Sunday, June 21, 2009

Skip Beat! (anime TV series) on Crunchyroll.com

I've heard somewhat conflicting things about Crunchyroll's legality, so I debated a bit about including a post about a show I watched on it - as far as I know, if Crunchyroll isn't legal, there's no legal way for someone in the US to watch Skip Beat!, beyond buying a Japanese copy online. I do hope that Skip Beat! does get licensed in the US. Aside from the ending, which caused me to scream in frustrated rage, I really enjoyed this show.

Summary:

Kyoko has devoted her entire life to making Sho, her childhood friend and currently her boyfriend, happy. When he decided to leave his family's inn behind and follow his dream of becoming someone famous, Kyoko dropped everything when he asked her to and went with him to Tokyo. She worked two jobs to pay for her and Sho's large and expensive apartment, despite the fact that Sho was rarely there. Even when he did come home, the longer they were in Tokyo the snappier he got with her. As far as Sho is concerned, Ren is his biggest rival in show business, so Kyoko hates Ren because Sho does.

One day, Kyoko finds out that Sho only sees her as his maid, someone to support him, feed him, pay his rent, and do all his housework. Now that he's making good money on his own, he plans to dump her. Kyoko, enraged, tells him that she will find some way of getting revenge upon him. Sho only laughs at her, saying that the only way she could possibly do that is by going into show business herself.

These new revelations about Sho bring forth a side of Kyoko that she never realized existed. All her life, she's worked, and failed, to please others - her mother, and then Sho. Now she wants no one's love, only revenge. With that in mind, she goes to a talent agency as big as Sho's, which just happens to be Ren's agency. Through sheer guts and determination, she manages to get an audition. She fails it because of her lack of desire for others' love, something that the head of the agency believes is vital for a star. However, he's intrigued enough by her to give her a second chance, and she ends up in a special section called "Love Me" - she must cheerfully do whatever others ask of her, earning points when she does something well and with the goal of pleasing others, and losing points when she does something badly or for selfish reasons. It's not easy - Kyoko must fight the demons within herself that Sho brought out in her, and she must deal with Ren, who seems to hate her for wanting to get into show business for revenge. However, Kyoko gradually discovers a genuine desire to be an actress, and, as Ren recognizes this genuine desire, he begins to thaw towards her.

Commentary:

I didn't really like this show at first. I couldn't stand how much Kyoko's life revolved around that jerk, Sho. First, she's his doormat, cheerfully giving up on all the things she wants (like going to high school) to help him do what he wants. As much as I hate Sho for using her, she made it easy for him to do so. Second, she let Sho rule her life again after she left him, by the shear strength of her desire to take revenge upon him. She's not waiting on him hand and foot anymore, but, by making her every action a step towards taking him down, she's just as tied to him after she's left him as she was when she was with him. She can be such an awesome girl at times, so it's kind of tough to watch. In those early episodes, one of the things that gave me hope for Kyoko was a bit in the opening credits - Kyoko, dressed like a princess, running past Sho without even looking at him. That bit indicated to me that, at some point, Kyoko would grow out of Sho, get over him, and surpass him without even thinking about it. I couldn't help but cheer her on.

I started warming up to the show at the same time Ren started warming up to Kyoko a little. During episode 7, Kyoko, in an attempt to show up a horribly spoiled actress, acts out a tea ceremony scene with Ren despite being in horrible pain. She's so dedicated to what she's doing that she prompts Ren to act at his full ability, until he notices that the only thing keeping her from passing out is her willpower. Even after filming is stopped, Kyoko still doesn't quit, not until the "customer" is gone (her mother trained her to serve customers with a smile, no matter what, in preparation for her eventually marrying Sho and helping him run his family's inn - Kyoko uses this training to get through the shoot). Once Ren realizes this, he leaves the set and she passes out. At this point, Ren admires her for her dedication to her work, even though he still hates what motivates her. At this point, I decided Kyoko was awesome.

Kyoko actually reminds me a bit of some shonen anime/manga heroes. Shonen anime and manga are full of heroes who don't always seem particularly bright, but these guys continually surprise people. At just the right time, they pull off some kind of amazing strategy, or they demonstrate keen perception, or something else you wouldn't expect from them. Even if only for just that brief time, those characters are cool. Kyoko can be like that. Usually, she's scary with rage (whenever something makes her think of Sho), or she's overly bubbly and energetic with happiness. She can be incredibly naive, and she can never seem to figure out why Ren gets so mad at her sometimes, even though she can read him like a book at other times. All kinds of characters underestimate her, until she does something truly awesome. At one point, she's at an audition and, in seconds, comes up with a new scenario idea for her and her partner after her original idea is stolen. At another point, after allowing her rage for Sho to almost ruin a job vital to her budding acting career, she pulls off a truly stunning performance.

There are some shojo anime and manga that I love mainly for the scenarios and the guys - the main female characters can, at times, be too annoying for me to really like them. However, Kyoko really grabbed me. I liked her, and I liked how much she came to love acting. I was happy when she made her first female friend (because she was always around Sho, all the girls she knew while growing up hated her - yet another reason why she despises him now). It's a nice friendship, too, and made me think of manga/anime like Fruits Basket - Kyoko and Kanae (or Moko, as Kyoko likes to call her) support each other through tough times and never end up at each other's throats over a guy, thank goodness (one of several things I came to hate about anime/manga like Fushigi Yuugi).

I liked Ren, too, though. He can be pretty mean to Kyoko at times, but it's easy enough to understand why he doesn't like her at first - for a guy who loves acting so much, it's got to be hard being around a girl who gets into acting for such a negative reason. As he thaws towards Kyoko, and the audience is treated to more of his thoughts and a few details about his past, he becomes more than just a pretty face. I particularly enjoyed the problems he had at the end of the show, when he, who had been such a perfect actor up to this point, couldn't figure out how to portray a character dealing with feelings of love he knows he shouldn't have. That's part of the reason why the ending made me so mad - although there are indications that Ren will work through his troubles, absolutely no loose ends are tied up. Ren is never shown finally managing to portray the character, and the budding romance between Ren and Kyoko is still a budding romance. Yashiro, Ren's manager and hilariously supportive of a relationship between Ren and Kyoko, would probably be tearing out his hair over this ending, and I'd be right there with him. By the way, Yashiro was another thing I loved about this show - for a minor character, he's amazingly fun.

The first time Sho went all goofy (as cool as he tries to act when he thinks others are watching, he tends to be like a big kid when he's alone, with his manager, or with Kyoko), I thought his voice sounded suspiciously familiar. I thought he might be voiced by the same person (Mamoru Miyano) who voiced Ouran High School Host Club's Tamaki - I looked it up, and I was right. Ren also sounded somewhat familiar to me, but I never guessed that he was voiced by the same person (Katsuyuki Konishi) who voiced Soubi in Loveless. In addition to loving most of the show, I really enjoyed the voice acting. It was great getting to hear some people I'd enjoyed in other shows again, and I'll have to hunt down other stuff Kyoko's VA (Marina Inoue) has done. I'm tempted to see if I can find Library War - the description makes it sound perfect for a library nerd like myself.

Overall, I really enjoyed this anime, but, oh, the pain of the ending! Either they decided to be faithful to the manga and wait until the manga got further ahead before creating a second season (and, although I've read about many fans wishing for a second season, I have yet to read anything confirming that there will be one), or they decided to see if they could make the "where's the rest of the story?!" pain so great that fans would go out and spend their money on the manga just to find out how things end. I really hate it when that happens - the ending of His and Her Circumstances made me feel the same way, although I at least got to find out how that one ended a couple years and many library holds later. Skip Beat! has now been added to my list of manga I'm trying to get through ILL - I don't know how many volumes of the manga were covered in the anime, so I'll have to start at the beginning.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Gravitation (manga) by Maki Murakami; Gravitation (anime TV series) - Shuichi Shindo is a singer in a band that he hopes will become famous. One day, he loses a page of unfinished song lyrics. The handsome and caustic man who catches it insults the lyrics and sticks in poor Shuichi's mind. Schuichi later discovers that the man was Eiri Yuki, a famous writer, and seeks him out. The two eventually become lovers, but Yuki's emotional issues and Shuichi's rapidly developing musical career may tear them apart. Those who'd like another romantic show featuring a main character trying to make it as a star might like this. Gravitation isn't for everyone, since it features romance between two men - although neither the manga nor the anime are explicit, the anime keeps the physical aspects of the romance slightly more "off screen" than the manga.
  • S.A (manga) by Maki Minami; S.A (anime TV series) - This series is also often referred to as Special A. Ever since she was a little girl and Kei beat her in a wrestling match, Hikari has always been second to Kei and considered him her rival. What she doesn't realize, even though everyone else figured it out ages ago, is that Kei loves her. In her determination to beat Kei at something, anything, Hikari has become a member of the Special A, an elite group at their elite school, right alongside him - will she ever realize his feelings for her, and what will happen if she does? My main exposure to this series has actually been to fansubs of the anime - since I don't think this anime has even been licensed by any company in the US, I'm kind of breaking one of my personal rules by putting it on this list - however, the manga is definitely available, so I suppose I'm only bending my rules. Those who'd like another series featuring an energetic heroine obsessed with surpassing someone and clueless about the potential for romance around her might want to try this.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Yukino is a vain and greedy (albeit likable) girl who has spent years making herself seem like a perfect, elegant, and humble student, just so that she can be praised and loved by others. One day, Arima, a boy she views as a rival, sees beneath her mask and uses this knowledge to blackmail her into helping him out with his tremendous volume of work. Arima appears to be the real deal, a good-looking, perfect, and humble student, but he has his own secrets, some of which are far darker than Yukino's. As Yukino spends more time with him, she begins to fall in love with him and wants to help him deal with the darker parts of himself. Those who'd like another romantic series featuring an energetic, kick-butt main female character and an emotionally blocked guy might want to try this.

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