Skip Beat! Review
On the surface, Skip Beat! looks like your average older anime title that is getting a UK re-release for Blu-ray and DVD, which would be a fair assumption since MVM have recently re-released the likes of Fruits Basket and Tenchi Muyo! Even Anime Limited is getting on the bandwagon by rescuing old licenses such as Kino’s Journey and Martian Successor Nadesico. However, despite what Skip Beat!‘s original airing date may tell you, it is not a re-release, in fact outside of Crunchyroll streaming the series a few years after its airing in Japan, it has NEVER seen a physical release in the West. That was until February 2016 when a Kickstarter campaign was started to not only fund a DVD and Blu-ray release, but also include a full English dub and multitude of extras. Its final amount of $224,546 far surpassed the original goal of $155,000, so it clearly has enough fans to help bring it to Western audiences. So, what exactly about Skip Beat! has captured the hearts of so many pledgers?
Kyoko Mogami is a 16-year-old girl who has given up high school, her home and former life to live in Tokyo with her childhood friend Sho Fuwa, whom she loves unconditionally. She works two jobs to support him whilst he pursues a profession as a J-pop idol. His career seems to be taking off, which Kyoko could not be happier about or more supportive of, that is until one day she overhears him say that, the whole time, he was simply using her as a maid to support him in his dreams and nothing more. Her world shattered, Kyoko decides to move out, dye her hair, and pursue a new avenue: revenge. She plans to become a famous star that will outshine Sho and rub in his face how belittled he made her feel. But the road to stardom is a rocky path, and normally one doesn’t get there by revenge…
Anime series centring on a seemingly normal character planning to become famous actresses, singers, idols and such, often have a similar pace and rhythm. They have a protagonist who is dedicated to entering their planned profession, they get discovered by someone who realises how amazing they are, they shoot straight to the top and are often famous, happy, and/or with their true love by the end of the series. Skip Beat! seems to have a similar goal in mind; from Kyoko’s change of hair style to her being able to get seen by an agency so quickly after setting out to achieve her goal. All the pieces are there to play out the same path of her becoming a famous idol that will stomp all over Sho, backed up by the opening animation which has her face plastered all over Tokyo. However, it quickly becomes a deconstruction of said genre as Kyoko doesn’t race to ‘celebrity’ status as she plans to, or discover she had a hidden talent all along. Instead the anime rips into her selfish ambitions and looks deep into her character from the inside-out, which leads her to have some monumental revelations that completely change her from the person we were first introducd to. She goes through a complete character arc and epiphany within the first few episodes that most protagonists often take an entire season’s worth of episodes to accomplish. Kyoko is a really fascinating and inspiring character to follow because not only is she funny and driven, but she’s also willing to admit her own mistakes and work at making herself a better person. Changing oneself takes time however, and so we get to follow her journey from being in Sho’s shadow to finding a way to get herself out of it, but also see her stumble along the way because no one can change without any mistakes being made. However, as her journey lasts a whole series (25 episodes to be exact, that sadly don’t deliver a full conclusion) it’s to be expected that a few story elements are stretched too thinly or written too haphazardly to work long-term. (Such as the ‘Love Me’ division that Kyoko joins near the start that slowly becomes a moot-point towards the end of the series.) Then the anime makes a big deal out of Kyoko never going to high school, spends a few episodes on her studying to go back, only for the audience to see her just ONCE in school uniform (unless you count the 2nd opening animation) before it’s dropped again. Considering that the original manga series by Yoshiki Nakamura is now up to 41 volumes, I’d wager a guess that the anime had to play into the very drawn-out story elements of the original series, when really it should have focused on the series’s strengths: its comedy timing and Kyoko’s relationships with the other characters.
Along the way, Kyoko isn’t the only one who changes. We also meet Ren Tsuruga; a veteran actor who seems to have the complete package – acting chops, good looks, ladies falling at his feet – and for some reason is very cold and cruel to Kyoko, so the pair immediately dislike each other. Normally the trope of ‘hate turning to love’ can be overplayed and eye-rolling, but their developing friendship and mutual respect is actually very endearing and realistically played out. You want to bonk the pair’s heads together sometimes so they would just talk their issues out, but also enjoy the fact that they can get under each other’s skin like no one else can. Kyoko’s ex, Sho, who sadly doesn’t have as much physical presence in the series as you’d think, is also very enjoyable. Yes, he’s an absolute jerk but you can’t help but love him when he’s on-screen because you know you’re going to get the fiercest sides of his and Kyoko’s personalities. Then there’s Kyoko’s rival-turned-best friend Kanae Kotonami, who never gets the screen-time her character deserves, but is also a voice of reason that the day-dreaming Kyoko needs; she’s a stand-out character in her own right, and the pair work well off each other, delivering some great comedy.
The English dub cast is full of fantastic talent, and were part of the original Kickstarter’s goals, yet despite a few notable talents (Caitlin Glass nails the variety of moods and comic timing of Kyoko, Grant George steals every scene as Sho, and Robbie Daymond plays the stoic yet hilarious Ren perfectly), a few odd decisions were made in the dubbing process. First of all, the language of the English dub is noticeably more ‘modern’ than the 2009 original script, using phrases such as ‘life goals’ and ‘x is your spirit animal’ that are not in the original Japanese dub, which may rub some purists the wrong way. This leads into my second point where they change some of the jokes. Most of it is still hilarious, however there’s a few misses such as one scene when a random actress swears in-between takes, and the English dub bleeps her, whereas the Japanese dub does no such thing. It doesn’t happen again or before that moment, so it’s an odd choice that doesn’t really work. And lastly, the production team made the choice of dubbing all the opening and ending songs into English – this baffled me considering this practice hasn’t been done in years outside of anime re-purposed as kids’ cartoons such as Beyblade and Pokémon. The singing voices are very good; however, the tracks are incredibly cheesy, and the translation is very literal in places; definitely ones to skip when watching.
Across the 4-disc set you have a ton of extras including clean openings and closings, behind the scenes videos and interviews with the cast. However, I was disappointed to see that most of the extras themselves were actually only previews; they show part of their featurette and then pushes you to the Skip Beat! website to see the full thing. If I was paying money for a DVD/Blu-ray set with advertised features, I’d expect to own the complete package, not advertisements for the site. There’s already terrible business practices of video games being sold full price with half the content locked behind paid downloadable content; we don’t need that kind of behaviour carrying over into home media, so cut that out, Pied Piper Inc!
It’s a shame that we didn’t get the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon when the series was first released, and that it wasn’t green-flagged for the second season it so clearly deserves, but that’s no reason to skip on Skip Beat! It’s quirky, funny and enjoyable, with easily likeable characters and great lessons on how to be the best person you can be for yourself, and no one else. Pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray whilst you can, it was a Kickstarter success for a reason.