Lessons in Character Development from “Skip Beat”
My latest anime/manga obsession is Yoshiki Nakamura‘s Skip Beat!. To justify my week-long marathon-pursuit of a happy ending through twenty-five episodes and over 200 manga chapters (and counting), I have decided that the best takeaway from Nakamura’s masterful story-telling is a profound lesson in character development: you are the product of your own experiences and decisions.
Skip Beat! is a coming-of-age and romantic comedy about a young girl named Kyoko Mogami who left her hometown in Kyoto and went with her childhood friend, Sho Fuwa, to Tokyo to support his dream of becoming an idol. After a cruel betrayal by Sho, she decided to enter show business herself – through the agency where Sho’s rival, Ren Tsugara, works – in order to get revenge. In the process, she discovers her passion, meets new people and gets into all sorts of interesting scenarios.
While the anime/manga is categorized as shojo (for younger female audiences) and I have recently been rudely reminded by a cafe owner that I am a full “grown-up” (so it’s no wonder I have no taste for super sugary drinks), there are definitely enough elements in Nakamura’s story-telling that can appeal to a more “mature” crowd as well. The characters are complex and well-developed.
I think many women of Asian heritage can appreciate how Kyoko comes from a conservative and humble background grounded in traditional Japanese etiquette and manners, but is at the same time very strong-willed and independent. Through perseverance, diligence and resourcefulness, she succeeds in charming her audiences (both real and fictional) by (re)inventing herself again and again while never losing sight of her true self even as she is still learning about what that is. Kyoko’s ability to improvise and imagine herself reminds me of the quote “all the world’s a stage” from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. I wonder if it might not inspire others as well to reconsider the degree to which one’s attitude/personality/fantasies can impact the “real” world.
On that note, while I’ll admit that I have now joined countless others in nerve-wrenching anticipation of the main romantic situation’s climax, I am also very much looking forward to seeing how Kyoko will resolve her relationship with her estranged mother. So far in the story, (*spolier alert) Kyoko’s mother (Saena Mogami) is portrayed as a strict, no-nonsense woman who abandoned her child. While it has been recently revealed that Kyoko’s mother had been sending money to Sho’s parents to help cover Kyoko’s living expenses and following Kyoko’s career efforts, I am not sure how that will compensate for the emotional abuse/neglect that she had subjected her daughter to. It’s one thing if Saena were to say sorry (“I don’t see any reason to stay mad at you, especially when you apologized so sincerely.” – Ren Tsugara, Act 23). But to be honest, I sort of hope that that won’t happen because it would be a more interesting to see how Kyoko would come to terms with her relationship with her mother in spite of the pain she has suffered. It’s one thing to forgive someone based on peace found by oneself and use the experience to build one’s own character, but it’s another to try and resume a relationship with that person if he/she is not willing to meet you halfway. It would almost be like Kyoko getting back together with Sho just because she comes to understand his selfishness. (/end spoiler*)
Other characters – both of the story itself as well as “portrayed” characters – are also explored. Without giving away too much more, I will just say that Skip Beat! has inspired me to have new respect for acting as a profession.
On a side note, this is the first time that I have really gotten into a manga. Although I have been an anime fan since I was a kid, I had never really been interested in comics. I tried a couple of issues of Archie and Spiderman but got bored of the flat format. But amazingly as I blew through the many volumes of Skip Beat!, I even forgot that the scenes were often colourless and static. Since I have not read many other mangas, I am not sure if it’s normal but I now also have a new respect for manga as a medium for story-telling. Nakamura so effectively conveys actions, expressions, moods and scenery through every collection of frames that I find myself glad that I can flip back to certain pages just to savour their impact. Now I’m curious enough to check out the manga of other anime series that I’ve enjoyed in the past.
In sum, if you are looking for a story to inspire fresh perspective and reinvigorate your own identity, I highly recommend Skip Beat!. I’m definitely a fan! Keep up the great work, Ms. Nakamura!