Content note: Abusive behavior, assault, victim blaming, purity myth.
Chapters 139-150 and 171-192 are… problematic for me. On the one hand, it’s a progression of the romantic story, which is shaping up more like Kyoko/Ren, instead of Kyoko/Ren/Sho. I think the Valentine’s Day chapters are meant to separate the two men, in that Sho is a floundering man-child, while Ren is the mature, supportive guy, but honestly, it doesn’t work too well for me.
In the Valentine’s Day chapters, through a series of blunders and misunderstandings, Sho comes over to Kyoko’s workplace and forcefully kisses her in order to cement his position as her number one enemy (I swear, it makes more sense if you read the manga). Kyoko is naturally pissed off, but what’s really annoying is Ren’s reaction. After joking with her that actors shouldn’t make a big deal out of kissing, he puts on a scary face and warns her never to let her guard down again or else she will lose that “purity of heart” which actors need.
Now, this is standard romantic drama shtick, but it’s an incredibly vile thing on Ren’s part to do. First of, it’s Sho who came to the set and Sho who forced himself on her - Kyoko is the victim, and even suggesting that she’s somehow at fault makes me sick. Moreover, Ren knows that Kyoko tends to bend over backwards for the people she cares for, out of fear for losing their respect - he’s emotionally manipulating her into doing what he wants.
Please keep in mind what Ren and Kyoko’s relationship is. She calls him her “sempai”, that is, her senior in the company. Though they are friends, and he’s in love with her, she defines their relationship as a working one and he doesn’t try to correct her. Therefore, Ren has absolutely no business telling Kyoko what to do.
But he does, and he will do it frequently over the following chapters.
Kyoko is not unaffected by this behavior. On one level, she recognizes it as unfair, but earnestly believes the things Ren tells her and commits to them. While he frames things in such a way that she would reject the advances of any man, even himself, he still has a closer relationship with her than anyone else.
Is emotional manipulation acceptable? Ren seems to think of Kyoko as a baby (he explicitly states that in chapter 190), so therefore he will do anything to protect her until she’s mature enough to be with him. The problem is, Kyoko is maturing, by leaps and bounds, and she’s finding herself in a complicated situation.
Jumping on ahead, after a near-accident, Kyoko realizes that she’s close to falling in love with Ren, which sends her into a state of near panic. Determined to keep her heart safe, she lets another actor, Kijima, dress her up and escort her to a party, where Ren immediately proceeds to chastise and shame her. Basically, he says: “If you need anything, come to me, damnit”, to which she responds: “Why, is there something you want from me?” It’s an awesome moment, though ruined by the fact that Ren’s just better at this game than Kyoko.
This… passage is one that we’ve come back to a lot in recent chapters. After Sho learns about this (the party), he also seeks Kyoko out, forces her into a car ride with him and proceeds to pretty much do the same thing Ren did. In fact, chapter 190 ended in a cliffie after Ren saw Kyoko in Sho’s car, and chapter 192 has Kyoko freaking out over Ren’s reaction.
Let’s examine this, shall we? In itself, accepting a car ride isn’t a crime. Kyoko is an actress, and as such, her schedule is very fluid. A few chapters back, we see her sprinting to school after a shoot gets canceled because she has no mode of transportation of her own. Sho is her childhood friend, and while they’re not the best of buds, the manga has built their relationship to a point where they can tolerate each other.
There’s plenty of reasonable explanations why Kyoko would accept a ride from Sho, and that before we consider what actually happened - that he sought her out, forced her (through a combination of physical force and peer pressure) to accept a ride from him, and then proceed to shame her for whatever decision she made that he didn’t like.
The situation can’t be more black-and-white, and yet Kyoko is afraid… of Ren’s reaction. She’s afraid because, based off past experience, Ren will be angry at her for something she has no control over. And it’s painful to read, really painful, you know it’s not her fault, you know that Sho’s an ass, and you know that Ren will do something stupid because they just won’t damn communicate like grown ups!
Just… major strike here, people. Major strike.