There are many ways to describe me but ‘up-to-date’ is rarely one of them. A large chunk of what I consume comes from end year ‘Best Of’ lists and the generally accepted classics. This is especially true when it comes to anime, rather than watching the latest and greatest I stay a couple of seasons behind and idle away the time watching old favourites. So instead of talking about anything relevant let’s talk about one of my old creature comforts. Let’s talk about Skip Beat!
So, let’s begin with the basics. Skip Beat! is a shoujo romantic comedy that began a 25 episode run back in the 2008 Fall season. For those of you might be curious that put it slap up against Toradora!, making Fall 2008 a good season for both shoujo and exclamation marks. There are however a few differences between Skip Beat! and Toradora!, the most obvious of which is that Skip Beat! is not set in high school. Yes, you heard me, an anime not set in high school. Oh, sure enough, our protagonist, the inimitable Kyoko Mogami, is high school age and quite literally idolises the ubiquitous setting but she doesn’t attend. At the start of the series she’s a fresh dropout, living alone in the big city.
Well, alone-ish. Skip Beat! is something special when it comes to the basic premise. Kyoko drops out of education at 16 and goes straight into working two jobs for an apartment she can’t afford whilst supporting her childhood friend and singular love interest Shotaro Fuwa as he tries to make it as a pop star. The problem is Shotaro, or ‘Sho’ to his fans, is an unrepentant git who sees Kyoko as little more than a maid, still living off her kindness long after he becomes an instant smash hit.
Naturally, with that set-up the story should be incredibly predictable, Kyoko finds out, they break up, Shotaro learns the error of his ways and love wins out in the end. So standard, so boring. But that’s not Skip Beat!, rather than being a story of love tested, lost and restored Skip Beat! is a revenge fantasy. After Shotaro laughs in Kyoko’s face and nearly receives a standard-issue anime WcDonalds to the face at way above the recommended velocity, Kyoko swears vengeance and hatches a master plan:
Step 1: Get a job in showbiz
Step 2: Get more famous than Shotaro
Step 3: Rub it in
Step 4: Rub it in more
Step 5: Repeat steps 3 & 4 forever
Truly, a plan so dastardly and foolproof only the 16-year-old mind could concoct it. The problem is Kyoko has no idea where to even start. Fortunately, her new life without Shotaro affords her some interesting boons, a make-over, a new wardrobe and an army of grudge demons ready and willing to wreak any kind of havoc if it furthers the destruction of the odious pretty-boy. Armed with her new powers, unyielding tenacity and the name of the biggest talent agency in Japan, Kyoko proceeds to fail her way onto the books at LME as the solo member of the newly formed Love Me! Division. The uniform of the Love Me! division can charitably be described as lurid
What is the ‘Love Me!’? division I hear you ask. Other than yet another mid-sentence exclamation mark exciting my grammar checker? The Love Me! division is the brainchild of the LME agency’s president Lory Takarada and was created especially for Kyoko after he took an interest in her latent talent despite her lacking emotional range. The deal is that Kyoko must learn to love and be loved again, after Shotaro’s betrayal twisted her brain up like the gordian knot, before the agency will take her on proper. To do so she must don a pink jumpsuit and collect stamps by helping out whoever might ask. Thus the stage is set.
Allow me a brief aside on Lory Takarada. The president of LME is an eccentric, by which I of course mean he’s stark raving mad. He makes his entrance during Kyoko’s audition with a literal carnival parade. The president is hardly alone, however, Skip Beat! is unashamedly melodramatic, especially with Kyoko. The series frequently uses deformed characters and is quite happy to suspend reality for a quick joke, Kyoko’s horde of grudge demons being the perfect example.
I’ve been waxing lyrical this long and I haven’t even mentioned the male lead. Enter Ren Tsuruga, the most eligible man in Japan. Ren is both one of the most attractive men showbiz and one of, if not the, most talented actors alive. Kyoko makes the mistake early on of confessing to Ren that acting is just a means to an end, Shotaro’s end specifically. This irritates Ren somewhat. The thing is Ren is well known as the nicest man in Showbiz and even when being mean can’t help but come across as a gentleman, in fact, the more annoyed he is with Kyoko the more of a gentleman he becomes. Bounce that off Kyoko’s hyperactivity and melodramatic personality and what evolves is one of my all time favourite comedic dynamics.
What I truly adore about Skip Beat! though is how it portrays acting. Especially from the perspectives of Kyoko and Ren the craft of getting into and acting out a character becomes almost supernatural, not all that dissimilar from a medium being possessed by a spirit. Now I’ll admit that this last point is perhaps a touch more personal than the others but, setting that bias aside, acting is portrayed in Skip Beat! with a love for the subject normally seen only in sports anime. I can’t say I have ever felt the slightest inkling to care about volleyball and yet Haikyuu still makes me cheer for every massive spike and wince at solid blocks. Skip Beat! does that with something I already care about.
And then it ends, right in the middle of an arc. No ceremony, no resolution just a generic ‘life goes on, read the manga’ ending. Can’t say that one didn’t hurt. A friend of mine once said of a certain Joss Whedon sci-fi western “I can’t really recommend it. It’s thirteen episodes of pure joy and then a lifetime of emptiness.” I feel the same about Skip Beat! This is hardly unheard of in anime, it comes with the territory of adapting unfinished works. I will say however that if I were to write a list of anime that need a second season or full reboot now that more material’s out, Skip Beat! would easily top it.
If you’re not yet convinced that Skip Beat! is one of the greats then let me tell you this: because of Skip Beat! I want to anonymously dispense life advice to a friend whilst wearing a giant rubber chicken suit. In a chef’s hat. Don’t think I can give a higher recommendation than that.