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Referent To Your Heart

It is common for a mangaka (manga author) to get intricately involved in the subject matter of their comic.  However, what if the comic is about the performing arts themselves?  After all, the very goal of acting is to weave a compelling illusion for the benefit of its viewers, the same as a manga.  The effect should be magnifying.

So goes my theory as to why Skip Beat! is as fantastic as it is.  It is one of the more foremost shojo mangas in existence, still ongoing from its 2002 origins to today with rave reviews and an international readership.
From left to right, Ren, Kyoto, and Shō.

Of course, I am here to talk mostly of the anime.  It aired in 2008 and relatively faithfully reproduces the happenstances in the manga from chapters 1 to 66.  (So faithfully that I find myself backsliding to talking about the manga by accident.)  Weighing in at 25 episodes, the anime was produced by Hal Film Maker.  Currently, Skip Beat! can be seen on Crunchyroll.

The story is centered on 16-year-old Kyoko Mogami, our leading lady and protagonist.  Entertainingly, she is rather prone to mood swings and adorable hysterics.  As the story begins, she has dropped out of high school and is working several jobs in order to support the decadent lifestyle of her childhood friend, 16-year-old Shō Fuwa. Shō is an up and coming music star pretty boy whose talent is as overwhelming as his egotism.  While Shō broke into the music industry, Kyoko was mostly breaking her butt keeping him afloat whilst worshiping him from afar.

Tired of barely ever seeing him, Kyoko sneaks into Shō's recording office and overhears him bragging to his manager about "some girl he cares nothing about" slaving to support his wonderful resplendence but, now that he has made it big, he does not need her anymore.  Kyoko's love instantly turns to a burning desire for revenge!  She calls Shō out for his behavior and declares her vendetta, to which he mocks her, "If you want to beat me, you will have to enter showbiz, otherwise you are too far beneath me to matter!"  His words echo in her head as she is dragged away by security.
Hell hath no fury.
Thus, the inauspicious start of a new star.  Kyoto slashes her expenses and quits most of her jobs, spending her remaining savings on a major makeover.  Then she beats down the door of a major talent agency that opposes Shō's. It is here where she first meets 20-year-old Ren Tsuruga, the swave number one male actor who is quite kind but extremely professional.  When he hears Kyoto's motivation to become a star, he is deeply offended, and treats her coldly.  Thus, he ends up on number two of Kyoto's revenge list, somebody she wishes to overtake!

After being tossed out of the agency, Kyoto stalks and torments the head of the talent agency's talent section until he finally relents and allows her to at least participate in a talent audition.  There, Kyoto actually reveals she has an incredible amount of guts, one of the major things an aspiring starlet needs.  However, in the second round, she reveals a major shortcoming, and is again rejected by the talent agency.

Unknown to Kyoto, the president of the talent agency was entranced by something about her, sensing unique characteristics that may make her an incredible talent.  He makes a special arrangement that, should she return, she would by taken into a brand new department centered on returning to her the one thing she lacks the most: the desire to be loved.  After a few days away, she does indeed decide to try again, and is shocked to be immediately inducted as the first member in the new "Love Me!" department, complete with gaudy jumpsuit and point-earning system.

And so the story goes; like a good soap opera, it just goes on and on with increasing depth and significance for the characters.

Of course, the whole setup here is to eventually create a love triangle.  Kyoto eventually makes big enough of a splash that Shō notices her and realizes he made a great mistake in rejecting this remarkable individual, especially considering they are childhood friends.  Ren is surprised to discover that he is enchanted by Kyoto's incredible moxie on and off the stage, despite her particularities, but he does not feel he deserves to be loved, and their age difference bothers him.  Who is Kyoto going to end up with?  Hopefully Ren, because he certainly deserves her more.  However, if you like a bad boy, Shō is all about that.  Best not be hoping for a quick resolution for this, though, as this tug of war for Kyoto's affections has been going on for over 30 volumes now.

I think perhaps the strongest strength of the series is that the stories progress smoothly from chapter to chapter.  More often than not, the end of the chapter of one story is a cliffhanger that leads into the beginning of the next.  This is just one of the hallmarks of the excellent authorship that includes strong characters, powerful situations of drama (and a decent smattering of comedy), and a wonderful sense of pacing that hardly ever feels rushed (quite leisurely compared to most works).

In the end, I had to give the Skip Beat! anime an "Excellent" (10/11) rating, coinciding with what appears to be the majority sentiment about it.  It did not quite reach "Masterpiece" level on the grounds that it is slightly too centered on reality to produce the fantastic imagery I expect from more imaginative works and, more importantly, that the series ended too soon, on a cliffhanger.  It is definitely a shame it did not get a second season, although there was a 15-episode live action show made in 2012.

Fortunately, if you want to know how the story continues at the end of the anime, you can just jump right into the manga in chapter 67 and go from there.  There are over 200 chapters of Skip Beat! so you will definitely not be wanting for plot... at least, until you get to the end, because the manga is not finished yet!


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