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by Melissa Harper,

Skip Beat!

GN Vol 1 -2

Skip Beat!
Even if Kyoko works three jobs, can't afford nice clothes and makeup, and doesn't attend high school, she still feels like a fairytale princess because she is living with her very own prince charming, her childhood friend and new pop idol Sho. Unfortunately, Kyoko discovers that Sho's feelings for her are less than glamorous; in fact, he is only interested in her as a maid and housekeeper. On learning this, Kyoko's sweet and innocent dreams are replaced forever by one desperate dream: to get revenge! She will do anything to beat Sho at his own game, show business, whether it be scraping gum off floors or carrying actresses across mountains! But, can getting revenge regain what she has lost: the ability to love?
Skip Beat! is definitely an interesting addition to shoujo shelves. The heroine is neither especially cute nor sickeningly sweet, the love interest is a jerk, and things just don't seem to go right no matter what happens. Even though it is just another entry in an increasing number of make-it-to-the-top pop idol stories, the differences here make it worth at least a second look

Of course, it doesn't seem that way at the beginning. The first volume starts with a sweet, hardworking Kyoko who lives for her man Sho. She works three jobs so that he doesn't have to and so that he can live in a nice apartment, but she gets no respect from him for it. Indeed, as long as Sho is happy, that's all she needs. You may have read this initial chapter in Shoujo Beat magazine, as I did, and decided that Kyoko was the most idiotic character in the history of manga, and wondered why anyone would choose to read such a thing. Luckily, things improve drastically in the second volume, after Kyoko learns what Sho really thinks of her.

Kyoko's original character is, of course, not the character that the story is about. After her “transformation,” she becomes much more interesting, and less pathetic. One small problem is that in chapter two, she really looks nothing like she did in chapter one. Her entire face is changed, even the shape of her eyes. It makes things a little confusing at the beginning, because the girl that is obviously the main character doesn't seem to be the girl on the cover, which in fact she is. Besides that, though, Kyoko looks great. She has a nice, unique appearance, so she stands out among a sea of shoujo heroines. The difference in her appearance is based on the difference in her attitude. Kyoko is no big-hearted, uber-happy high school girl. She is on a vicious quest for revenge, and can be downright cruel to anyone in her way. This cruelty, unfortunately, starts to slide off in volume two, and she begins to resemble again the spineless girl from the first chapter. It feels like that is the direction the story is going, which is a real shame. Kyoko on an insane rampage is the most unique thing about this series.

Other characters are interesting; Sho is definitely not the typical romantic lead. He is whiney, selfish and egotistical, and the only problem with all that is that you wonder what Kyoko ever saw in him in the first place. His rival, Ren, is also given a lot of personality, but it is more subtle and mysterious. Small side characters get a lot of personalization, especially the talent agency staff. The president is a flamboyant riot, and the agent that Kyoko stalks to get into the business is hilariously harrowed. In fact, the only really cliché character so far is the actress in volume two, Ruriko, who is just mean and selfish for the sake of it, and dislike Kyoko simply because she's a peon.

Of course, a major part of the story is Kyoko's efforts to become a big star in order to beat Sho, and this is the part of the story that is rather weak. Kyoko has absolutely no talent. She is a very showy chef, but that is never going to rival a pop idol. It just doesn't make much sense how she manages to infiltrate the talent agency. She isn't talented, she isn't that pretty, the President declares her lacking in the essential qualities, and she doesn't even know what she wants to do as a star. Yet somehow, she gets to join the agency. If that's how it works, someone buy me a ticket to Japan!

The idea that a well-known talent agency would create a division for people who aren't good enough to work on their problems is more than a little absurd. The whole situation is really just a device to illustrate the fluctuations in Kyoko's character. After her blow-up with Sho, Kyoko effectively loses the ability to love. She is told that she will never make it in showbiz if she can't learn to love. So, over the course of the first two volumes, what we get is a series of peaks and valleys in Kyoko's self esteem. She tries to be good, and selfless, only to have it thrown in her face, time after time. The point of the story doesn't really come through strongly; it's hard to tell where Nakamura thinks Kyoko should go. This may be a case of cultures not translating; as an American girl, seeing Kyoko get repeatedly stepped on makes me writhe, but it is possible that Japanese women would see the story from another perspective.

The artwork in this series so far is competent. It is polished, but not impressive. The character designs look very good, with lots of detail and originality. The paneling is a bit confusing at times, due to a very crowded page. There is a ton of stuff going on in every panel; a lot of dialogue, screaming, sound effects, and background commentary fill every page. It is really just too busy in places to be easily comprehended. This seems to get worse and the novel progresses, and there are a few places that never did make any sense. The cover of volume one effectively shows what backgrounds look like throughout the series; they aren't there too much. Even so, the artwork looks good, and at least doesn't detract from the reading. The paneling does that.

Skip Beat! may suffer a bit from the outrageous showbiz storyline, but this take on the rising star story is different enough, and funny enough, to merit a place in your shoujo collection.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B+

+ New take on classic shoujo heroine
Kyoko's journey to pop idol is ridiculously strange and unbelievable

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Production Info:
Story & Art: Yoshiki Nakamura
Licensed by: Viz Media

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