Monday, May 1, 2023

Merry Month of Shojo Review #1: SKIP BEAT

The Manga Test Drive turns 11 this year!  To celebrate this blog's entry into its pre-teens, we're once again going to enjoy an entire Merry Month of Manga Reviews!  Once again, we're dedicating this one to spotlighting some of the many shojo titles in our collection, starting with this.

SKIP BEAT! (Sukippo Bito!), by Yoshiki Nakamura.  First published in 2002 and first published in North America in 2006.


Kyoko thought she was living the dream: living together with her childhood best friend Sho, helping him live out his dreams of stardom in Tokyo.  Sure, that dream requires her to work three part-time jobs, consumes all of her spare time, energy, and personal desires, and left her waiting hand and foot on him on the rare occasion Sho is even home, but she's just happy to be needed!

At least, until she catches Sho with another girl.

Furious, Kyoko vows to beat Sho at his own game.  She's going to join his agency and become a bigger star than Sho could ever be, no matter how much she might have to grovel and work just to get her foot in the door.


My biggest take-away from Skip Beat! is "we need more shojo heroines who are motivated by spite."

I mean, you can't argue with the results from just this first volume.  Kyoko was trapped in a cycle of poverty and emotional abuse, subservient to a spoiled misogynistic egomaniac due to her low self-esteem (and hints of some bigger family issues) just so she could feel needed and useful by somebody.  Her anger at Sho is as righteous as it is justified and I defy anyone to not cheer for Kyoko in that moment.  For all of the emphasis shojo manga puts on emotions, it often shies away from anger because of outdated notions about it being too rough and unfeminine for its largely female audience.  It's a sentiment I have never agreed with.  To do so not only denies shojo heroines a part of themselves, as we see here it can sometimes be the right tool to use for a shojo heroine to get herself out of a bad situation.  

That being said, it's not the end-all be-all of Kyoko either.  If anything, Nakamura makes it clear towards the end of the volume that while that anger can be an incredible motivation, she cannot let it define herself and her new life.  She has to reckon with the deep-seated grief underneath it, to mourn the relationship (and life) she thought she had so that she can rediscover not just her full emotional self but the growing found family around her that genuinely support her and recognize the potential within her.  

This sounds like heavy stuff, but Nakamura balances it all with plenty of manic comedy (particularly as part of Kyoko's inner monologue) so tonally it tends to even out.  It also helps that she's setting up some fun supporting characters to bounce off of Kyoko, including rival actress Kanae and the exceedingly eccentric, camp agency owner.  I could do less with the obvious set up between her and rival actor Ren, but that's mostly because he's the sort of moody, hot-and-cold shojo love interest that was old hat even when this series was brand new.  Still, altogether it makes for one of the strongest debut volumes I've read in a long time.


That being said, thanks to the passage of time and Nakamura's relative inexperience there are some qualities about the art that have not aged well.  There are times where Kyoko's head and chin are bizarrely proportioned, and damn near everyone (especially the men) have the most ridiculous scarecrow proportions and Dorito chins.  It's not garish, but it's definitely distracting.  The pages can get a little chaotic at times, but it's usually at the moment things are at their most chaotic as Kyoko surrenders to her anger or gets up to something particularly comedic.  Nakamura's got a good knack for comedy too - she draws such wonderful wild takes and sight gags, and it's something that feels like a bit of a lost art in the modern shojo scene.


Skip Beat! is a series I've been skipping out on for a long time, but this first volume makes a very strong case for reading more of it.  The art can be kind of wonky and looks a bit dated, but the story and Kyoko in particular makes a strong and compelling first impression.  It's little wonder that it's been able to run for so long.

This series is published by Viz.  This series is ongoing in Japan with 49 volumes available.  48 volumes have been released and are currently in print.

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