Today’s profile: Skip Beat! vols. 1-3
Author: Yoshiki Nakamura
Suggested age rating: Teen 13+
Availability: In print & readily available
It's been a while since I last participated in the monthly blogger celebration of manga creators and/or series known as the Manga Movable Feast. A looooooooooong while. So long, in fact, that I can't remember offhand the last post I contributed to an MMF. (For the record, it was this post from the "thankful" MMF back in November.)
So why come back now for this month's Skip Beat! MMF, hosted by Laura over at Heart of Manga? Part of it was because I was curious if I could still turn around one of these kinds of posts seven months since the last one. Part of it was because I'm a bit sad to see the low participation in this month's MMF -- owing, perhaps, to the shifting priorities of many of us longtime manga bloggers (myself included).
But the main reason is that I've been curious for a long time about whether Skip Beat! is worth the sizable investment. Let's face it: Once a manga series goes past 20 volumes with no signs of stopping any time soon these days, you either start worrying that (a) it's going to go on forever (see: 67 volumes of One Piece, 61 volumes of Naruto, 56 volumes of Bleach) or (b) sales are going to drop as the series meanders along, to the point that the publisher pulls the plug, leaving you with a really long story with no resolution whatsoever unless you learn Japanese (I don't think tag-team in partner Wilma J. has forgiven anyone yet for leaving Initial D stalled at 32 volumes). The U.S. just got volume 31 of Skip Beat!; Japan is up to volume 32 and a handful of chapters beyond that as Yoshiki Nakamura and her team of assistants continue to plug away in the pages of Hana to Yume.
It's certainly proven popular enough -- volumes 18 through 31 have all landed on the New York Times manga bestseller list within a week of their releases, and Viz has seen fit to re-release earlier volumes in its 3-in-1 VizBig format. (Omnibus 5, containing volumes 13-15, is due out next week, in fact.) So cancellation isn't really a concern. But with that many volumes, that first taste you get of it had better be good enough to justify future purchases.
After reading what Laura's characterized as the series' first arc -- volumes 1-3 -- it's safe to say that I'll probably end up buying the rest of the series. (Those screams of despair you may be hearing now are coming from my wallet.) What really makes this series fun in these first volumes is the main character.
Meet Kyoko Mogami.
... no, no, not that Kyoko. This Kyoko.
Or perhaps more specifically, this Kyoko.
How Kyoko goes from a sweetly smiling fast-food clerk to the living embodiment of that classic saying about hell and fury and scorned women happens over the course of one chapter. For most of her 16 years of life, she's been eager to please others, even if it means sacrificing her own well-being. And the person she adores and wants to please the most is her friend since childhood, Sho Fuwa. She spent a lot of time at his parents' inn growing up, learning many of their methods of serving guests in the process. When he rejected his destiny to take over the inn, moved to Tokyo to pursue a career in show biz and asked her to come with him, she happily accepted. Sure, it would eventually mean juggling two jobs to pay for a luxury apartment that he rarely visits, and he becomes increasingly distant to her as he becomes more and more famous, but who cares -- he's a prince, she's that plain girl in tatters whom he'll eventually sweep up and turn into a princess, and they'll live happily ever after, right?
Wrong. Ohhhhhhh so very wrong.
When Kyoko catches Sho talking about how he's just using her as a maid and never really liked her and sees him ogling his hot female manager, to boot ... well, that's when the fun begins. Anyone who's ever sacrificed so much of themselves for someone, only to see that someone betray them in the end, will feel a sense of delicious satisfaction in seeing Kyoko's demonic rage explode against Sho. From that point on, she's hell-bent on gaining her pound of revenge-filled flesh. And to do that, she gets a physical and emotional makeover -- goodbye long black hair, hello short, sassy dyed 'do -- and decides to break into show business herself to become an even bigger star than he is, decisively proving in the process that he gave up something pretty special when he betrayed her trust.
Passion can only carry one so far in the competitive entertainment industry, though. For every subsequent step forward that she takes in these first three volumes, there's always some corresponding event that knocks her back a bit. She has the dogged determination to land a tryout at the prestigious L.M.E. talent agency and manages to impress the judging panel without a lick of experience … yet she still can't get in on her first try. The agency president likes her enough to create a new agency division just for her and people like her … but that Love Me Division is also the most lightly regarded in the whole organization. Her drive to succeed is enough to elevate her standing in the minds of some of the more important players within the agency … yet her victories are rather small when compared to her ultimate goals, and helping others succeed more than she does, to boot. And then there's the matter of Sho's rival, Ren Tsuruga, whom Kyoko is conditioned to hate out of principle ... but who is also represented by L.M.E. and shows her some flashes of kindness, to boot.
Yet to characterize these developments as an endless hamster wheel for Kyoko to run would ignore the greatest asset Skip Beat! has: the way the story slowly, organically nurtures growth in its main characters. We readers are going to root for Kyoko regardless of what happens -- that's a given, especially after the events of that first chapter. She'll also have her comically explosive demon-summoning moments from time to time. But we also see her quietly shift her focus a bit from straight-up "RAAAAAWR I WANT REVENGE ON SHO RAAAAAAAGE" to "Hmm, I want to try hard, get better at this acting thing, be the best person I can be at this ... oh yeah, and RAAAAAWR I WANT REVENGE ON SHO RAAAAAAAGE." It makes her character that much more compelling. And while Sho and Ren seem like mere foils for her at the moment, I get the sense that they'll get their time to shine, their characters more fully fleshed out, over the course of the series.
Seems like it'll be a fun ride. I, for one, can't wait to take more of it.