Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
What's Kyoko doing dressed up like a punk and living with Ren? Helping him prepare for his latest film role is the answer, by pretending to be his character's younger sister. Of course, this comes with a variety of difficulties for the lovelorn Mr. Tsuruga – how is he supposed to act when Kyoko is living with him in provocative outfits? Or when a group of thugs hit on her? Could the President have ulterior motives in giving her this assignment...?
Twenty-seven volumes in, and Skip Beat! still hasn't gotten old – there aren't many English shoujo translations that can say that. In part this is due to the subject matter – the story long ago progressed beyond a simple revenge plot and has now taken on distinct undertones of that classic drama known as Glass Mask. As Kyoko struggles to make Natsu distinct from Mio and separate from Setsu, we see her evolving as an actress, albeit one who still has a ways to go. Ren, meanwhile, is dealing with similar issues, as he tries to maintain his “Cain” persona around the girl he loves, who is at this moment supposed to be his sister. Even more troubling is the fact that playing Cain is recalling some of his less reputable past dealings, forcing him to remember who he is now and who he no longer wants to be.
Despite the fact that there is very little actual action in this book, quite a bit happens. Most of the story's forward motion takes place inside Ren's head, and much of it is done without the use of words. Nakamura has become quite adept at speaking glances, with Ren's emotions beaming from his eyes, although given what series we're talking about, it is worth mentioning that I mean this in a metaphorical sense only. Whether Ren is watching Kyoko putter around their apartment, take on the thug gang, or just peeking out at her from under his blankets, his inner turmoil is amply present in his expression. Kyoko, for her part, actually voices her emotions and issues, making her the more transparent but less fascinating character. She does, however, show some definite promise in the romantic development department, after discovering one of the perils of cohabitation according to Japanese pop culture. Torn between embarrassment and regret that she didn't get more out of the experience, Kyoko starts to show some real signs of awareness that have heretofore been absent from her repertoire.
Ren, despite the fact that he rarely vocalizes his feelings in this volume, does have some entertaining lines and moments. His reaction to the aforementioned cohabitational peril is interesting and showcases his own naivete when it comes to Kyoko herself. His choices of clothing for her in her Setsu persona are amusingly chaste and clearly owe less to a brother's sensibility than she thinks. At the end of the volume, when the two are back at their regular jobs, Ren finds himself back on familiar ground, and his efforts to keep Kyoko to himself in this setting as well are amusing. This volume also marks the return of Ren's manager Yashiro, who, although he and the president play minor roles, is always fun to watch as he flips between “guardian angel” and “exasperated buddy.”
Art shows definite improvement in this volume, with the male head-to-neck ration nearing believable proportions and rounder pseudo-chibi faces prevailing. Ren's Cain hairstyle is especially effective in showcasing his emotive eyes, and Nakamura displays definite comfort in drawing Kyoko's punk clothes, making them look natural. The level of costume detail even extends to Kyoko's underwear, and watching Kyoko fret over it, and how Setsu would dress coming out of the bathroom, lend emphasis to the struggles that Kyoko is having in maintaining her role in an uncomfortable situation, like a lighter, sillier version of Maya's attempts to portray Helen Keller in Glass Mask.
Make no mistake, this is still, at its heart, a comedic series. While there is plenty of angst from Ren and a bit from Kyoko, the situations are still patently ridiculous in many ways and the LME president's thinly veiled motives for throwing Ren and Kyoko together would not fly in a more serious story. But that has always been part of Skip Beat!'s charm, and even when she is using more serious material, the story still glides along on comic wings. (Kyoko's grudge demons even make a token appearance.) The increased emotional content helps to mix things up a bit, and perhaps it is this ability to change the tenor of the story without totally switching genres that keeps us reading. Yoshiki Nakamura has us invested in the outcome of Kyoko's crusade against Sho, but she has also made us care about the characters and Kyoko and Ren's careers. This volume mixes all of those things and the result is yet another enjoyable entry into the story of a girl, her ambitions, and a bunch of flying grudges.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+
+ Good combination of humor and pathos. Definite increase in the quality of the artwork, emotive expressions for Ren.
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