Review for Skip Beat Collection
The short review: I got halfway through the DVD check discs, stopped what I was doing, and went and placed an order for the Blu-ray. It’s that good.
The crowdfunding model for anime has come to be something of a mixed blessing. For some distributors, the time between a crowdfunding drive and the final release can be excessively long, when you take into account just how long it takes to get a final product approved for release, especially with Japanese production committees that by this time are defunct. Also with crowdfunded titles, you might have the expectation that once backers are satisfied and a decent amount of time has passed, that a retail release will be forthcoming. This isn’t always the case, or at least my copy of Bubblegum Crisis remains sadly in standard definition. But once in a while, crowdfunding works for the both backers and for fans in general. Both times that I have benefited from crowdfunded anime, it’s been thanks to a company called Pied Piper. The first time it was with the Time of Eve feature film, and now it’s the Skip Beat anime, which MVM have licensed in the UK and are bringing out on Blu-ray and DVD. Incidentally, the UK Blu-ray comes at the end of March 2018. The US retail Blu-ray release comes at the end of June 2018, although Kickstarter backers have had their goodies since summer 2017, and it’s been out in Australia since last December.
Life couldn’t be much better for Kyoko Mogami. After all, she could fangirl all she wanted over pop idol Sho Fuwa, but life was even better than that, as after work she’d go home to Sho Fuwa. The two were childhood friends, raised together in the Fuwa family inn. But when Sho announced that he had no intention of inheriting the business, and instead wanted to be famous, the ever supportive Kyoko left home with him and they both headed to Tokyo. While he worked on his career, she would support them both, working jobs to pay the rent, buy the food, and take care of him.
Then one day she overhears the truth from Sho’s lips. The only reason he ‘let’ her come to Tokyo with him was to pay the rent and feed him, and that he could never be interested in a plain girl like her. From that point on, Kyoko swears off love, and vows her revenge. In this case, revenge means becoming famous, even more famous than him. Revenge isn’t the best motive to join the entertainment industry with, but there’s something about Kyoko that catches the eye of the president of the LME talent agency. He’s willing to take a chance on Kyoko, but he also comes up with a special training regime just for her.
All 25 episodes of the Skip Beat series are presented across 4 DVDs from MVM. The show is also available on Blu-ray.
1. And the Box Was Opened
2. Feast of Horror
3. The Emotion She Lacks
4. The Labyrinth of Reunion
5. The Danger Zone
6. Invitation to the Ball
7. Princess Revolution
8. Sink or Swim Together
9. The Miraculous Language of Angels
10. The Blue on Her Palm
11. The True Face of the Storm
12. Her Opened Wound
13. The Battle Girls
14. The Secret Stamp Book
15. Together in the Minefield
16. Dislike x Dislike
17. The Date of Destiny
18. Sin Like an Angel
19. The Last Ritual
20. Invitation to the Moon
21. The One Who Deserves to Be
22. The Day the World Shattered
23. And the Trigger Was Pulled
24. The Permissible Encounter
25. And Then the Door Opens
Skip Beat gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer encoded progressively on these discs. It’s a decent transfer, offering clear and sharp imagery, strong detail, and consistent, if slightly subdued colours. The animation is smooth, character designs are elegant and conform to the shojo archetypes, and the world design is simple but effective. The animation is heavy on the comedy, so expect plenty of SD transformations and sight gags. There is a bit of shimmer on the finest detail, indicative of the limits of DVD resolution.
Skip Beat gets DD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese audio tracks with optional translated (white) subtitles and a signs only track. The audio options in the menu allow you to select any combination of these, although the subtitles and audio are unlocked during playback. I went with the Japanese audio, which was adequate, if not quite perfect. The problems are two-fold. The first is inherent in the source, the storytelling style, in that there is a lot of inner monologue. That tends to have a slightly hollow effect to it, compared to the actual dialogue, and since there is so much in the way of monologue, it does begin to overwhelm. The second is what I perceived to be compression in the audio, making it sound a little muddy, and adding to the hollowness. For some reason, I only noticed it in the first two discs out of the four. (I didn’t notice it in the Blu-rays that I subsequently got in the post). Also, one of the discs has a rather awkwardly placed layer change. I gave the dub a quick try, and wasn’t immediately compelled to turn it off. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos.
The discs present their content with static menus, and each disc ends with a translated English credit reel (plus kickstarter backer names).
There is a Marathon Play mode on the discs, which lets you watch the episodes with intervening credit sequences and next episode previews edited out, cutting about 20 minutes from each disc. There’s an authoring flaw in that in Marathon mode, the discs escape to the main menu at the end of the first episode; for Marathon Mode to work normally, you just have to start it and skip past the first episode on the disc. This issue was also present on the US DVDs sent out to backers.
Disc 2 has the first batch of extras, interviews with Caitlin Glass (Kyoko) 2:57, Robbie Daymond (Ren) 2:15), and Cristina Vee (Erika/Producer/Casting Director) 4:19. These interviews are short, but are interesting to listen to.
There’s a Behind the Scenes Video which lasts 2:31, and is presented in the form of live action and photo slideshow.
The same is true for the Behind the Beat Video (3:20), which looks at the re-recording of the Japanese songs with English lyrics.
There are photo galleries as well.
Disc 4 has the rest of the extras including interviews with Mela Lee (Maria/Exec Producer) 4:32, Taliesin Jaffe (ADR Director) 3:20, and Christian La Monte (Script adaptor/Guest Director) 2:14.
You also get the textless credits, two of each, and the Clean Previews for the episodes which run in total to 9:31.
Annoyingly, each of the interviews ends with a disclaimer that you can find the full versions and more at the Skip Beat website. And at the time of writing, the skipbeatanime.com website is dead.
One thing is universal. Collectors love to categorise things. We like our possessions in neat and tidy brackets, no matter how blurred the lines may actually be. Like any entertainment medium, manga and anime can be split into genres, but it’s somewhat unique in entertainment in that it can be split by gender of the intended audience, shonen and seinen for boys and men, shojo and josei for girls and women. When it comes to manga, it’s pretty much a fifty-fifty split on the shop and library shelves, but when it comes to series adapted to anime, shonen series outnumber shojo series by a big margin. That margin increases when shows are licensed for the U.S. and it increases even further for shows brought to the UK. On top of that, it’s the shonen series that get the long running anime that run for hundreds of episodes, whereas a long running shojo manga will be lucky if it gets a 26 episode run; just a taster of the story.
I take a look at my collection, which is pretty extensive at this point, and when it comes to anime released in the UK, of the hundreds of titles, shojo is pretty weakly represented with titles like, Fruits Basket, Gravitation, Ouran High School Host Club, My Love Story, Vampire Knight, Princess Jellyfish, Hakuoki, and Usagi Drop, most of it blurring the lines to appeal across demographics. I’ve imported most of the stronger shojo and josei titles in my collection, shows like Chihayafuru, Honey & Clover, Nana, and Ristorante Paradiso and had accepted that shows like that just wouldn’t get a UK release, that I’d have to settle for the manga instead. And then Skip Beat shows up, as pure a shojo title as you are liable to get, and it is fantastic.
Another sweeping generalisation is that in shonen, the story drives the emotions, and the reverse is true in shojo. That is the case here, with protagonist Kyoko Mogami driven to revenge by her ex-boyfriend (at least she thought he was her boyfriend) Sho Fuwa. She gave up her life to join him on his quest for fame as a pop-star in Tokyo, supporting him by working to earn rent and food money while he got his foot on the first rung of the fame ladder. But when she learns that he’s only ever thought of her as a glorified maid, the previously mild-mannered and compliant future housewife dies a quick death, to be replaced by a vengeful, rage filled woman, who swears to get her own back by beating Sho at his own game. In other words, Kyoko will become more famous than he ever will. She begins by ditching her frumpy image, and camping outside a rival talent agency to Sho’s, until she gets her foot in the door.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and we get to see a lot of Kyoko’s fury in the show. Skip Beat is a comedy anime, which relies on plenty of deformed character moments, changing their appearances to enhance the gag, and one gag is Kyoko’s rage signified by little demon Kyokos erupting from her like Medusa’s snakes.
Skip Beat is a look at the entertainment industry from the point of view of the aspiring stars, in this case Kyoko and the people that she encounters. Sho already has a degree of success as an up and coming pop star, but Kyoko is starting out. It’s clear that tenacity and determination is essential, given the degrees that she goes to just to get an audition at the LME agency. She practically stalks an agent until she gets an audition, without even considering just where her talents lie. It’s the desire for revenge that makes her stand out, for all the wrong reasons. For one thing, it annoys everyone else who’s at the audition, who think that she’s not taking it seriously. The second thing is that in an industry where you’re supposed to present yourself to the public, to engage with an audience, such a self-centred motive means a lack of empathy which would isolate you from any would-be fans. On the other hand, Kyoko’s determination, and adverse motivation catches the eye of LME’s president, enough for him to give her a chance.
He starts the Love Me Section, especially for Kyoko, putting her on a unique training regime. Everything that she does while in the company will be appraised by those around her, and she will be graded on how ‘lovable’ she is. She’s forced to engage with the people that she works with, and revive that empathy that Sho Fuwa stunned with such brutality. Of course, rehabilitating Kyoko isn’t an overnight process, and the demons aren’t lurking far beneath the surface through the series.
It’s also Kyoko’s off-beat approach to fame that not only brings her much antagonism, but also positively affects the people that she encounters on her climb up the ladder. Her first real friend is a girl nicknamed Moko, who she encounters at the audition, someone who wants to be an actress for all the right reasons, and can’t countenance Kyoko’s lack of commitment to the art. But it turns out that Moko has issues of her own to resolve, and winds up alongside Kyoko in the Love Me Section, allowing their rivalry to grow into friendship as they learn from each other.
Kyoko also winds up helping Maria, the president’s granddaughter, a precocious prima-donna who everyone treats with kid-gloves, and who also thinks her road to fame is assured. Kyoko’s the first person who treats her as a normal person, and once again she winds up helping her through her issues.
Of course this wouldn’t be a romantic comedy without some romantic interest, and that comes in the form of LME’s biggest current star, Ren Tsuruga, the hottest idol actor in the business, and one who is instantly offended by Kyoko’s motives. But providence keeps throwing the two together, and Ren gradually learns to respect Kyoko’s talent and commitment. It quickly does become clear that Kyoko has talent as well, with a career as an actress beckoning. It’s a bumpy road, serving first as an assistant to established actresses, as well as doing time in a chicken suit as a TV mascot, before landing her first real screen role in an advert. That’s enough to get her noticed by a music video director, only the music video is for a Sho Fuwa song, a job that threatens to throw her back to square one.
I love Skip Beat, and not just because it’s a rare shojo anime title in the UK. It really is one of the best such anime to come out here. It’s got a delightful and engaging story, great characters, and a perfect blend of comedy and drama. It’s thoroughly entertaining, and I knew halfway through the DVDs that I was going to own this on Blu-ray. I hardly ever do that. But the reason it’s not a ten out of ten is because as I mentioned, like many shojo anime it’s finite. The manga is still ongoing at this point in time, volume 41 and counting. The anime only adapts around the first ten volumes or so, and it pretty much stops unceremoniously. It’s not a cliff-hanger, nor is it a satisfying conclusion that offers closure for a character or story arc. It’s just left hanging. After some 9½ years, I suspect that it won’t be picked up again at this point. However, that is the only disappointment with Skip Beat.