Skip Beat (Part Three) - Characters II

>> Monday, June 13, 2011

In many of the manga I've read, the focus is really on a small subset of characters, perhaps two or three (if there is a concerted antagonist) but with side characters having very limited life of their own outside their interaction with the primary characters. They are often incomplete and insubstantial even if they provide humor or charm or story movement. I do not think it a coincidence that exceptions to that trend, where there are a large cast of personable characters to work from, tend to be very successful (Fruits Basket and Ouran High School Host Club come to mind). Skip Beat! is not an exception. As much as I find some things compelling and/or appealing in our three primary players, I absolutely believe that much of the charm for this manga lies in the faceted and riotous cast of secondary characters who manage to have complex and complete personalities despite having little visibility outside their interaction with the big three.

That, in an of itself, is a marvel.

No discussion of Skip Beat! characters could possibly be complete without talking about Takarada Lory (aka Rory and Loly given the Japanese sound is between an l and an r), the exuberant and extravagant president of the LME talent agency where both Tsuraga Ren and Mogami Kyoko work.

He combines a sharp business mind (as evidenced by LME's blatant success and his personal power in the showbiz world) with an otherworldly perception, a ruthless streak that manages not to conflict with his soft sentimental heart and general kindness. And then there's that dreamy face and body like a Greek god which shows to advantage in every outlandish thing he wears. But that's not all. His ridiculous wealth (yes, it's over the top for humor reasons) allows him to indulge his very very whimsical tastes. Everything's a production for Lory so, not only is he always dressed in extreme cosplay (costume play), but he might very well bring showgirls to make an entrance or take a dignified party of masqueraders if, today, he's Phantom of the Opera. Or ride a camel. Or "drive"a pirate ship with wheels in lieu of his absurd hummer limo. I'm only including his first three costumes here:

In addition, we have an Egyptian pharaoh, Phantom of the Opera, a Chinese Emperor, a glittery Liberace-esque tuxedo (and requisite white stallion), and . . . . He'll swim with his snake or get up early (3:30) to watch reruns of a sordid love drama (he already has on DVD) or stay up all night torn by what actions he should take in a love sim game (and threaten the software company if he thinks getting them together isn't possible). He'll weep unashamedly at a tearjerker and laugh harder than anyone at a comedy. He'll go to ridiculous lengths to turn a seven-year-old's party into a fairy tale extravaganza just because he loves extravaganzas (and the little girl). He's a hardcore romantic and as fanciful and carefree as a child. Life is an endless series of adventures to Lory.

He'll also save a fifteen year old delinquent who's lost his way or give a girl who has no idea who she is a place to dwell as she finds herself. He'll profit from it in the end, but that's not why he does it. And that's why I can't help but love Lory.

Yukihito Yashiro is Ren's manager and right-hand man who knows him better than anyone except Lory and, in some subjects, Kyoko, but doesn't know much about Ren's history. Keeping track of Ren's unreasonable schedule (as top actor and top model), his biggest challenge getting Ren to eat regularly. Ren's quite capable of organizing his own schedule.

As an observer, he is amazed (disgusted) at Ren's dazzling charm that sends the women swooning given Ren's flattery is largely artificial, so Yashiro's as surprised as anyone when Ren reacts to Kyoko with genuine emotions: longing, anger, jealousy. Yashiro's the first to pick up on Ren's feelings for Kyoko and becomes an active campaigner for the relationship. He seems genuinely fond of both of them and clearly admires their abilities, beauties (Kyoko perhaps before anyone, even Ren) and personalities. Admittedly, any life he leads outside this interaction is all but ignored, but his open-hearted outlook and quiet dedication have their own charm. And certainly plenty of humor as, through Kyoko, he learns Ren's most sparkling smile is really a cover for ire.

Yukihito has an odd quirk in that he kills electronics if he handles them too long and must don gloves before using his cellphone. He even uses his ability to threaten Ren once (though the attempt fails as do most of his matchmaking plans). He's inordinately curious, which means much of his life is frustrating as both Ren and Kyoko tend to play their cards (particularly the emotional ones Yashiro's most interested in) very close to the chest. Apparently, he has a gift for freezing out hordes of rabid fans that makes Kyoko speculate that he might actually be an alien. Poor Yashiro.

Kotonami Kanae ("Moko") is not as easy (at least for me) to like in that she's largely self-absorbed. A gifted actress with an ability to flip through and memorize a script in seconds, she lacks the true depth and originality that Kyoko has, though she's more accomplished at acting and (arguably) prettier. Her saving grace is that she acknowledges this lack and, though begrudgingly, learns to respect and eventually like Kyoko.

Admittedly, her down-to-the-core cynicism is somewhat understandable since she's buried under debt to support a large family of boisterous ne'er-do-wells. And, though she's brash and abrasive (and not particularly likeable to begin with), it's hard to argue that she's not a good friend for Kyoko, taking time to listen when Kyoko needs her without judging. If her acting advice is often at odds with our eccentric heroine's own abilities and style, her honest answers often spur Kyoko's unusual thought processes to a solution. Against her will, Moko can't keep herself from being a good friend to those she honestly respects and likes. And that makes the hot temper and self-absorption a good deal easier to swallow.

Seven-year-old Takarada Maria is as eccentric in her way (and intent on doing things her own way) as her flamboyant grandfather (Lory). Cynical and distrustful of adults early on, she is scarred by her mother's death on her birthday (flying home to celebrate Maria's birthday at Maria's request) and her father's neglect as he works almost entirely overseas. She responds immediately to something in Kyoko, perhaps Kyoko's honesty, perhaps Kyoko's own cynicism. Kyoko understands her and reaches her in a way no one else was able to. As a result, Maria is an unflinching supporter. And she shares an interest in the occult with Kyoko (voodoo).

Like much of Kyoko's nurturing, it happens without her conscious thought. Maria trusts her to an unprecedented level. Maria also has an obsessive crush on Ren (which he does nothing to discourage) which has little impact on anything except to make her lust after Kyoko's meticulously crafted curse dolls and to torpedo any applicant to the agency who is really only trying to get close to Ren.

Reino is the Sho look-alike lead singer of "Vie Ghoul" (or as Kyoko calls them, "Beagle"). The "other" badder bad guy intended (I think) to make even Sho Fuwa look a little more human, I think he steals the show. Why?

It's not because he's really a nice guy. He's clearly as selfish as Sho while being pretty much amoral. Unabashedly and unapologetically so, which is part of why I like him anyway. Is he a bad guy? Ain't no doubt. He's threatened Sho's position at the top of the charts for no better reason than his own pleasure and deliberately terrorizes Kyoko. Would he have raped her? I can't discount the possibility, but I think he'd intended more of a seduction via fascination. And you know how I hate rapists. However, it came to naught and for all his evil talk, he was never rough in his handling of her. And his interest in her as a person was genuine, if twisted.

He's psychic, you see, and becomes fascinated by Kyoko as soon as he "sees" her many spirit Kyoko's when she rages at Sho. He's awed by the power and strength of her aura and spirit and becomes intent on turning her rage and hatred his way if only to take over her mind. So, yeah, bad guy. But he appreciates Kyoko spirit and that gives him at least something over Sho. Plus, while being serious and pointedly gothic, he also provides a great deal of comedy (particularly on Valentine's Day), if only in everyone else' reaction to him. And I like that, as soon as Kyoko decides not to fear him, he has no real power over her (except for a little mischief he uses on Valentine's Day) . And, yeah, I like that Ren can send him scrambling away with just the power of his own dark side.

He's not a nice guy, but he makes a great villain. Plus he has purple eyes. Who wouldn't love that?

Are there half a dozen other great characters in here? Yep, but I'm all out of post so, if you want to meet Sawara or Soko or Ogata or any of the other charmers, you'll just have to read the manga or watch the anime.

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