Monday, October 8, 2012

Skip Beat! Deconstructions: The Plot

“Skip Beat!” is an ongoing manga by Yoshiki Nakamura. It tells the story of Mogami Kyoko, who follows her childhood sweetheart, Sho Fuwa, to Tokyo when he decides to pursue career as a singer. At Tokyo, the then 15 year old Kyoko works herself into the ground so that Sho may realize his ream. It’s not until she overhears him describing her as his “maid” that she realizes he doesn’t care for her, and leaves him, vowing to become Japan’s greatest actress and kicking him out of the spotlight.

Soon, Kyoko realizes that vengeance isn’t enough to help her turn into an actress, but thanks to the quirky president of a talent agency, she’s given a chance to find the emotion she’s missing. The manga details Kyoko’s journey to discovering herself and opening her heart up again.

Right from the bat, we have a kick-ass heroine. Kyoko often refers to herself as an idiot throughout the manga, mostly because she feels she’s been duped too many times, but in reality, she’s a very strong person. She’s serious about her jobs, before and after Sho dumped her, and, when she’s given the chance to go to a school that accommodates her schedule as an actress, she leaps at it and studies earnestly for the entrance exam.

It is revealed in the manga that this dedication is, in part, the result of a childhood with a bitch of a mother who was never satisfied with what she did. Her mother is the reason Kyoko is not satisfied with any score below 100 points and why she is willing to work for it until she drops. This attitude is part of Kyoko’s fatal flaws, and it’s not until she ends up as Ren Tsuruga’s temporary manager that she gets over that.

*cue fangirls screaming*

Oh, wait, I forgot. Ren. *more screaming* Okay, ladies, we’ll have to tune it down, this is a deconstruction after all. *some disappointed oohs* I’ll let you scream in the end. *nods*

Alright, so Ren. He’s twenty at the start of the manga, and he’s Kyoko’s love interest. He plays the role of the polite gentleman, but in reality, he has a dark past. And he picked the dark past up from America, as this is the best place to get those things.

Okay, okay, let’s end the sarcasm. I just have mixed feelings about Ren as a character, but I’ll explore those later. For now, it’s important to say that he and Kyoko have a very close working relationship, with some sexual tension tastefully woven in. The two don’t start out as the best of buds, but they slowly work towards a mutually supportive relationship that’s been really good for both.

The thing that I really like about Skip Beat is how well it handles the narrative. At its core, the manga is about a girl’s quest to find herself and let go of anger. Kyoko recognizes the problem - early on, she tells Ren that all her life she’s done things for others, and that acting is the first thing she has done for herself. She hopes to find the real Kyoko through that, a challenge she doesn’t know she shares with Ren.

And, throughout the whole thing, Kyoko does amazing progress. She faces every challenge with a fierce desire to succeed, and she manages by forging strong connections with the people around her. However, her one drawback is her relationship with Sho, as he is pretty much the stand-in for all of her childhood abusers, and he’s incredibly persistent in making her as miserable as possible. I’ll cover Sho in his own post, but suffice to say that Kyoko’s not the only one fixated on the past.

The narrative of a woman trying to find herself and break from the bonds that have been given her by the patriarchy is one that is very valuable, because they’re so rare. I don’t know how many people are aware of that, but “Skip Beat!” was also on Bitch Magazine’s list of YA reads for the Feminist Reader. And I know that list got a lot of flak for including and then taking out some books, but it’s worth taking a look at this manga because it illustrates some very interesting concepts. I won’t call it “feminist” yet - my purpose in these deconstruction posts will be to lay out some key aspects and then let you guys decide whether it’s feminist or not.

But as far as plot goes, I’d say it wins points for me. Kyoko wants to change, not for any man or a woman, but for herself. She wants to find a peace of mind and acting gives her a venue to do so. And that’s something I can easily get behind.

Next up: Girl Power, or the ladies of “Skip Beat!”

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