Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Valentine's Day comes to a head when Sho shows up on the set of “Dark Moon” with an enormous bouquet for Kyoko. She's less than thrilled, but Sho is determined to make her obsessed with him again and gives her a fancy chocolate – which he then removes from her mouth with his tongue. This does not go over well with Kyoko or Ren, although Sho is pretty pleased with himself. Ren is bound to have his revenge on Sho...by undoing the damage that his kiss did.
This is a kissing book. All of you readers who have been waiting twenty-four volumes for this moment, you shall now be rewarded. The plot of volume 25 centers around two guys kissing Kyoko with the intent of forcing her to think only of them, and both succeed admirably. Poor Kyoko spends most of the book in a tizzy, trying to grapple with the way her relationships have changed in the space of one day.
In all honesty, though, the kisses are not quite what some readers have been hoping for. Neither is especially romantic, particularly in the case of Sho. He begins by grabbing her collar, which is more likely to land him on a sex offenders registry than the romance hall of fame. Nakamura's humor comes to the rescue with a visual of the two fighting trench warfare as a representation of the kiss, while slyly pointing out that the battle is actually being waged with tongues. The cast members looking on include two women...and Ren Tsuruga and his manager, the always amusing Mr. Yashiro. While the women are shock and a little thrilled by the display – after all, Sho is quite the heartthrob to people who don't know him – Mr. Yashiro is totally aghast. Some of the best moments in this volume are the faces that he makes, which are totally over the top for the situation. His concern for Ren's budding romance is both entertaining and touching, as he treats the man like a kitten learning to walk. Ren, on the other hand, is more like a lynx ready to pounce. He is very much displeased with Sho's actions, and immaturely convinced that Kyoko has somehow allowed this to happen. His reaction to Kyoko's heartbreak at losing her first kiss to a man she has come to hate is less than kind, and readers may find themselves disliking the character for the first time.
That is the major issue with this volume: Ren becomes distinctly unpleasant for much of it. Perhaps it is naïve to expect him to be a nice guy all the time, and certainly if he is too nice nothing will come of his attraction to Kyoko. But this book gives him many of the same unsavory possessive qualities that both Sho and Reino display. Sho specifically says that he kisses Kyoko to make her think only of him. Ren uses the same reasoning mere chapters later, making us question not Sho's feelings, but Ren's. The apparent urge to own Kyoko, to be the only thing in her thoughts to the exclusion of all else, is not heartwarming. It is instead creepy and objectifying, both issues previously confined to the thankfully mostly absent Reino. Nakamura has taken the moment many have been anticipating and tainted it with the scent of an unhealthy relationship.
On the brighter side, Ren's thoughts are revealed in more depth than they have been in many volumes. He ponders his feelings about Kyoko's kiss with Sho and his own actions based on it, and also what Kyoko's emotions regarding himself might be. He's cool-headed enough to know that he shouldn't interpret her “special treatment” of him as “romantic interest,” but hopeful enough not to be able to stop himself. He does regret the result that comes of his actions, and recognizes that perhaps he acted badly, and that is really almost enough to salvage the moment. He wonders if he is “a bad guy who toys with a woman's heart.” This does mark him out as significantly better than Sho, who spends the rest of the volume with a very scary smile on his face, betokening a total lack of the moral dilemmas Ren is dealing with.
Nakamura does include two brief chapters about Moko and Hio, the thirteen-year-old with a crush on her. These chapters are a welcome break from the frantic qualities of the Kyoko ones, but by no means are as well done as them. Reino makes a brief appearance at the very end in a special side chapter, but the focus here is really on Ren, Sho, and Kyoko. The artwork is much darker this time, with more blacks and greys than have previously been seen, and men's heads are more in proportion with their bodies. Everyone still looks elongated, as if they were pinched between two fingers and pulled, but the humorous faces and over the top representations of emotions are intact and remain Nakamura's artistic strengths.
This latest volume of Skip Beat! is just as compulsively readable as its predecessors, and it does provide a good boost to the romantic subplot. It's just too bad that that romance comes with a creepy factor attached. But overall this is still a good read and provides some good humor to off-set the other, less savory, parts. It may not be the best volume to date, but it's still pretty darn good.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Some great faces, good development of the Ren/Kyoko romance. Funny visuals.
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