Skip Beat! (Part Two)- Characters I

>> Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review is here. I just hope I can fit all this into one post (I can't). As it is, when I'm through with my current crop of manga reviews, I'm going to start a character expose because characters are my favorite part of a manga.

First and foremost is the undisputed star of the show: the many faces of Mogami Kyoko.












Diverse little something, isn't she?

It's easy, in many ways, for me to identify with Kyoko. Dismissed and belittled by an exacting and cold mother, this bright, imaginative, whimsical child grew up desperate for approval and love. When her mother refused her love, she worked hard, even at a young age, to be useful to Sho's parents (Sho was her childhood friend and his parents took her in when her mother discarded her), who ran a prestigious inn. In doing so, she learned many useful and unusual skills as Sho's parents groomed her to marry the rather lackadaisical Sho and take over the inn one day. I think it's really cool, actually, that she finds homes for those skills in her acting work.

Kyoko loved Sho selflessly and absolutely, but, in all fairness to Sho, it really had little to do with him. Consumed with romance and fantasy, Kyoko saw him as a fairy tale prince and it was the image of him (which I doubt he did much to pursue) that she really loved. His big crime lay in (a) carelessly taking advantage of her adoration to serve his own ends and (b) never quite seeing past his ego to what a remarkable person Kyoko was. The whole thing is classic and entirely believable psychology.

But under that hard-working, self-sacrificing inexacting persona was an indomitable soul that, somehow, believed she deserved more than she'd had, that believed, someday, her years of sacrifice and neglect would be repaid with good fortune, love and adulation. When her beautiful and talented "prince" makes it clear that he thinks little to nothing of her and certainly has no intention of shackling himself with someone so dull and ordinary, she snaps. Goaded by his dismissive attitude, she becomes determined to meet him on a level playing field: the entertainment field (instead of crawling off to lick her wounds as would a more mundane individual).

Undaunted by her lack of skills, knowledge or interest in entertainment (not to mention her youth [16] and lack of high school education), Kyoko leaps in, certain that all one needs for superstardom is a willingness to work hard and perseverance. Damn if she doesn't nearly pull it off on guts alone. Fortunately, though, she happens to have imagination, a deep-seated ability, a willingness to learn, considerable intelligence, an ability to take criticism, and talent. What she lacks is any interest in making people love her or to love others, which doesn't quite mesh with becoming big as a superstar.

The president of a big agency is struck by her (partially due to her talent exposition of making a rose from a daikon radish - I am not making that up) and he inducts her into the "new" group: Love Me Section - to help talent people get where they need to be emotionally. It is an uphill battle. Along with her rather overblown hatred for Sho, her hair-trigger temper and a deep-seated determination never to love again, she is also prone to fits of abject despair and fear and is still fighting a self-image that she's neither talented, smart or beautiful. She also tends toward extreme delusions, considering everything she hasn't had as wonderful in the extreme, like close female friends, being a rich young lady (aka princess) and make-up as the wonderdrug to transform the plain (such as herself) into the beautiful (which, given her adaptable features and expressive face, turns out to be the truth in her case).

And, while her emotions are at the utmost extremes, this applies to the positive ones as well. She manages to be mostly open, friendly, optimistic, patient, caring and thoughtful. She works with abandon and is a perfectionist. If she is too readily sent into depression for a perceived fault in herself or perhaps too willing to be scolded, she is not above criticizing and even lecturing others (as Ren and Sho discover). She can be quite blunt with people she trusts and doesn't lie well, an interesting characteristic in an actress. She also has some supernatural abilities thanks to her spirit Kyoko-grudges, an impressive hand-made voodoo dolls collection, and an unshakable and solemn belief in fairies and magic.

Her resentment of Sho kind of leaks over to Tsuraga Ren, the star (model/actor) of the agency she joins (and Sho's perceived rival for top male hottie in Japan). Discovering early on that she is motivated, not by interest in the artistic crafts, but in revenge, Ren criticizes that kind of motivation in no uncertain terms. If that frustrates her (at least in part because it's true), she's quickly impressed by his own skills and devotion to his craft. She starts out resenting and then admiring his abilities, before learning to respect and like him as a person as they both reluctantly open up more and more. Eventually, they're the only ones that don't know they're friends (and more). Then, it's just her.

From the beginning, she's come so far, grown so much, healed so drastically, and yet there's still room for more growth, particularly in her need to release her anger and resentment toward Sho (partially because much of it is anger at herself for her self-deception and partially because he's really not worth it). Truthfully, she couldn't get a better vengeance than just dismissing him from her heart and finding happiness in life. Damn, I hope that happens. Sho will be so pissed.

Playing opposite our charming emotionally extreme chameleon, is the redoubtable Tsuraga Ren.
I love Ren. Just twenty, he's Kyoko's senior in years but far more senior in experience. He is patient, calm and unflappable (mostly). Ridiculously tall, graceful, and dapper, he is considerate and soft spoken. He is known for his courtesy and gentleness and uses his dazzling (gentlemanly) smile to make corny lines seem natural or confuse a victim before a sharp rebuke. Too bad that smile's all fake. Beyond that overt but distant charm, there is an enduring core of decency, a quiet patience for anyone who's trying their best, an innate consideration. Don't be fooled. He's not all sunshine.

If Ren is most exacting with himself, he is not much less so with the lack of professionalism of others (and Kyoko, who shares this attitude, is not the only one to discover this the hard way). Ren scolds and lectures Kyoko frequently on show business do's and don'ts, professionalism, and acting in general. He can only be forgiven because she has no hesitation doing the same (on his eating habits, taking care of of himself, and how he handles people). He is quite frequently manipulative, both to serve the other's interests or to serve his own. Kyoko's not the only one to find themselves manipulated by Ren via acting in a scene. He has considerable pride, sometimes more than he should, but he is also hardworking, methodical and devoted to what he does. He has taken the trouble to hone his craft and it shows.

Beyond the professional and his rationalism, however, there is more, however: fear of failure, fear of losing control, hints of some severely dark and violent chapters in his past. The wall he places around himself is to keep from getting close to anyone, becoming emotional (for real), having anyone too precious.

Enter Kyoko, brash and vengeful, ignorant and bull-headed. He's affronted with her sneering disinterest in show business (while wanting to enter), then at her unhealthy motive of revenge for success. His unusual antipathy toward her is a hint that she affects him in ways he refuses to acknowledge from the very beginning. When he discovers she's the trusting sorrowful girl from a precious memory ten years before, his reaction is to put more distance between them which he does with a few cutting remarks. Not that it helps. Fate is against him. As circumstances throw them together, he shows some kindness (of the simple human kind) only to have it thrust away distrustfully. In the course of events he is impressed with her guts and, when it's his turn to need care, he is equally won over with her dedication, practicality, and budding talents, as well as the fact she is starting to pursue acting for herself now, instead of as a weapon. Soon, in the most natural way, he becomes her inspiration in acting, her mentor and her most ardent defender and facilitator.

Kyoko isn't the only one who's locked her heart away nor the only one trying to deny attraction, affection and eventually passion. By the time Ren appreciates the depths of his feelings, the opportunity to prevent falling (if he ever had it) is long gone. Ren might discover the truth about his feelings before Kyoko does, but he's even more hampered by the understanding that her fears could drive her away if he's not very very careful (despite the overexuberant encouragement/teasing from his manager). And Kyoko's really really dense and frequently puts the least flattering interpretation on everything he says.

On top of these handicaps, Ren's got the spectre of Kyoko's ex-prince as a rival at least for attention, if not affection. But really, how far is hatred from love (far, Ren, really, calm down)? The jealousy is a new thing for Ren (especially as Kyoko's fame increases and more and more people become intrigued by the charm Ren would kind of like to be his little secret). His jealousy and his uncertainty regarding his own place in her heart become two of the few triggers that can make him lose his cool.

Do I love Ren? Yeah, I do. With a lesser man, one who put himself first, his patience would never have withstood so much. Kyoko is completely blind to her growing effect on men unless she's affected too (as she readily is by Ren's genuine "heavenly" smile so brilliant it destroys her grudge Kyoko's) - which means, oddly enough, only by Ren. And that includes Sho. So she treats Ren with reserve and formality but is thoughtlessly friendly with everyone else. Well, she is affected in a weird way by Reino, but that's a different subject. In the end, Ren is the one she always turns to and will ruthlessly defend. Good thing, because he needs her if he's ever going to conquer his own demons.

Which brings us to our Fuwa Sho, the self-absorbed pretty boy who managed to open Pandora's, er Kyoko's, box. Unintentionally.

Fuwa Sho is the sort of self-absorbed, self-important bastard that people love to hate, well, on the surface. OK, he is a thoughtless inconsiderate narcissist clear through and, if that was all he was, he probably wouldn't be worth a second thought. But, since we're talking about Nakamura, we're fortunate that's not the extent of what he is. Because what else he is (and isn't) makes him far more interesting.

It's important to note that, though he was her friend and grew up all but living with Kyoko, his childhood was vastly different than her own. The only child of well-to-do inn proprietors (their family owns several inns whereas he grew up at the most prestigious), he had all the privileges of the heir while Kyoko carried most of the responsibilities. (In Japanese inns, the "frontman" is the proprietess while her husband works in the background; with Kyoko's desperate need to get acceptance from Sho's parents, she learned key skills of both which meant Sho learned neither.) My guess would be his parents were a bit soft on Sho, what with Kyoko willingly taking up the slack, leaving him to pursue his own interests of being a fairly-well-to-do and charismatic kid who loved music. Music, as in the kind that gets rabid fans, er, girls.

With adulation from every side but no responsibilities, it's hardly surprising he grew up to be selfish and egotistical. He would find it natural, in fact, to feel like the adulation was deserved, that he, in fact, deserved to be taken care of, adored, admired, supported. Did he know Kyoko always expected him to be her prince, to love her and marry her some day? I don't see how he could have missed it and probably didn't even start out adverse to the idea. But, as his fanbase grew and his belief in himself leap-frogged higher and higher (not to mention realizing his parents had their own plan for him to marry Kyoko and tie him to their business), he undoubtedly decided he deserved something better and more glamorous than the quiet "plain" Kyoko. He, in fact, deserved the best.

That didn't mean he caviled at taking anything she offered on his behalf. So, when he took off at 14/15 to seek his fortune in the visual kei music industry, he naturally asked her to go with him so he'd have someone to take care of him as he got started. I doubted he thought about the impact on her (missing out on high school and working herself to near death on his behalf) or had any malicious intent. Just as he was blind the bullying and being ostracized she'd experienced in school because of her relationship with Sho. She could always, in his mind, go back to his parents (even if she'd think such an idea was unthinkable). When he didn't need her any more, he tried to nudge her out on her own (likely considering he was doing her a favor).

It was bad luck she overheard his opinion of her so baldly or saw him sidle up to his manager. But, yeah, Sho still counts as a selfish bastard. He is, in the manga, a talented singer/songwriter (and snappy dresser) who takes the work he does seriously if nothing else. It's one reason he has no hesitation in thinking so much of himself.

But, I think it's worth bearing in mind a few things. First, though Kyoko and Sho ostensibly lived together, he never laid a finger on her, never even, as she said, "put his arm around her." Now, imagine you're a young personable man living alone with a girl who knows you well, who always says the things you want to hear and who adores you. Even if you think she's plain, surely you'd be a bit tempted to take advantage. But he didn't so he's nowhere near the asshole he could have been.

Secondly, it's also pretty clear from her flashbacks, that he never pretended to be what she wanted. With her imagination, his encouragement just wasn't required. He probably thought (with some justification) that her expectations were her problems and, since she was doing everything voluntarily, he could hardly be blamed for her sacrifices. Sho just took the path of least resistance. When faced with an unpleasant revelation or potential consequence, he chose to worry about it later or hope it would resolve itself without his effort. Hardly laudable, he was passive, thoughtless and self-centered rather than nefarious. He probably thought she'd go crawling back to his parents (who disowned him previously), take over the inn, marry a dull reliable man and run the inn. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Because Sho, if he'd missed her suffering, her sacrifices, her loneliness, also missed her strengths. She was blind (until her revelation) to his failings and he was clueless as to how remarkable she was. When he taunts her with entering show business, he truly believes she couldn't even make it past the front door, let alone challenge him.

When she does, first in a chicken suit (which only serves to make him look better) and then as a hiree for his own promotional video, he doesn't recognize her at first. Then, when he does, he taunts her: do your worst. She nearly does. She certainly upstages him (and his costume is really cool) and disarms him with acting (tears) that leave him feeling helpless. He certainly had no idea she would be so beautiful or so talented. Or that she would be chatting on her cellphone to what he considers his archrival, Tsuraga Ren, when she was done. And Sho still thinks she's "his."

When fate steps in and throws an upstart band (with a psychic lead singer) in Sho's path and in Kyoko's, he finds himself feeling insecure (briefly) and even playing the hero to protect Kyoko from the rather pointed and nefarious interest of the psychic lead singer (for which Kyoko pointedly doesn't thank him). It's an interesting role and gives us some insight into the fact that he does care about her in some way, even if he's not entirely clear on how that is.

To date, we haven't seen that he wants her so much as he wants to control her, to be the most important person in her life. Perhaps he wants her romantically (though it's not entirely clear) and he hopes that if he can keep the hate alive he can take her back at a time of his choosing. I don't think Sho has a chance of that, personally. Sho and Kyoko squabble like siblings when they're together and, less and less, Sho has an influence on her life, even if Sho doesn't know that. Plus, though he's sidled up to a multitude of girls in Kyoko's presence, she hasn't felt so much as an iota of jealousy (something he can't say himself). And his little Valentine's day stunt probably didn't get him the reaction he really wanted.

Sho, though not a total villain, is overdue for losing out on something he covets. And I can't wait to see his face when (not if) Kyoko and Ren get together and find happiness.

Yes, yes, I know I'm going to need another post at least to gush about characters. Hell, I haven't even touched on LORY yet.

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