reino's own personal battle with obliviousness. After all, Kyoko has made it abundantly clear that her feelings for him are not the warm and fuzzy kind. Her chocolate decorating job is one of the better visual gags in the series, particularly as she continues to believe that Reino's band “Vie Ghoul” is really called “Beagle,” a Japanese language joke that translates especially well.
A good portion of the book is taken up by Sho. Back in the “Suddenly, a Love Story” arc that made up several of the series' volumes in the teens, Sho began to realize that perhaps spurning Kyoko was not one of his best moves. Now with Reino seeming to be a romantic threat, Sho begins to act on his jealousy. Nakamura makes a visual gag out of Sho's brooding – he is shown as a variety of ugly beasts as the little green monster gnaws at him. One cover shows him as a grim Nio statue and includes the note “This is a shoujo manga.” Lest we think that this is merely a visual representation for the readers, other characters comment about Sho's altered appearance. Ren, by contrast, shows almost nothing of his jealousy and frustration. Mostly we get his “inner monologue” as imagined by his manager, Mr. Yashiro. Yashiro has a healthy imagination and a burning desire to see Ren and Kyoko get together, leading to some very funny scenes as he enacts what he assumes Ren is thinking. While it is clear that Ren is not a Happy Man during this Valentine's debacle, Yashiro's over the top representation of his client's supposed reactions add humor to what could otherwise be a very angsty plot point. Similarly, Yashiro's attempts to get Kyoko to realize her chocolate faux pas are very entertaining.
Art wise Nakamura is consistent with the rest of the series. Her characters are still elongated but attractive, and for the most part easily told apart. Sho and Reino have some similarities in design that can make them tough to identify at first, but if you pay attention it isn't a problem. One of Nakamura's strengths is giving each character a clear sense of individual fashion. While only the head of L.M.E. Productions dresses flamboyantly (he is absent this volume), everyone does have a distinct wardrobe that reflects their personalities, or at least gives the impression that they have distinct preferences. Kyoko's grudge demons are back this volume after a brief absence, and Nakamura's depictions of them are delightful. While she isn't the best artist out there, with the exception of the fact that her men's necks are too thick for their heads, her art is pleasing and more than gets the job done.
If you've been enjoying Skip Beat! so far, you'll enjoy this volume. Nakamura's twisted tale of vengeance is still a funny, somewhat romantic romp that remains capable of making you laugh out loud. With quirky characters, nice visuals, and a plot that hasn't gotten stale yet, this entry into the series won't lose any fans.
Overall : A-
Story : A
Art : A-
+ Genuinely funny, great visual gags.
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