Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: Skip Beat! vols 1-34 by Yoshiki Nakamura

Cover of Skip Beat Volume One, featuring a red-haired Japanese girl dressed in a frilly pink sleeveless top. She winks at the viewer, her left hand hand extended in a mock punch and the other poised near her ear. Dark pink ribbons writhe around both her hands.
A little more than a month ago, I toddled off to my local library and plucked SKIP BEAT! off the shelf. I’d never heard of it before, but it met my two important criteria for the comics I choose on a whim: it was the first volume in a series, and it was written and drawn by a woman1.

It changed my entire world.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have no doubt noticed my feels-laden tweets about it all. SKIP BEAT! quickly joined the likes of SAGA, BONE, and STRANGERS IN PARADISE as one of the comics; a lovely, rare occurrence, and something to gush about from the rooftops.

Which, fair warning, is what I’m about to do, at great length and with the occasional gif from the anime or elsewhere.

But perhaps you're clueless as to what SKIP BEAT is all about. Fear not! I can explain!

Sixteen-year-old Kyoko Mogami2 follows her childhood friend and uber-crush, Sho, to Tokyo so she can help him on the road to stardom. She buys all his albums, stokes his ego by hanging his posters all over their apartment, and works two jobs so she can keep him in the manner to which he’s become accustomed (because heaven forbid Mr Big Singer Man should dip into his own pay cheque once in a while). Blinded by love, Kyoko is happy to accept a few scraps of affection from him--until she overhears his true opinion of her and realizes he’s been using her all along.

Enraged, Kyoko swears off love and vows to get revenge against Sho in his own sphere: showbiz!

Easy to say; hard to do. Kyoko soon realizes it’s tough to become famous, even if you’re willing to dress up in a chicken suit and/or join the number one talent agency’s deathly embarrassing Love Me Section, a group devoted to developing its members' loving instincts by assigning them odd jobs that let them give back to the showbiz community. Things only grow more awkward for her when she begins working with Ren Tsuruga, the agency’s top star, who takes acting very seriously and has nothing but disdain for someone with Kyoko’s motives.

The next thirty-four volumes are THE BEST THING EVER OMG.

They’re so very much THE BEST THING EVER OMG that right here, right now, for the first time in the history of the world, I’m going to write three reviews.

I think Lory, Kyoko’s boss, would be proud of me for such flamboyant excess, not to mention my deep and enduring love for all things SKIP BEAT!.

We shall begin, of course, with a Short, Gushy, Ungrammatical Review so’s you can get an at-a-glance idea of what SKIP BEAT is all about. From there, we’ll run through a List of Things You'll Find In SKIP BEAT in case you ain’t much for short, gushy, ungrammatical paragraphs. And finally, for the main event, I present to you a Sensical Review in which I gush for an ungodly number of words.

It is not for the faint of heart.

Review #1: The Short, Gushy, Ungrammatical Version:

OMG BEST THING EVER Kyoko is my favourite y’all don’t even know SHE IS PERFECT I mean she obviously isn’t but her very lack of perfection is what makes her perfect I love her as much as I love Kate Bishop and that is saying something and there’s lots of acting and silly bits and people becoming awesome friends in spite of themselves and a small girl who adopts Kyoko as her big sister because WHY WOULDN’T SHE KYOKO IS AWESOME and at first I thought it was just general fiction but I’ve come to think of it as magical realism because Kyoko has wicked-strong grudge powers and there’s also a psychic and apparently these things aren’t metaphorical like I thought and OMG Sho is the world’s biggest dickweed no sorry I lied that’s Reino the psychic Sho is just the SECOND biggest dickweed and moving away from dickweeds Kyoko just comes into her own so much and she has so much love to give AND I CAN HARDLY STAND IT YOU GUYS SHE IS PERFECT oh and I haven’t mentioned Ren yet Ren is seriously great and he has a DARK PAST and sometimes he's a dickweed too but he FUCKING CHECKS HIMSELF WHENEVER HE DOES DODGY SHIT HOW GREAT IS THAT and don’t you even get me started on the storyline where they pretend to be brother and sister which reminds me of KOO OMG KYOKO ADOPTS RELATIVES EVERYWHERE SHE HAS SUCH AN AMAZING FOUND FAMILY I can’t handle this anymore please excuse me while I melt into a pile of feels.

Review #2: Some Things You'll Find in SKIP BEAT!

For those of you who ain’t got the time to read a zillion words or the patience to wade through ungrammatical dreck.

  • a painfully awesome protagonist
  • who has so very, very much love to give
  • and around whom people rally because they recognize she’s worthy of their love
  • upbeat revenge, at that
  • with occasional darker moments because dude, revenge is rough
  • grudge-monsters
  • adoptive siblings
  • adoptive parents
  • who messed up before but hope to do better in the future
  • a large assortment of characters who've messed up but hope to do better in the future
  • a seriously flamboyant talent agency president
  • people working hard to succeed at their dreams (but not in a sappy way)
  • a birthday gift that will consume your thoughts (but in a good way)
  • a dude who has a seriously DARK PAST and who consequently fears he can never be a good person
  • I ever tell you how much I love characters who fear they can never be good?
  • a massive dickweed you’ll love to hate
  • an evil psychic who you’ll wish would run afoul of a shinigami
  • like they’re so in tune but also so far apart and they care about one another so much and it is so beautiful
  • some pretty great magical realism (you’ll think it’s metaphorical at first, but it’s not. Well, not all of it)
  • people who actively try not to be in love with each other for various reasons
  • intense feels
  • no, seriously, they are so intense
  • it’s all I can do not to ALL CAPS all over the place whenever I so much as think of this series
  • it’s that amazing
  • like did you see those caps up there? That was a SMALL FRACTION of the caps inside my head.
  • I’ll shut up now because this didn’t turn out much more coherent than the last review
  • but hey, at least the bullet points make it a touch easier to read

The Long-Ass, Sensical Review

With subheadings, because sometimes such things are necessary.


We’ve gotta start with some sustained gushing about Kyoko, okay? To hell with the plot and the art and the glorious layers of meaning. Kyoko is the heart and soul of SKIP BEAT, and I love her to infinity and beyond.

How do I even begin to explain Kyoko? Kyoko is flawless. She does soft drink commercials in Japan. One time, she met Hidehito Kijima at a premiere and he told her she was pretty. She sat next to Jelly Woods, makeup artist extraordinaire, on a plane. Once, she unleashed her grudge-selves on Reino the Beagle and it was awesome.

I couldn’t resist memeing it up there (a black mark on my record, I know), but please don't assume Kyoko is anything like Regina George. She’s a humble soul despite her fierce talent, and everything I said above is actually true. She is flawless. She does do commercials in Japan. (Well, she did one. Then her drama career took off.) She did have a run-in with Hidehito Kijima, and she’s got a pretty good rapport with Ms Woods, and if the incident where she unleashed her grudge-selves on the Beagle kind of backfired, well, it’s still factual.

Regina George wishes she were that awesome.

And none of those things truly encompasses Kyoko, because she’s a gloriously multi-layered character. Part of me wants to bounce up and down in delight whenever I think of her, while another little slice of my soul collapses into a heap of TEAR-DRENCHED FEELS (caps necessary).

Yeah. It’s like that.

Kyoko is quite simply the best. She has the capacity to be a deeply giving, loving person, but she’s had her loving instinct turned against her time and again. Her relationship with her neglectful mother leaves her with little idea of how to actually connect with people, beyond a list of useless things she should never, ever do. She turns to perfectionism in an attempt to convince her mother, then the caregivers her mother dumps her with, that she is worthy of love and attention. She eventually shifts her love-me-I’m-perfect act onto Sho, whom she waits on hand and foot in the belief that he can’t help but love her if she just forms herself into what he wants and puts his needs first.

When she learns Sho has been exploiting her the whole time, it’s the last act in a long, long line of same. Kyoko goes apeshit. She has the ultimate entry for her list of useless things she should never, ever do: love someone else. Revenge, she decides, is a much better goal, and Sho is the best possible target.

Gif of Kyoko in a blonde wig unleashing her grudge-selves on Sho, who wears a white wig.

Except her anger, epic though it is, can’t keep her loving instinct from resurfacing. Kyoko may be a rage-goddess with a slew of grudge-monsters at her disposal, but she still cares deeply about the people around her. Her challenge lies in learning to bestow that love upon others in healthy, productive ways, and to recognize she is worthy of the affection her friends hold for her.

Kyoko resists love because she feels like she’ll lose control if she gives in to it again. She’ll become what others want her to be, rather than who she truly is, and that terrifies her. She never wants to be that person again. What begins as a quest to beat that dickweed Sho in showbiz soon becomes a journey through her most intimate self; a quest to learn how to love, and be loved in return. (It’s the greatest thing she’ll ever learn.) And it’s a long, hard road, given how deeply she’s been hurt.

Her pain blinds her to certain love-related matters, but it doesn’t do squat against her fierceness. If anything, anger makes her sharper and more determined. Kyoko will secure a spot in Tokyo’s top talent agency, even if she’s gotta be a member of the stupid Love Me Section instead of a regular talento. She will become a fabulous, sought-after star. She will have her revenge.

And she will turn her fearsome grudge-powers against you if you cross her. Kyoko is capable of great and loyal love, yeah, but her hatred is every bit as intense.

As is her talent. Kyoko launches herself at showbiz with absolutely no idea what she wants to do beyond "become generally famous." She doesn’t like singing. She’s not sure the variety show circuit is for her. And acting? Nah. She’s not interested.

Not at first, that is. It’s immediately obvious to the reader that Kyoko’s acting is off the charts. She has an uncanny ability to inhabit any role, though it sometimes take her a little while to discover her character’s soul. But even with this fabulous talent at her disposal, Kyoko initially has trouble seeing how good she is because from her perspective, she’s not doing anything extraordinary. (Plus, she often fails to recognize praise for the reasons outlined above.) Likewise, it takes her a long time to realize how much acting has come to mean to her; how it’s given her an outlet to express some of what she’s been through, and to explore new aspects of her personality.

It’s a slow process, and Nakamura limns it beautifully. I want to ugly-cry just thinking about it, because it is perfection.


Black and white gif of Kristen Bell ugly-crying with her right hand over her eyes. The caption reads, 'I'm so excited.'
Forever ugly-crying over my excitement at Kyoko Mogami's limitless perfection.

Acting isn’t Kyoko’s sole focus on her road to love and acceptance, of course. She also develops amazing relationships with the other characters as she gets a better handle on this whole love thing, and the positive ones are always, always, always founded on a glorious amount of mutual support. She helps young Maria come to terms with her family life, and gains an adoptive little sister in return. She believes in Moko, her one-time rival, with furious intensity, and Moko comes to value Kyoko’s friendship in spite of herself. (Not that she’d ever admit it. I’m so here for reluctant-but-true BFFs, y’all.) Taisho, her landlord/former boss, quietly believes in her, and Kyoko works hard to live up to his expectations. She’s determined not to let Lory, her talent agency’s president, down, while Lory in turn nurtures Kyoko’s budding career in a series of twisty-turny ways that don’t make sense at first glance but which always deliver huge benefits. And most of all, she forms a strong, supportive friendship with Ren in which she watches out for his physical and emotional health and helps him in his career to the greatest extent she can, even as he does the same for her in ways both obvious and secretive.

IT WARMS MY HEART SO MUCH. Y’ALL DON’T EVEN KNOW. NOT JUST REN. ALL OF IT. Kyoko is so damaged, and yet she connects with so many people. It's tough for her, but she does it. There's a certain amount of give and take involved, with plenty of mistakes along the way and a slow, glorious, ever-expanding reward.

I don’t think I’ll ever be over the way the Thank-You Everyone Party goes down. Never ever ever.

Similarly, I’ll never be over Kyoko’s relationship with Koo, the Hollywood actor she assists on his trip home to Japan. I AM LEGIT CRYING OVER HERE. Y’ALL STILL DON’T EVEN KNOW.

Even with this strong support system in place, Kyoko is determined to make her own way. Friends, adoptive siblings, and adoptive parental figures are wonderful, but she’s used to doing things for herself and she tries to keep on that path as much as possible. She’ll accept help or advice if she’s asked for it, or if she realizes how sensible unasked-for advice was once she’s calmed down a bit, but don’t you ever try to save her. Kyoko is more than capable of saving herself.

I love her so frickin’ much. She’s earned a spot on my (Highly Exclusive) List of Favourite Literary Characters, and y’all know I’m the pickiest character-lover who ever did live.

I want you to read SKIP BEAT because it’s amazing, and it’s amazing mostly because Kyoko is a glorious, flawed, ever-evolving treasure.

She’s not a perfect person, but she’s a perfect character.

A panel featuring a Japanese man with his hand against his forehead. His face is shaded to indicate embarrassment. His word bubbles read, 'She's terrifying... *mumble* Just like the boss said. She's not afraid, doesn't like to lose, and is full of guts.

Ren, Romance, and Healing

SKIP BEAT! isn’t primarily a romance--it’s about Kyoko learning to give and accept all different kinds of love--but there is a romantic component to it, and a romantic component must of course require one or more love interests.

Which: Ren.

Allow me to relieve any suspense: I am Team Ren, in the I-legitimately-ship-them-no-wishy-washy-business sense. That’s rare for me. I’m an infrequent shipper for the same reason Kyoko is so determined not to fall in love again: it makes me stupid. I accept things I’m normally quite opposed to3, I spend an ungodly amount of time thinking about the couple in question, and I giggle my frickin’ arse off all the frickin’ time because OMG they are so perfect.

I’m giggling right now, and I am properly embarrassed about it.

A gif that cuts between Kyoko and Ren, who are staring at one another. She blushes a bit.

Ren is an actor with much more experience than Kyoko, but he, too, is always striving to up his game and improve his craft. Never mind that he’s one of the most popular celebrities in Japan. That’s no reason to rest on his laurels. He’s in this for the long haul, so he does what he can to further his own career and to support other actors who are similarly serious about the profession.

Like Kyoko, once she figures out acting can be more than just a means of getting revenge.

Don’t you go thinking Ren is just a nice, supportive guy, though. He and Kyoko clash at first (of course they do), and the reader soon learns he has a DARK PAST (of course he does). He’s an out-and-out jerk to her for quite a while after they meet because acting is his lifeline. It’s how he copes with his DARK PAST. He’s beyond upset with Kyoko for entering showbiz for a petty reason like revenge. This doesn’t make how he treats her okay, but as the story unfolds we come to understand where he’s coming from. It’s also a powerful goad to Kyoko, who harnesses her anger at Ren into pure determination.

That’s my girl; refusing to let some dickweed stop her, even as she recognizes that yeah, okay, maybe she could do with a bit more focus on her craft.

Ren and Kyoko’s relationship is further complicated by their shared history. They knew one another for a brief time when they were children and he made a huge impression on her, but she doesn’t recognize him when they meet again because he’s IN DISGUISE on account of how he’s trying to move away from his DARK PAST. He feels he can’t tell her who he used to be because that would mean telling her about what happened after they parted ways. He thinks he knows how she’d look at him if she knew everything he’s done, and he can’t bear to ruin either her memories of his child-self or the friendship they currently share. It’s all terribly tormented (and rather dodgy).

Ren's deception isn't just about his desire to appear a certain way, though. He’s certain his DARK SELF could reemerge if he doesn’t keep a tight lid on his DARK PAST, so he’s terrified he’ll encounter a potential trigger and lose control. He never, ever wants to be that person again, so he walks a fine line between moving away from the past and continually reminding himself of what he’s done so he’ll never lose that deep sense of shame and lapse back into old patterns.

I ever tell y’all I’ve got a total thing for characters who fear they’re incapable of being good? They’re my favourite.

Gif of Ren smiling.
He's only smiling on the outside.

So Ren, he’s in fake-it-till-you-make-it mode. He’s made some bad choices. He’s done some bad shit. He feels terrible about it. He’s got all these systems in place to distance himself from it; all these actorly tricks he uses to hide from everyone, even himself. And in faking it for so long, he’s actually begun to make it. He seems to be a pretty good person these days, albeit one who occasional backslides when he’s stressed and who has little tolerance for anyone who disrespects his coping mechanisms.

But here’s the real kicker: Ren checks himself whenever he strays into dodgy territory. He recognizes he’s behaving badly, he’s properly horrified about how his actions could affect others, and he actively chooses to behave differently. If the situation allows for it, he stops what he’s doing straight out; if he’s too far in, he shifts his approach to something less harsh. It’s a thing of beauty and it makes me love him a lot.

He genuinely cares for and about Kyoko, too, and you’d better believe I love reading about people loving my girl. It’s not so much that he’s in love with her, though--he likes her. He likes her so much.


Plus, he tries not to be in love with her because she’s younger, and she’s still establishing herself in her career, and he doesn’t want to inflict his DARK PAST on her. He recognizes, too, that she’s been hurt very badly and isn’t ready to pursue a romance with anyone. It’s not what she needs and she hasn’t given him a clear indication that it’s something she wants, so he doesn’t press for it lest his love be another burden on her.

He’s so good at concealing his emotions that Kyoko really has no idea he sees her as anything other than a friend and junior colleague. Early on, he confides his feelings for an unnamed high school girl to Bo, the chicken-suited mascot of a hit variety show, completely unaware that it’s Kyoko under the mask--and Kyoko never even considers the possibility that he might be talking about her. This is partly a result of her determination never to love again, coupled with her failure to recognize when people care about her, but it’s also Ren restraining himself. He’s got a willing audience in Bo, but he doesn’t gush about the girl he loves lest he make things awkward for her even in an anonymous forum. Likewise, he holds himself in around the people who recognize exactly how he feels, like Mr Yashiro (his manager, who ships the hell out of Ren and Kyoko) and Lory (who has a supernatural ability to pick up on love-vibes).

Sometimes he’s a bit too good at deception. There’s this amazing sequence where Kyoko has dealt with a stalker (the loathsome Reino the Beagle), and she’s freaking out partly because it was really fucking scary and partly because she thinks Ren will never want to talk to her again since she didn’t immediately tell him everything she was going through. Meanwhile, Ren’s freaking out his own self because he thinks Kyoko will never open up to him again because he didn’t immediately pick up on everything that was wrong, and because he recognizes he pushed her too hard to accept his help when she was dealing with Reino on her own. It’s a serious situation, but Nakamura finds both the humour and the romantic tension alongside the terror.

This sort of she-thought-he-thought thing happens a few times throughout the series, and it never fails to make me freak the fuck out over the perfection of it all. Both Kyoko and Ren feel this strong desire to connect, but they also feel they have to hide pretty major parts of themselves so they won’t disappoint each other. Nakamura does a fabulous job of showing her characters’ inner live versus the faces they let the other see.

Gif of JD from Scrubs. His face twitches slightly as the caption reads [screams internally]

There’re the things the characters actively conceal from the world; the things they internalize on an unconscious level; the roles they inhabit as actors; the public faces they adopt in their capacity as celebrities. It’s all acting, professional or otherwise, and so much of it ties into the healing both characters go through. Their various deceptions, combined with their on- and off-screen roles, allow them to explore and work through issues that cause them terrible pain. It’s not an entirely safe space for either of them, but it ultimately helps a great deal.

It’s also the sort of thing that could easily drift into dodgy territory, particularly where Ren’s multiple selves are concerned. I feel like Nakamura always pulls back before she crosses a line, but your mileage may vary on that score.

I feel it’s important to note, too, that Ren’s dodgy stuff isn’t malicious, as Sho’s or Reino’s is. It’s often an attempt to cope with what he feels about his past; and as I said above, he checks himself when he recognizes he’s about to go too far.

All the love for characters who aren't perfect but work hard to be better.

I desperately want Kyoko and Ren to communicate openly, but it makes sense they struggle to do so. They both have concrete reasons for holding back, some cultural and some personal. The story gives them the space they need to work through their issues, together and separately, with evidence of growth on both sides. It’s a realistically slow process, and Nakamura lets it unfold organically instead of rushing the payoff.


As you may have gathered, SKIP BEAT! takes its sweet time. The pacing is far slower than anything I’ve encountered before, with its presumed ending way, way in the future. As I write this, enough individual chapters to fill thirty-seven two-hundred-page volumes have been released in Japanese. Thirty-four volumes are available in English. And while the series has completed a fair few arcs and reached a handful of turning points, I’m not sure the end is in sight yet.

Hell, I hope the end isn’t in sight yet, because I’d be happy to spend another decade with these characters. I’m hella excited at the prospect and I'm scared to look for confirmation that it ain't so.

I mean, I’m thirty-four volumes in, and I love SKIP BEAT! even more than I did in the early days. That’s saying something.

A gif of Chuck from Pushing Daisies. She lounge in a chair, reading, as books pile up around her at an accelerated speed.
Bring on the ginormous piles of SKIP BEAT!

Nakamura explores Kyoko’s story from every angle and at great length. She occasionally breaks off to spend a chapter or so with characters like Moko, Kyoko’s reluctant BFF, or Lory, both of whom have a definite impact on Kyoko’s life but who are living their own stories parallel to the protagonist’s. She pokes into side stories alongside each main arc, and she isn’t afraid to spend time exploring cute little details like Mr Yashiro’s love of dogs, or the things the Bridge Rock guys (Kyoko's coworkers at the variety show) talk about amongst themselves.

In some creators’ hands this would be a recipe for a bloated epic packed with extraneous detail, but nothing about SKIP BEAT ever feels less than necessary because it’s all so interesting. Each chapter peals back another layer of this universe. It pushes Kyoko forward and expands the reader’s understanding not just of Kyoko herself but also of the many people she encounters along her road to stardom.

The slower pace also makes the reader really, really want the answers to certain questions. What’s the deal with Kyoko’s mother? How did Moko get so hard? What lies in Ren’s DARK PAST? Is Sho even capable of being a decent person? (Spoiler: not so far.) And, most importantly, WHAT DID KYOKO GET REN FOR HIS BIRTHDAY4?????

It's tantalizing, but it’s also realistic. It takes time to make your mark in any creative business. Kyoko enjoys some success with her career, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Neither does she fall straight into these relationships to come to mean so much to her. She works hard to build something with the people who matter to her, and to establish connections based on more than fleeting fondness. Consequently, these relationships carry great weight throughout the story. The reader can be assured they’ll have an enduring presence in Kyoko’s life, even if Nakamura steps away from them for a couple of volumes.

Kyoko’s career and relationships aren’t the only things that require time. She’s been hurt, and that makes it difficult for her to consider opening up again, even though she has the capacity for so much love. She makes great strides, but she makes them at a survivor’s pace and with a survivor’s defenses raised against future pain. She never wants to love again because she expects love not only to hurt her put also to turn her back into the person she used to be. That sort of trauma doesn’t disappear in the space of a few short months. It takes a lot of time to work through. While Kyoko is well on her way, she’s got a long road yet to travel.

Art, Structure, and Genre

Nakamura imbues her art with a glorious sense of movement; another element that helps the pacing feel organic rather than laboured. Each panel skillfully directs the reader from one moment to the next, allowing us to take in the full range of each emotion the characters experience, often from multiple perspectives within the space of a handful of pages. She privileges reactions over settings, so her panels are uncluttered and character-focused--unless clutter is decidedly in-character, as when Lory arrives on the scene, or when the setting tells us something important about how these people relate to one another.

Nakamura is especially good at showing the turmoil that rages within each character’s soul as they contemplate a difficult issue, followed by the calm that sets upon them when they finally understand what they must do; or, on select occasions, when they recognize someone else has understood what they're going through. These characters belong to an industry that demands they feel things deeply, but it’s not always easy for them to process everything they’re called upon to do, either on set or in their everyday lives. Nakamura renders this process organically, in such a way that the reader lives it alongside the characters.

A page of SKIP BEAT in which Kyoko, in-character as a rocker chick, processes an emotion and begins to roll with it over the course of eight panels.
An example, presented in miniature because I'm not sure of its provenance
but I really want to show you what I'm on about.

Her captioning is as multi-layered as the story it tells. It’s not unusual for her to show us the character’s dialogue, their surface thoughts (expressed through thought bubbles), their most private thoughts (expressed through unbordered captions), and their first person narration all at once, layered together in such a way that the streams blend with one another and with the art to tell a multitude of separate yet intertwined stories. On occasion, this process happens with two characters at the same time, each person's response complementing or contrasting with the other. This isn’t a technique I’ve often seen in western comics5, and it’s one I approve of very much.

It can be a bit confusing at first, but if you’re entirely lost it’s possible to focus on one stream of captions for a couple of pages before you flip back and read another. Once you’ve read each stream straight through on its own, try rereading the pages in question as they’re laid out. It’s a master class in layered scripts.

And because the more layers we get on the page the better, SKIP BEAT frequently cuts back and forth in time to build tension. Nakamura often ends one chapter moments before an important confrontation, only to start the next several hours later in the timeline. She gives us the answers we want via a series of flashbacks to the most important defining moments of each encounter, spread across the next thirty pages. It adds yet another level of complexity to both the story and the characterization. And damn, is it ever tense.

I’m getting all giggly just thinking of how awesome it all is.

Let’s shift the focus to genre, now. At first glance, I took SKIP BEAT to be general fiction since it’s set in contemporary Japan (albeit a version of contemporary Japan with its own discrete set of celebrities) and deals with fairly grounded issues. It features things like auras and grudge-selves, yeah, but I assumed they were metaphorical; a visual representation of what was going on inside Kyoko's mind, rather than something that existed in the physical world. It wasn’t until psychic Reino arrived on the scene that I realized a fair number these things are literal. Not every screwball thing that happens on the page is literal, true, and not everyone in Kyoko’s world can see the things that are, but auras and grudge-selves and the like still affect even those characters who aren’t consciously aware of them.

There are no monsters in SKIP BEAT, and faeries and angels only appear on TV (though Kyoko still believes in them as ardently as she accepts Reino’s powers or the reality of her grudge-selves). And yet, psychics exist. Auras are palpable. One character kills technology whenever he touches it bare-handed. Another is quite literally at war with himself. It’s magical realism through and through, though the fantastical elements often fade into the background for a volume or two.

I'm not sure if this is standard practice with real-world manga (I've mostly read unambiguous SFF to date), but I hope so because I love it.

I hasten to add, though, that it’s not the sort of magical realism that alienates the general reader. (At least, I don’t think it is. I ain’t a strictly general reader, so the hell do I really know about it?) If you’re down on fantasy, fear not! You’ll find plenty to love about SKIP BEAT, grudge-selves and all.

I myself love it to the ends of the earth and could probably gush about it for another six thousand words--but yeah. Y’all haven’t done anything to deserve that, so I’ll shut up now.

Kyoko is amazing. Her story is amazing. Y’all need to read SKIP BEAT! good and soon, then come find me so we can bounce around together as we squee about the wonder and glory that is Kyoko Mogami.


While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned, especially with a super-duper long series like this one. If you're in search of another way to read SKIP BEAT!, you can try:

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through Kobo, The Book Depository, or Amazon.

You can also watch the anime legally and for free on Crunchyroll. I'm working my way through it right now and can confirm it's as fabulous as the manga from which it springs.

  1. Most of the comics I read through Marvel Unlimited are by men, so I try to balance that out by choosing a female-authored or -drawn title or two whenever I visit the library. I make most of these picks at random, rather than by rec, and I gravitate towards series so I'll have more to read if I love Volume One.
  2. I read the Viz Media edition. It puts everyone’s names in the Western order and utilizes western transliterated spellings, so that’s how I’ll refer to them throughout this review.
  3. Well, sometimes I do. I basically have two ship categories: This-is-healthy (in which the characters are friends who usually have each others’ best interests at heart and do lots and lots and lots of mutual supporting) and This-is-interesting (in which the characters may not be the best for each other, but damn do I ever want to watch ‘em make out).

    I think I have more This-is-healthy ships, but let’s be honest: I’m scared to run the numbers on account of the giggly thing, and also the potential dodginess.

  4. I looked it up because word on the street says the side story in which that question (other fans’ emphasis; this is something everyone and their dog wants to know) is answered isn’t slated for collection in the near future. Spoiler: she gives him a sheep-shaped pillow, which delights me because Murchie has a sheep-shaped pillow he uses as a dog bed. Y’all can see it almost every week on Murchie Plus Books.
  5. It's not completely unknown--plenty of western comics creators use dialogue, thought bubbles, and captions all at once--but I can't point you towards anyone who does it it quite like Nakamura. Perhaps the closest thing I’ve encountered is Daniel Way’s run on DEADPOOL, in which the protagonist often addresses other characters, the reader, and one or more aspects of his own personality all at the same time. Even that, though, doesn’t quite match what Nakamura does here. It’s layered, yeah, and it’s a great way to kill the fourth wall, but the layers don't pull the reader to the same level as Nakamura's do, if that makes any sense.


  1. Hi, I commented on a Murchie post a little while ago about Skip*Beat! Good to see the full review so quickly. And it's just as long as promised. Hooray!

    I hadn't noticed how the multiple captions reflect different layers of Kyoko's persona--I had too much difficulty parsing them for their deeper meanings to shine through--so thanks for that. It will certainly help on rereads. (which will happen!)

    The magical realism parts didn't stick out for me, but that could well be because I've read a bunch of shojo manga. I remember loaning my brother a shojo manga which was much more overtly magical, and he wasn't able to make it through the first chapter. That was an eye-opener, that its visual language was incomprehensible, even off-putting, to someone else.

    I am now on v. 29 and have just started reading the "thank you party" arc. Sounds like it'll be great. :)

    btw: the S*B page in your post is from--speaking euphemistically--a grey site. There are two visible "watermarks" on the scan.

    1. I was tempted to make it longer, but I figured this was more than long enough. :) Maybe I'll do a Part II once a few more volumes are out in English!

      Or once I reread the series. As you pointed out, it's so rereadable. I want to start collecting it in digital form as Viz offers sales, since it absolutely belongs in my permanent collection.

      You've probably already finished volume 29 (I've fallen so behind on comments; eek!), but if not, you're in for some great reading! I basically lost all hope of maintaining my objectivity with the series 'round about that point. Logically, I recognize it must have flaws and all that, but I'm so in love with it all that I can barely see them.

      So far as the sample page goes, I figured a fan translation was better than nothing since I'd already returned the books to the library, but I'll see if the relevant volume is still on the shelf next time I'm there so I can take a picture and replace the grey image with that.

  2. So to be clear you're -- you were just so-so on Skip Beat? Could've been done better you think?

    Characters who fear they're incapable of doing good are also my favorite. My even favoriter subcategory is changelings who because they are changelings fear that they are incapable of doing good.

    1. I mean, it's okay if you like awesome stories about awesome women who do awesome things while surrounded by awesome people, but who's even into that type of thing?

      Ooh, yes, changelings! I always sort of forget changelings exist, which is awful of me because changelings are pretty durned great.

  3. Hi, just wanted to thank you for the wonderful read. Very glad that you're another person utterly charmed by how wonderful RenxKyoko and Skip Beat can be (: This manga is one of the best things I ever read growing up, and to read your review was an excellent opportunity for me to reflect on the depth of KyoRen's relationship. I've been privileged to have read up to the very latest volumes where Kyoko's mother makes her appearance, and in a short story we find out what present Kyoko gave Ren (I believe you will fall over in glee at the sweetness of that short story) (: like I did! The feels for this story is incredible. Thanks again for this lovely article and may your day go well! (:

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment! Maybe the nicest thing about discovering SKIP BEAT has been finding others who love it, too. I'm surprised at how many of my friends are fans who somehow never mentioned it, and I've met quite a few new people through my sustained gushing. :)

      I'm so excited to get to the part with Kyoko's mother. And I found a picture of the present because I was too curious to wait, and it did indeed make me fall over in glee!

  4. Hi, just wondering, how did you read the latest volumes, that haven't been released in English yet? I just caught up with what's been rreleased (vol 35) and I'm so desperate to read more but I don't know how! I'm scared to read it online because idk if the translations are correct! And it looks like the volumes take FOREVER to come out? Is there a way to read each chapter as its released in English instead of waiting for the volume? Idk what to do!! Totally agree with you on everything btw.:)

    1. I haven't read past vol 35 either. :( I keep hoping and hoping they'll start simulpubbing SKIP BEAT! in Japanese and English, like they do with other popular manga, but no luck so far. Our best option is probably to learn Japanese! It looks hard, but I figure it'd be worth it. :)