Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Dark Moon is finally over and it's time for the cast parties. Kyoko's planning to attend in her school uniform, but a surprise run-in with cast mate Kijima lands her a makeover...and a date? Ren is, understandably, less than pleased. But he'll have her all to himself soon – it's time for the Heel siblings to really go into action!
Kyoko has never had much of a sense of her own attractiveness or self-worth – after all, that's how she ended up as Sho's flunky in the first place, twenty-nine volumes ago. But now people are taking notice of her, and this volume is filled with men who are, at the very least, slightly crushing on Kyoko Mogami. The first to step up is Dark Moon co-worker Kijima. He's been fascinated by Kyoko's ability to transform based on her character, and he has a theory that involves a complete makeover and a much more adult dress than she typically wears. Since this is shoujo manga, the plan obviously succeeds...and for the same reason, it raises the hackles of Ren Tsuruga, who has been in love with Kyoko for a while now. A definite highlight of the first half of the book is jealous Ren and his machinations to get Kyoko alone, or at least to himself. Kyoko, for her part, is busy fretting over the locked box in her heart where she stores her tender emotions. Ren has been slowly weakening those locks, and she lives in terror that she will once again be consumed by the sort of unhealthy passion that once allowed her to fall into Sho's manipulative clutches. What this means for their relationship is that Kyoko is slightly more aware when Ren makes a move on her (generally verbally), increasing the romantic tension dramatically. As usual the reactions of observers add a touch of humor to the proceedings – Lory's disguise this time is quite unexpected and has some interesting consequences – and by the time the not-quite-couple is back in their roles as siblings Cain and Setsu Heel, there is a clear change, most notably in Ren, who suddenly seems to understand that he has some serious competition.
As mentioned, Ren and Kijima aren't the only guys with an eye on Kyoko – Sho's manager goes to great lengths to keep him from seeing made over Kyoko on television, one of her co-workers from her gig as Bo clearly has a crush, and an actor in Ren's new film shows some attraction for her in her Setsu guise. In the hands of a less talented mangaka, this could devolve into a cheesy shoujo geometry fest, but Yoshiki Nakamura manages to keep the focus on Kyoko's unawareness of her own charms and on Ren's jealousy and inability to actually tell Kyoko how he feels. (Not to mention the way he tells himself that this concealment is deliberate.) Kyoko's preoccupation with her box also helps to keep the story on track, allowing it to be a show business tale with a romantic subplot rather than a romance that happens to take place in show business.
Ren's own insecurities are also a growing force in the series as it heads towards its thirtieth volume. As has been mentioned, he hasn't told Kyoko how he feels, although his hints are getting broader and broader, and he's also struggling with his past and how it will be brought to bear on his role as BJ in the new film. The fact that he relies on Kyoko so much showcases the fact that he is, at heart, rather an insecure, lost person, something that makes him more than just the handsome male lead and helps to ground the story. And he does rely on Kyoko – that becomes ever more evident each time he is forced to play the role of Cain Heel, and it is clear that he is grappling with a locked box of his own.
Nakamura's art, as might be reasonably expected, has shown some marked improvement, and this volume showcases her ability to make Kyoko look different and yet still look like herself. Proportions are also a little bit better, with men's heads looking less comically small, but the elongated look and mile-long legs persist. By this point, however, they are more markers of Nakamura's style than problems, except in certain shots.
With it's 29th volume, Skip Beat! continues to charge ahead as one of the most enjoyable shoujo series available in English. The added romance factor manages to contribute to the story without overwhelming it, and while it can seem silly or excessive at times, largely it helps to move the plot along, as Lory reminds us at one point. It can be hard to recognize or remember minor characters who pop in from time to time, and Sho's continued absence may be an issue for some readers, but overall Yoshiki Nakamura has done it again – written and drawn a compulsively readable, terribly enjoyable entry into her tale of a girl who harbors one hell of a grudge.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Romance adds without getting too ridiculous despite the number of males, Kyoko always looks like Kyoko no matter the costume. Ren and Kyoko's emotional issues help to add depth.
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