Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The pressure is building – Ren Tsuruga is trying to play too many roles at once, and his time as Cain Heel is bringing up some uncomfortable memories. Add to that the worries he faces in his love life – which are increasing with the return of Sho Fuwa – and our leading man getting ready to snap. Can Kyoko help keep him cool, or will she find herself with more Ren than she can handle?
This latest story arc in Yoshiki Nakamura's utterly addicting shoujo manga Skip Beat! has been pretty hard on series hero Ren Tsuruga. We know by now that he has a very troubled past, one which he has tried his best to either repress or move beyond. This has led to the creation of his “nice guy” persona, the one Kyoko was able to see through, and even as he found himself falling for her, he never had a lot of trouble maintaining it. Now, however, he is hiding his identity under the guise of troubled foreign actor Cain Heel in order to take on a very un-Ren-like acting job...and Cain may be a little too close to Kuon for his comfort. It doesn't help that Lory has decided that Kyoko should go undercover with him as Cain's sister Setsu, a move that has thrown the two into very close proximity. He's been struggling with this almost since the arc began, but now in the series' thirty-second volume, things are getting a lot more difficult.
Meanwhile, Kyoko is dealing with her own issues. She's starting to fall for Ren, but she's afraid of what that will do to her. Remembering the weak-willed, frail creature that her obsessive love for Sho made her, she is terrified to reopen that box. This is reinforced by Shotaro's re-entry into her life. Whether or not Sho is himself willing to admit what he feels for Kyoko is somehow less important than Kyoko and Ren's reactions to his increasing presence in the story, but what is clear is that he is going to milk their discomfort for all he can get. This gives his manager Shoko serious second thoughts about her own relationship with Shotaro, and we end up with some good old-fashioned shoujo love geometry.
Given that the story has been more focused on Kyoko's revenge efforts, which have morphed into her determination to become a better actress, this is a nice break and a definite boon to those who have been hoping to see the romantic tensions rise. The final chapters of the volume do that in spades as Ren reaches a place where repression and coping may not work quite as well as they have been. Kyoko's reactions are equally interesting, as she becomes increasingly willing to admit that she has some unresolved issues of her own. There's a dangerous edge to these later chapters, however, that lets us see both the depths of Ren's issues and the reserves Kyoko has to deal with them. That edge also brings us a bit closer to the unpleasant territory tread by other shoujo romances for a similar demographic, and for some readers at least one moment will come close to crossing a line. However Kyoko's reaction to the situation does something to restore things to better levels.
The return of Sho allows Nakamura to bring out more of her trademark humor, which helps balance out the romantic tensions. Sho's tactics are as over the top as always, and the evil glee with which he goes about his diabolical business is rather delightful to see. We also get the return of the grudge demon, albeit briefly, which is always a welcome sight. Mr. Yashiro also presents a bit of his usual overreaction for the readers' benefit, and if this volume isn't as funny as some of the previous ones, it's still got a few chuckles in it.
Nakamura's art has reached a highly stylized point, but evolutions within it are still clear. Noses this volume are sharper and more pronounced in profiles, which can be a bit distracting at times, and overall her use of details in clothing has improved. Kyoko's facial expressions still run an impressive gamut, and Ren's this time are really much more fluid and variable than they have been. Everyone is still crazily elongated, but Nakamura is clearly comfortable with her art style and it works.
Skip Beat! is an addictively good series that not only keeps getting better, but more impressively manages to maintain its interest and energy even after thirty-two volumes. If you haven't been reading this, catch up with the 3-in-1 volumes and keep going – things are starting to heat up.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Romance may be getting somewhere, Ren's character is undergoing some big changes. Sho adds some tension and humor.
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