Skip Beat Complete Series (Cert 12)
4 Discs DVD / 3 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 612 minutes approx.
For male anime fans, chances are the words “shoujo anime” will conjure up images of sharply drawn pretty boys, giddy female protagonists and simpering plotlines about unrequited love, that will have them reaching for a violent action series or an explicitly lurid ecchi show to help reassert their masculinity.
But, not all shoujo anime necessarily follows this path and is capable of boasting enough crossover appeal that even the most staunchly ingrained Mecha fan can enjoy them without fear of losing any testosterone from viewing them. Skip Beat is such a show.
Kyoko Mogami is a 16 year-old girl from Kyoto who moved to Tokyo with her childhood friend and major crush, Shotaro Fuwa, to support him in his bid to become a pop idol. Kyoko does literally everything for Sho from cooking and cleaning to working three jobs to pay the rent whilst he works his way up the showbiz ladder to national prominence.
Yet, despite her loyalty and hard work, Sho doesn’t reciprocate Kyoko’s affection or her devotion to him. One day, Kyoko overhears Sho bragging to his manager that Kyoko is nothing more than a maid to him and, after getting over the initial shock of this betrayal, Kyoko vows to hit Sho where it hurts the most – his ego – by deciding to enter showbiz and become a bigger star than Sho.
It can’t be denied that it is a novel premise for a “woman scorned” drama and it certainly offers an accessible hook for the more cynical fan than the standard shoujo fare. Originally a manga by Yoshiki Nakamura, there is a strong feminist bent to Skip Beat to make it feel relevant despite this adaptation being a decade old, although given the cause for Kyoko’s vengeance, it won’t always be passing the Bechdel Test any time soon.
Another area where Skip Beat will win over naysayers in the fact it is more comedy that romantic drama, and a very funny one at that – with a ratio of probably 85% to 15% in favour of the humour. Much of it derives from the overreactions of the characters – mostly Kyoko – all of whom drift off model to appear in chibi/deformed mode for comic effect, while Kyoko’s infectious personality is practically a magnet for zaniness.
This is a saga which, across 25 manic episodes, charts the personal and professional growth of our aggrieved teenage protagonist and those she comes in contact with, and uses this time to cover the peaks and troughs of a bid for stardom. It is refreshing to see Kyoko’s career trajectory doesn’t immediately head in an upwards direction as per the norm in such narratives, instead opting for an exponential rise to fame where lessons are learned and steely resolves are built on solid foundations.
Kyoko doesn’t actually have much of a clue what career path she wants to take let alone how to get onto the books with a talent agency, choosing LME because it is home to the man Sho is direct competition with, Ren Tsuruga. It is only through sheer persistence (read: harassment) that LME manager Suwara agrees to let Kyoko attend an audition that she gets her first opportunity.
First there is a required image change – Kyoko’s long, dowdy black locks and plain wardrobe are supplanted with short blonde hair and more fashionable attire but she needs a talent. Singing is out, she can’t dance and doesn’t think much of acting but it is the latter she is pushed into regardless. Ultimately it proves to be the right direction for Kyoko but the journey to earning her stripes in it is a long and eventful.
Given there are two hunks in Kyoko’s life – Sho and Ren – both unwittingly realising a little too late that Kyoko is something special to them, the romantic aspect, which usually writes itself, is remarkably downplayed to the point of non-existence. In fact, at the risk of spoiling things, I don’t recall a single kiss or even an awkward near miss occurring anywhere in this series.
Don’t take this to mean shared affection and unrecognised lovesickness isn’t a regular occurrence because it is, but it is weaved into the plot in far more subtle and clever way to separate this title from other shoujo shows with a similar premise. Love is very much a prominent theme here but it is explored more as a concept and a state of mind than a reason to snare the investment of romance fans.
Kyoko is surrounded by a cast of equally determined and flawed characters in and out of the entertainment circuit, including haughty actress Kanae Kotonami, an enemy for the first half of the show’s run until a mutual respect is formed; Lory Takarada, LME’s president, who is either an Arab or just plain eccentric and his granddaughter Maria, another petulant child straightened out by Kyoko’s innate people skills.
Whilst there is little in the way of revealing insight on the behind the scenes of a talent agency and the business called “show”, the curtain is peeled back enough to facilitate the sort of hoops the like of Kyoko have to jump through to earn their spots. The audition process takes on various demanding forms and can be brutal, while it is made clear that even a small demeaning gig is a step in the right direction.
The animation and artwork is completely beholden to the shoujo genre, so no surprises with the colourful aesthetic, flowery presentation and sharply drawn features of the cast, but at least it’s easy on the eye. However, these conventions are regularly broken up by the overt comic diversions that never grow tired even after 25 episodes, although taking a break between discs is advised all the same.
A well-crafted and tremendously fun show, Skip Beat’s greatest achievement, in my view, is its barrier breaking appeal in offering something for anime fans of both genders inclusively. Don’t miss this one!
English Language 2.0
English Language 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
English Language 2.0 w/ Sign & Song Subtitles
Japanese Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
N.B – If you use the Marathon Play function – where the credits are removed between episodes – there is a tiny glitch on all fur DVD discs where it reverts back to the main menu after the first episode. You’ll need to restart from the second episode and it will play continuously from there.
Disc 2 (DVD):
Interviews with Caitlin Glass, Robbie Daymond & Cristina Vee
Behind The Scenes Video
Behind The Beat Video
Disc 4 (DVD):
Interviews with Mela Lee, Taliesin Jaffe & Christian La Monte
Clean Opening Animations
Clean Ending Animations
Rating – ****
Man In Black