Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mid-series checkup: Skip Beat!

Warning: spoilers, references to past events that I don't bother to explain.

For long running manga if the question of declining quality doesn't niggle at you, you are a dirty lying liar who lies, because alright, name one that has not jumped the shark and then some over the course of its decade long life, and okay, ask the person next to you if they share that opinion. This is the fucking plague, okay, but I'm not here to complain, or to argue an open and shut case.

So let's talk about Skip Beat!'s recent Kain/Setsu arc.

Specifically, about the not-really-incest.

Here's what not-really about it: 1, they do not actually have sex; they do not actually kiss, at least while in character; and 2, oh yeah, they are not actually brother and sister, only playing at family.

Here's why that doesn't count: 1, not only is there sexual and romantic tension between them, it's helped by the brother and sister trappings; and 2, remember those lolicon manga that have the teenage boy perving on some one thousand-year-old demon--who has the form of a little girl? Well technically it's the little girl who's robbing the cradle. Yeah, I still wasn't born yesterday. Oh, was that a bad expression?

The main dynamic between Kyoko and Ren has always been of the romantic nature, so yes, if they are indeed each other's one true love that spark wasn't about to get stamped out by constant proximity. What gives them constant proximity? Oh right, the brother and sister act. Exhibit A, Ren remarks on Kyoko's being unguarded when they share a hotel room as a pair of siblings, because it's sex appeal of the actress playing his sister that brings Ren the great actor of Japan out of character, of course. They didn't even have to share a room--the agency would know better--but they did and it was a honest mistake from the side of the hotel. Not so much from the side of the author, not really. All that remains is for the two people in close proximity to take attraction and instinct to their natural conclusion. Well narratively speaking this slows the plot down instead of speeding it up, this misunderstanding. In other words Skip Beat is making sacrifices to plot coherency and may I say, integrity, for the purpose of titillation.

Another pertinent point I have yet to prove is the role of incest as a kink. Exhibit B, how Nakamura insists on highlighting how Kain loves to spoil Natsu, how Natsu makes him, how protective Kain is of his sister against potential suitors. Does that other guy have a reason to exist? Beyond making Kain jealous? Beyond acting competitive over acting roles-no-not-really-it's-the-sister? It's badly written badly handled badly generic incest drama here.

But, I have no objection to incest as a kink, and I do not pick and choose which series I take issue to, so what's the problem? Skip Beat! isn't being sincere about it. Isn't sibling bond even closer than that of childhood friends, thus negating Shou's advantage--but not really? See, any attraction Kain has for his sister Setsu is really from Ren to Kyoko, we mustn't conflate the actors and the characters they play, after all.   Then Skip Beat! shouldn't be deriving sexual tension from the situation, because this makes Skip Beat! no better than those pseudo rape fantasy shoujo manga out there (no, he's just lapping up blood from her wrist with an orgasmic expression on his face). Well, some may say, it's not like a mainstream shoujo manga can cop up to using incest as kink, then DON'T TO IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

We have to consider how much of this is role-play too. What's going on here, why are you trying to throw so many kinks together in the same story line Skip Beat!? It honestly baffles me. Role-play has worked out well for the manga before, see the student teacher debacle, and this being a manga about an aspiring actress if the manga does not partake a slice in that cake I would be very surprised. Actually now all we have established is an MO: the romantic tension between the roles translate to the romantic tension between the characters. It was teacher/student to the real life sempai/kohai, so the older brother/younger sister here is not only intentional, it follows a persistent theme in the manga.

My point is, Skip Beat! has managed the rare feat of being unexpectedly skin crawling uncomfortable and yet painfully uninspired. And then there's the agonizing pace and the hundredth time Ren catches Kyoko doing something she thinks would disappoint or enrage him and gets this look on her face because she fears him berating her only he has no actual ground or reason to do so. Overall, I say extremely weak mid-series checkup, bail out now, or watch in fascination as Skip Beat! hits rock bottom of the shoujo seedy underbelly, and it will, mark my words.


  1. Is there a manga that you like?

    1. Thank you for commenting!

      Sorry for replying so late. My life has been a continuous nightmare of finals lately as evidenced by my posting schedule too...

      Anyway I like lots of manga; it's just so incredibly difficult to express all that I like about them and I end up with unfinished, incoherent beasts of reviews.

      I think my favorite is xxxHOLiC, it's such a beautiful and aesthetically relevant manga. CLAMP art is always gorgeous, of course, but in particular xxxHOLiC's black-and-white no screentones approach seems to be making a whole *statement*, and how long has it been since manga creators have actually experimented with panel layout.

      Others of my favorites are Fullmetal Alchemist--which is required reading at this point, Hikaru no Go--which is the best underdog shounen series in my opinion, and I will still love the first part of Naruto and Skip Beat! to death. Oh and a review of Touch by Mitsuru Adachi is coming down the pike because it's the single contender for holder of my heart and utter devotion with xxxHOLiC.