Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Skip Beat Deconstructions: Girl Power

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers for “Skip Beat!”

So I mentioned in my last post that Kyoko gets a lot of growth through her relationships with other people, and that’s a very important aspect of the series. Prior to her coming to Tokyo, Kyoko has never had any close friends. In a flashback, it is revealed that a lot of girls in her class were jealous of her relationship with Sho and bullied her frequently. The lack of a female friend is sorely felt, as Kyoko laments on how she has never done the things teenage girls do together - gone out, gone shopping, eaten ice cream together.

This kind of isolation explains why Kyoko’s excitement over small things is as overblown as the manga makes it out to be (ex: she gets emotional over a sleepover, makes a big deal out of visiting a friend’s house). It’s also one of the reasons why Kyoko couldn’t progress until she made some female friends.

Throughout the manga so far, Kyoko has made friends with a number of colleagues - Kanae Kotonami and Chiori Amamiya, as well as a number of other actresses in the dramas she’s worked for. She’s something of a big sister figure to Maria, the granddaughter of her boss, and has even established a tentative friendship with Shoko Ai, Sho’s manager. All of these women have contributed in some way to Kyoko’s growth, and Kyoko has helped them in return.

*cue Wicked reference*

For the purpose of this deconstruction, I’ll look at Kanae, Chiori and Maria separately and try to explain how each of those relationships has contributed to the series.

Kyoko meets Kanae at her first audition for LME, and is immediately struck by her acting ability. Kanae makes it a little further than Kyoko in the auditions, but ultimately fails because of her own lack of emotion. The two end up in the same department, which to Kyoko is an excellent reason to make friends. However, they don’t really grow closer until they audition for a commercial together.

At the audition, Kanae meets Erika, and old school rival who has made it her personal goal to stop Kanae’s acting career at any cost. And since Erika comes from a wealthy family, she has always won. Kanae’s about to give up, but Kyoko convinces her to fight on. By a stroke of luck, the director of the commercial overhears them and explicitly rejects Erika’s bribe to see what happens.

This is a very important arc: Kanae and Kyoko get to act together, and they compliment each other well - Kanae’s talent and Kyoko’s ability ad-lib manage to land them their first roles. But it’s also important because Kanae manages to face one of her own insecurities about the business - that talent doesn’t really matter. If it hadn’t been for Kyoko’s prodding, she might have never gotten the courage to stand up to Erika.

On the other hand, Kanae is Kyoko’s first female friend, and later becomes one of her best advisers throughout the series, for things that Kyoko can’t possibly go to Ren for. She fills a role that Kyoko’s been missing for a long time, and makes her really talk about her decisions.

If Kanae and Kyoko started off as kind-of rivals, then Chiori Amamiya is pretty much an antagonist for a full arc. Kyoko meets Chiori on set of her second drama, where they consist half of the mean girl band. At that point, Kyoko’s struggling with shaking off the image of her first character so that she can concentrate on the new job, but she’s unable to do so. Chiori, who wants to steal the spotlight as the ring-leader of the villains, gives her false advice and tries to throw her off balance.

However, Chiori herself is an actress who knows the consequences of a role taking over your life. When she was little, she delivered an amazing performance and was never able to create another role. Years later, she’s still burned. In that aspect, she and Kyoko are very similar.

When Kyoko eventually bounces back, she manages to hit Chiori where it hurts - implying the two of them are of entirely different class, and thus getting Choiri to act in earnest. The challenge works - Chiori rediscovers her enthusiasm for a role, and breaks free from her own little circle of self-hatred. In the end, what she needed to do was look into herself, not blame others for her misfortune.

Kyoko, on the other hand, manages to attain something new from the Chiori experience - she recognizes her own ability as an actor, discovers the nuances in similar roles and gets to do brilliantly, earning some more friends in the process. Chiori goes from hating Kyoko to admiring her, which is very important for both women in the long run.

Maria Takarada is the last character I’ll examine today - she’s the granddaughter of the president of LME, a sweet girl who is ten-eleven years old at the beginning of the series. However, Maria, like many other characters in “Skip Beat!”, has inner demons. When she was little, she asked her mother, who was a supermodel, to come home for her, Maria’s, birthday. By a tragic turn of events, the airplane her mother takes home crashes, and she doesn’t survive. And, to make things worse, Maria’s grief-struck father ends up blaming his daughter for the accident.

Which, of course, is just the grief talking, but Maria hears it, and to her, that’s a direct confirmation of her worst fears. From then on, Maria builds walls around herself, trying to keep her heart from being broken. In that way, she and Kyoko are very similar.

So far, Kyoko’s had two mini arcs with Maria - one early on, where she acts out a scene with another child actor that gets Maria talking about her own feelings concerning her mother’s death, and one later, where she helps Maria host a birthday party for herself that’s not really a birthday party but totally is. During that second arc, Maria reconciles with her father, with a little help from her grandfather and Kyoko.

Why is this important to Kyoko? Well, though it isn’t explicitly stated, helping Maria has let her examine her own feelings about her family. Moreover, Maria’s journey is much like Kyoko’s, though on a smaller scale - it’s about forgiving oneself before it’s too late, and opening your heart to others. The fact that Maria manages that is also a signal for Kyoko that she can do it too - but since Kyoko actually has an external antagonist, that will take longer.

So, though her interactions with these three women, Kyoko has grown. She’s a friend, a role model, an older sister, and throughout the whole thing, she has done well, helping others as they have helped her. In this aspect, the manga has done an amazing thing - letting a female character grow through her interactions with other people.

But it’s not just in that aspect that Kyoko grows - stay tuned for next time, when we look at the themes of family in the manga.

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