Welcome, one and all, to another anime review. Today, I’m looking at a show that I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time: Skip Beat! So, let’s get down to it!
Note: Review copy supplied by MVM Entertainment.
Title: Skip Beat!
Anime Studio: Hal Film Maker
Publisher: MVM Entertainment
Genre: Comedy / Romance
Released: March 26th 2018
Language: Japanese / English
Running Time: 600mins
Extras: Textless OP and ED, Textless Previews, Cast and crew interviews
16-year-old girl Kyoko Mogami as she accompanies her childhood friend Sho to Tokyo to help him make it as a famous musician. However, after overhearing Sho tell his management that he doesn’t care for her and only uses her as a maid, Kyoto decides to pursue her own career in showbiz in an attempt to get her revenge.
The protagonist of Skip Beat, Kyoko Mogami, is a fan of fairy tales. As such, it seems fitting that the series’ Western release is in some ways a fairy story. You see, when TV TOKYO decided that the best way to release the show to English speaking audiences was with an English voice cast, the whole release was thrown into doubt. Shoujo titles don’t tend to do well when it comes to dubs. So, even with a lot of support for the series, there was no interest from studios as far as actually recording the dub goes. This was a problem, as TV TOKYO insisted it was a necessity, or they wouldn’t allow the release. Pied Piper stepped in and licensed the series, launching a Kickstarter campaign to get the dub funded. The campaign raised almost 50% more than it needed to. Then, in March 2018, MVM Entertainment released the series here in the UK.
Now, though I wasn’t a backer in the Kickstarter campaign, I was aware of the series before I watched it. I’d read enough reviews to know roughly what it was about and that it had a good reputation. As such, what I expected was an entertaining rom-com with a Japanese edge. In the end, what I got was so much more.
The show is absolutely made by Kyoko. You see, my own experience with anime has been that female characters, especially those still in their teens, can be a bit of a mixed bag. It almost feels like for every interesting character, there’s a bunch of others that aren’t entirely bad but are very focused on portraying one single trait/character type. At the start of Skip Beat, this almost seems to be the case for Kyoko too. She’s obviously very caring, but nothing stands out quite as much as her drive for revenge against Sho. My initial concern was that this would be all there was to her, and that the arc would wear thin, no matter how much the story switches between the comedy and the serious undertones. Yet, that didn’t happen. As the episodes marched on, we learn quite a bit more about Kyoko and the different things that make her who she is. Her history is presented in a very natural way, with little snippets coming up as and when they fit in with her latest escapade. And even if the desire for revenge remains a constant through many of the twenty-five episodes, it’s not used to reiterate the same point over and over. Kyoko’s memories of the way Sho treated her and the effect it has on her changes as the series goes on. She learns from her experiences and grows with them, and in the end, it all helps her find her own way in life, rather than lumbering her with a burden based solely around one man and his actions.
Even outside the progression in her story arc though, Kyoko is a wonderful mish-mash of character types. Of course, being a shoujo title, there’s the inevitable crush and desire for romance. The love of fairy tales and cosmetics, and even her more caring and over-excited moments are all things that could be seen as typical qualities for a female lead in a potentially romantic anime role. At the same time though, they’re complimented by a whole host of things that would normally fit elsewhere. Her occasional near violent outbursts – not to mention her very apparent dark side – could well have been taken from a shounen title. The passion that she has for her job, her stubbornness in the face of challenges, her need to grab hold of the things that she feels like she missed out on. They all help make her someone that comes across as very well rounded. Add in the fact that the romance is a very slow burning thing, with Kyoko needing to work through her own issues before she can really consider it (rather than viewing it as a quick fix), and you have a real winner here. It all feels very real, even with the shenanigans on screen.
That’s not to say that Kyoko is the only cast member to overachieve though. Love interest Ren Tsuruga first appears to be an atypical shoujo male. He has the long neck, the sharp angled chin, and the height to fit the role. He starts off a little cold towards Kyoko, but never drops the feel of being suave and overly attractive to the various females of the Skip Beat world. Again though, there’s more to him than meets the eye. For all his success and talent, he has some real issues to work through. And on top of that, he does something that I haven’t seen a romantic lead in an anime do before: he starts to question whether there’s a moral issue to him, a guy in his early twenties, being interested in someone still of a high school age. Not only that, but the whole subject is broached in a way that comes across as very authentic and actually helps make Ren more likable.
Then there’s Sho. He is just plain detestable. But in the way that he should be. His treatment of Kyoko is outright abusive, and his overriding arrogance is such that it simply ramps up everything about him that could make a viewer angry. It never feels like his worst actions are being played for laughs, and he isn’t given any support to reinforce the behavior. He is just plain bad. Despite this though, his story never quite goes the way that you may expect it to.
And that’s important. Is Sho redeemable? Will Kyoko be an instant success? Will the romantic sparks fly at the first opportunity? All these things and more seem like they’re going one way, but then swerve you before you have a chance to see it coming. The route Skip Beat took was, in some ways, exactly what you’d expect, but it throws in so many surprises that it’s hard not to like the overall story. For all the standard elements, there were so many surprises that it felt all the more fresh.
I absolutely loved the animation style here too. Yes, the character designs were pretty standard, but there was still enough variance in the key characters for them to stand out from one another and be recognizable. There are one or two moments where character’s faces seemed slightly off, or that maybe a few less frames of animation were used than needed, but these are few and far between. The overall quality is very high and adds a real smoothness and vibrance to the proceedings. Plus, the switch in style for the more over-the-top moments fits really well and becomes a strong, visual extension of the gags. It helps that the humour is genuinely funny too of course, but good jokes can be ruined by poor visuals, so it’s good to see the studio get it right on both counts.
But … what of the English dub? It was a major sticking point in terms of getting the title out there, after all. Was it worthwhile in the end? In a word, yes. I understand there were questions raised about the decision to re-dub the musical pieces, such as the themes and insert songs. It’s certainly not something that is common practice anymore. It makes sense though, because these were things that were more than just background ambience. Sho’s songs are part of his career, so if the character is speaking in fluent English, why wouldn’t he sing in it too? The vocal dubs are well done, so there’s really little to worry about.
And as for the voice cast’s main performances? They do a remarkable job. Caitlin Glass, perhaps most famous for playing Winry (Fullmetal Alchemist) and Cammy (Street Fighter), really brings Kyoko to life, switching between her different emotions with ease. Robbie Daymond (Spider-Man in the 2017 Disney XD cartoon) puts in a fine performance as Ren, balancing out the way characters like him are expected to sound, with some nice touches during the more emotional scenes. Grant George (Zexceed in SAO2) is fantastic as Sho, bringing out both his onscreen persona and his childish nature brilliantly. Erica Lindbeck (Barbie 2016 – 2017) also stands out as Kanae Kotonami, the girl who Kyoko encounters during her first audition. Even the smaller characters come across well, with Vic Mignogna surprising me the most with his performance as Yukihito Yashiro. Okay, so that probably sounds like an odd statement, given Vic’s fame. The thing is though, I really liked him as Ed Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist, but have found that he didn’t really stand out for me in anything else that I’ve seen him in. Well, other than Digimon Adventure Tri, where I felt he was miscast. Here though, he’s given a relatively minor role, but manages to make the most of his screen time and proves himself a good fit with the likable Yukihito.
After all those positives, there is one thing to criticize though: at only twenty-five episodes, we are nowhere near the point that the manga has reached. In fact, we leave the story in the middle of Kyoko and Ren acting in a TV series. This is counter-acted by the ending being set up in such a way that it hints strongly at the resolution of the romance plotline, but doesn’t outright say it, just in case there’s a second series. Unfortunately, there isn’t a second series. I would have loved to have seen things wrapped up fully here, but it just wasn’t to be in this case. It’s not like we’re left in a place where there’s too much unanswered and the future is too fuzzy to see how it may go, but it is a shame that there’s not more to come.
I summary, Skip Beat! is a thoroughly entertaining, and highly surprising, slice of comedy and romance. It’s full of three-dimensional characters, good humour, and multiple genuinely relatable story arcs. In short, Skip Beat! is hands-down one of the best releases of 2018 and is more than worthy of a full five stars.