Kyoko followed her true love and childhood friend Sho to Tokyo so she could help him reach his dream of becoming an idol, after having dropped out of school for his sake. She cleans and cooks for him while working three jobs and while doing nothing for herself, simply because she loves him so much. One day, however, she goes unannounced to his agency with a delivery, and overhears him talking about her; he reveals to his manager that he only took her with him as a maid, and that he doesn't care for her at all. Upon hearing this, Kyoko is not despondent, but enraged; rather than crying, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She cuts and dyes her hair, changes her clothes and attitude and thus begins her journey to become an actress and have her revenge against Sho. Soon, however, her journey to become an entertainer becomes much more than a revenge quest. (Adapted from ANN).
From its synopsis, Skip Beat! would seem like the kind of series whose premise and style of humor could quickly become a bit of a one-trick pony, since "revenge" is rarely a compelling theme on its own. In addition, its first episode promises some unfortunate tropes of shoujo manga, particularly Kyoko's initial extreme levels of selflessness carried out for the sake of an uncaring "love interest", and even when our main character renounces this the strong possibility that she will indeed fail and need to rely on an abusive figure again lingers. Yet Skip Beat! proves to be a highly clever show, for even though it is obvious that Kyoko's personality is being set up for a turnaround, it says nothing about what direction her journey in showbusiness eventually takes, which is far more compelling than one's average revenge plot. Even before it proved itself to be remarkable in this way, though, Skip Beat! had won me over with its main character and flamboyant style of humor, to the extent that as incomplete as this adaptation is, it qualifies as one of my favorite shoujo series.
I would certainly count Kyoko as one of my favorite lead anime characters. Indeed, one aspect that makes her so compelling to me is the depth to which the series goes into explaining the roots of her personality prior to her overhearing Sho's diatribe. Rather than coding it as some sort of "default submissive" behavior, as many other shoujo series might treat her previous work ethic and subservience towards him, Skip Beat! explores the sort of treatment that Kyoko received as a child that conditioned her into thinking that this was her "place"; we also learn that she once had a great deal of promise, such as academic intelligence, that her caretaker role led her to neglect. Though the show only touches on some of these aspects, such as her poor relationship with her mother (which I presume is explored in the rest of the manga), they are compelling because they are explained in the context of Kyoko becoming a stronger person and finding a meaningful life's work in acting, rather than the sort of self-victimization that invites the need for comfort and dependability.
Indeed, Kyoko is an astoundingly strong character throughout the series, a fact manifested alone by her uncanny ability to grow as an actress and snatch opportunities to gain recognition even when given menial jobs, but also by the sheer amount of effort she puts into reclaiming her life, which is, ultimately, what this is about. She is hardly a flawless character, for some of her behavior, such as following an agency's manager around to beg a job from him, is certainly questionable, but the flaws, if sometimes exaggerated in a cartoonlike fashion, make sense given her character history. I was thoroughly behind her throughout the show's run, and I'd definitely call her one of the most engaging and empowering female leads, especially of a shoujo anime, that I've yet seen.
So what of the other characters? I'll say that the show very deftly transitions Sho from a "love-to-hate" character into something of a rival for Kyoko, whose egoistic personality is given some more context, while still maintaining the fact that he is despicable. That last aspect was just fine by me, for I never wanted to like him nor hoped he and Kyoko would reconcile, given the reservations that I expressed in the intro to this review, and I was impressed at how the show managed to avoid that trap. More interesting still is Ren Tsuraga, a rival of Sho employed by the agency Kyoko eventually comes to work at, who approaches the archetype of the "asshole with a secret heart of gold" in yet another of the series' cleverly misleading ploys. The pitfalls of that archetype are that such characters often serve as victimized characters for whom the main female lead can play caretaker too (the "misunderstood punk" archetype is similar in this regard), all the while ignoring previous harsh or abusive comments made by said character.
Yet the show cleverly plays with this trope as well, for while Ren is sharp-tongued and derisive, most of the unpleasant things he initial says to Kyoko bear some truth. Revenge does indeed make a poor motivator, and Kyoko initially seems to offer little to the department besides a possibly-higher-than-average drive to succeed. He simultaneously serves as something of a foil to some of Kyoko's antics and yet also gives her an impetus to grow in a way that deftly avoids being patronizing; he's one of several factors that allow her to figure out what she actually needs to do to succeed. Indeed, that's one aspect of Skip Beat! that I appreciated immensely, for while the other characters are often fun to watch, the show is ultimately about her rather than her filling in the needs of other people, which is a common frustration I have with shoujo anime.
Thus far, I've made Skip Beat! sound dead serious in this review, but let's be frank: it's also a damned funny show. A good portion of the show's comedy, in my opinion, stems from visual gags, such as the terrifying (yet somehow cute) spirits that emerge like tendrils from Kyoko whenever she is enraged, and whose presence the other characters humorously always seem to sense. Other times, the humor hinges on well-played slapstick gags, such as a hilarious scene involving mukimono (ritual vegetable carving) of a radish in a hilariously inappropriate context that I won't spoil here. Regardless, I laughed a great deal at this show, and found Kyoko herself to be hilarious the majority of the time, also.
The fact that it's a comedy works in the show's favor in one regard, in that while the art isn't exceptionally good, it shines in such moments as the super-deformed expressions Kyoko's coworkers make in response to her over-driven attitude. The animation is certainly serviceable and the OP, a driving rock number, pumped me up for the show every time. While the character design wasn't my favorite aspect, I thought it was fine, and the mangaka certainly took a lot of care with the clothing the different characters wear (which may be a plus for some shoujo fans); those who haven't seen many shoujo anime might want to note that yes, the <bishounen character designs are out in full force and that this may take some getting used to. I suppose all of this is relevant ultimately because Skip Beat, while ultimately a drama with a great deal of effective pathos, is also a comedy whose visual gags render it into a series that takes advantage of its medium; though a live-action Taiwanese drama exists, I have a hard time imagining this series outside of animated form. It may not be the best-drawn or best-animated series ever, but damn is it comfortable in its medium.
What flaws does this show ultimately have? Some quibbles aside, primarily that the characters behave far more like college students than high school students, it's functionally in incomplete show, since the anime stops in the middle of an arc as if more episodes had been planned but never greenlit. This, sadly, is enough to dock the show a star, for it ceases just as it truly begins to build momentum and all of the effort put into the previous 25 episodes is just beginning to blossom into a truly great show. I'd suggest continuing with the manga barring the unlikely production of more episodes (though I can certainly dream), but regardless of its incompleteness, I'm still a big fan of the Skip Beat! anime. I'd even recommend it strongly enough to argue that those who claim to not enjoy shoujo manga (which is a very broad generalization) should give it a try; I think its great lead and adept humor might be enough to win over some skeptics.
A very strong four stars, kept at that by the fact that the adaptation stops just as it begins to truly shine. I suppose you could dock a star if (for some reason) you just really don't want to watch shoujo anime, but in that case I'll still say give it a chance; this show might surprise you. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: There's really nothing in the way of violence or sex, but the show delves into the fact that Kyoko was badly neglected as a child, and this theme pops up with several other characters as well. This would be okay for older children, though I think its demographic is more aimed at teenagers and above.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (25/25)
Skip Beat! © 2008 Yoshiki Nakamura - Hakusensha / LME Love Me Section
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