Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The last thing Ren Tsuruga was expecting was to run into Kyoko in Guam, but now that it's happened – while he's dressed as his real self, no less – he finds himself taking advantage of the opportunity to spend time with her without the baggage of his actor alter ego. Can he keep her from figuring it out? And what's with this feeling jealous of himself?
It isn't often that we get a chance to have an entire volume from Ren's point of view, although given that Yoshiki Nakamura has kept Skip Beat going this long without it declining in quality, we ought to expect the unusual. While we've gotten to glimpse Ren's thoughts before, this is really the first time he's gotten his own book, and it really helps to make him more than the vaguely troubled romantic lead in Kyoko's crazy world.
This is not to say that Kyoko herself isn't a major part of the story. After meeting up with Ren in his “true form,” so to speak, in volume thirty-four, Kyoko allowed herself to be convinced that “Corn” was just borrowing Ren's voice and aspects of his appearance because he was the person she'd most recently been thinking about. She really does seem to believe that Corn is a fairy prince, but it feels like she's trying to keep it that way – that somewhere deep down she knows what's really going on, or at least suspects it. We see this in her panic whenever Corn acts too Ren-like or in his exit from the scene at the end of the book, where her panic seems out of proportion for a guy she thinks is a supernatural being, ability to fly or not. As for Ren (it's easiest to refer to him this way, as that's the name he usually goes by in the series), he's torn between trying to romance Kyoko now that he's not in his more intimidating (to her) form and being totally jealous of his alter ego, seeming conflicted by the fact that Kyoko treats Corn differently than she does Ren, even though he's trying to keep her from finding out that both of them are really Kuon. It's really his most human segment of the series as he shows real emotion and frets and fusses in a way he doesn't allow himself to when he's being Ren Tsuruga, actor. Looking like his real self gives him the license to relax, even as he tries hard to play a role for Kyoko.
This dedication to playing a part, something upon which Ren has built his entire adult life, is clearly beginning to wear on him. Previous to falling in love with Kyoko, it was a way of hiding his past even from himself, but now he finds that he wouldn't mind revealing the truth to her...or thinking about it even when it's painful. That's a the crux of his masquerade as Corn in this volume – his need to move forward while still acknowledging that the past is always going to be there lurking behind him. When he gets jealous of his Ren persona based on how Kyoko seems to hero-worship him (which in itself is an act on her part to deny to any and all that she loves him), it's in part because he wants her to think that way about his real self, but also frustration that he's essentially undermined any immediate chance of telling her the truth. As Corn, he knows Kyoko's past in Kyoto and the roots of her distrust of love. As Ren, he only knows her professionally, and as far as she knows, all moments of desperate affection have been due to either exhaustion or his role as Cain Heel. As Kuon, he doesn't even know her as far as she's concerned. It's a problem we more typically see in magical girl stories or Western superhero tales – the love interest is only in love with the alter ego, forcing the real person into conflict with themselves. It works well in the context of a plain old shoujo romance, and Nakamura does a good job mixing all three of Kuon/Corn/Ren's personas as the book goes on in both inner monologue and physical reactions. (What happens after he finally convinces Kyoko to go through with a fairy tale curse cure and it doesn't live up to his hopes is pretty great.)
Nakamura's art has been steadily improving as Skip Beat has gone on, and while the characters all still look elongated and legs, thighs in particular, are still ludicrously long, there's more solidity to the artwork that helps to off-set the anatomical issues. This volume does have more scenes of Kyoko's grudge demons than we've seen for a while, which is always great (especially their protective suits), although it lacks a lot of the small silly moments that make the series so much fun. But Skip Beat's addictive qualities can survive a lack of goofiness – even when it's treading much more recognizable romance territory, there's just something appealing about the characters and the way Nakamura tells their stories. Not many romances can survive this long without getting repetitive and/or dumb, but somehow Skip Beat has – and it doesn't look like things are going to be slowing down any time soon, either.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Getting inside Ren's head for most of the volume rounds him out, nice body language and generally improved art.
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