Also, Andrew has updated The Chronicles of William Bazillion.
And what's this? Another installment of the Overlooked Manga Festival? Why, yes! It is!
Although I cover shojo (girls') manga pretty frequently in this feature, I've ignored most of the newer shojo titles. As I've explained before, this is because old manga is better than new manga. Or at least more overlooked.
But this week I thought I'd check out some contemporary shojo manga. Since Viz and Tokyopop now publish approximately 250 million billion zillion manga with smiling saucer-eyed girls in front of pastel flower backgrounds on the cover, I wasn't sure where to start. I needed help. For that, I turned to Viz editor Pancha Diaz, who handles a lot of shojo manga (including Nana, one of the best manga you're probably not reading, which I have solemnly promised to save for a later OMF once the Viz edition gets to the first big bombshell) and generally stays a lot more on top of the scene than I do. She gave me this:
Like most modern shojo manga, Skip Beat! starts with the heroine being treated like a doormat by a handsome asshole. Unlike most modern shojo manga, it doesn't continue this way for 18 volumes. Kyoko, our teenage heroine, is living a fairy tale, sort of. She's moved to Tokyo with her true love Sho, to support him in his skyrocketing music career. An ordinary girl secretly living with a handsome, sexy superstar, she's a modern-day Cinderella.
Well. Sort of.
(Yes, the sound effect for the pudding is "PUUDDINNG!" Thank you, Pancha.)
But then Kyoko's fragile little fairy tale shatters: Sho coldly confesses that he only sees her as his live-in (and, it's implied but not actually shown, sleep-in) maid, and that he can get girls a million times hotter and cooler than her. Instead of destroying Kyoko, however, his cruel dis unlocks a Pandora's box of festering resentments inside her.
Kyoko vows to destroy Sho manga-style: by becoming an even bigger star and beating him at his own game. She enters showbiz at the ground floor and laboriously begins her ascent to superstardom. She's handicapped only by her apparent lack of marketable talent and her now-powerful dark side, which routinely manifests itself like so:
At LME Productions, a talent agency run by an eccentric fellow who usually enters accompanied by some kind of musical number, Kyoko is placed in the "Love Me" section, a department for talents whose potential is marred by the hate in their souls. I'm reminded of a bit of dialogue from The Simpsons: "Why do you want to join the Bigger Brothers?" "Don't say revenge...don't say revenge..."
Revenge is poor motivation, apparently, because stars need to be driven by LOVE. Frankly, though, the manga seems a lot more sympathetic to the characters driven by hate. After all, the desire to be loved isn't always an attractive quality.
Along the way, Kyoko meets kindred souls, including Kotonami, a fellow Love Me member who very, very reluctantly becomes her best friend, and the LME president's adorable granddaughter, with whom she bonds over their shared fondness for casting evil curses upon those who have wronged them.
Obviously, one of the things I like most about this manga is that all the sympathetic characters are unrepentantly evil and vindictive. But there are other things I like. The female friendships, for instance. The heroines of teen shojo manga are often strangely devoid of friends, or indeed any female acquaintances who aren't bitchy rivals, but Skip Beat! builds up a funny, believable relationship between Kyoko and Kotonami, a professional rivalry that develops into an us-against-the-world partnership. I also like the antagonistic but non-abusive relationship between Kyoko and hot young actor Ren Tsuruga. Ren is just as good-looking as Sho, is an even bigger star, and doesn't appear to be an enormous asshole, so obviously he and Kyoko are destined to hook up.
Ren, however, has something of a dark side of his own, which freaks Kyoko out. Come on, you can't not crack a smile at this horror-movie moment:
Other things I like: Kyoko's backstory, which establishes her as an apprentice at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Ryokan are traditionally run by women, with the female head of the household serving as the manager and public face of the establishment. We learn that Sho left home to become a star in Tokyo because he's the ryokan owner's son and didn't want to inherit a life where he wouldn't be the center of attention. Kyoko is also trying to distance herself from the inn, but her education in the ultra-traditional end of the Japanese service industry often comes in handy in showbiz, whether she's called upon to perform a tea ceremony for a movie scene or trying to score big in the talent portion of an audition:
Finally, I like that Kyoko's struggle to make it big really is a struggle. The portrayal of show business in Skip Beat! can't exactly be called realistic, not with the Love Me section going on, but this isn't the kind of manga where the heroine is spectacularly more talented than everyone around her and it's only a matter of time before the world falls at her feet in awe. As of Volume 5, the most recent volume in English, Kyoko has managed, through intense effort, to make it to the level of dressing in a chicken suit at a variety show.
(Again, let's all give Pancha a round of applause for the FX.)
As Kyoko's long climb up the mass-media ladder continues, she gradually ("gradually" being the key word here) grows less obsessed with revenge and more genuinely interested in becoming a great performer. She grudgingly admire's Ren's acting talent and vows to outshine him. And she does enjoy her fleeting moments of star treatment:
And that's a lot to like about Skip Beat!, a new shojo manga almost good enough to be an old shojo manga.
Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Your and My Secret
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi