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The unique storyline of Skip Beat! has caught the attention of many feminists for its feisty heroine, Kyoko. After spending years at the beck and call of Sho, the guy she’s head over heels for/superstar, Kyoko discovers that her prince on a white horse is actually a self-absorbed jerk who was only using her as a maid. Her heart may have been crushed, but rather than crumple to the ground and curl up into a ball, this heroine picks herself up and steels her mind on something else: revenge. With that Kyoko enters showbiz to become a more popular star than Sho. While her initial focus is pure revenge, she grows passionate about acting and changes from a girl obsessed with a jerky guy to an independent woman and a force to be reckoned with.

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From the left: Reino, Ren, and Sho

Interestingly, although Kyoko breaks from living life under the foot of a guy, throughout the thirty volume series so far she seems surrounded by men with a possessive nature. In between spasms of humor and (sometimes mixed up in them),  nemesis Sho, coworker Ren, and singer Reino all have an interest in Kyoko and, whether their motivation is good or not, they all have moments of fighting to have some to a lot of control over her.

The worst offenders are Sho and Reino, which is depicted clearly when Reino makes his first appearance in the series. In this section of the story, Reino is the lead member of a new band trying to steal Sho’s fame by knocking off his work and style. Reino takes this so far that he decides to make Kyoko “his” simply because he believes that she’s Sho’s girl right now. In other words, he has no interest in Kyoko herself but is viewing her more as a thing to be stolen from his rival. This leads to a series of stalking incidents in which he eventually chases Kyoko into a forest and corners her. He tells her, “I’m looking forward to Fuwa (Sho’s) reaction when he sees you completely torn and tattered,” once again making it clear that he’s bothering Kyoko because he’s trying to hurt his rival, Sho. However, after coming face-to-face with Kyoko’s fierceness, Reino takes a personal interest in her (lucky Kyoko) and the dominance comes into play; he wants Kyoko to hate him so much that her mind and heart are filled only with thoughts of him. Creepy? Extremely. This section was disturbing on several levels, including the language used. Kyoko is constantly referred to as if she were an object to be possessed rather than a person with freewill and the word “dominate” gets thrown around as well.untitled folder14

Sho uses similar tacts, i.e. he tries to dominate Kyoko by getting her to hate him so that she only thinks of him. Later in the series, afraid that Kyoko might be interested in either Ren or Reino, Sho insults her repeatedly and then forcefully kisses her. Before this, while Kyoko hated Sho for having used her as a maid while caring nothing for her at the beginning of the series, her focus on her hatred for him had seemed to be dwindling. Therefore, for the sole purpose of stirring her up again and regaining his hold on her, Sho acted in this way.

bskip_beat_144_12Both of these guys are portrayed as jerks, although Sho gets moments where a better side is hinted at. However, even the “nice” guy in this story, Ren, has a bit of a possessive streak. For example, when Sho forcefully kissed Kyoko, she is distraught because that had been her first kiss. At first, it seems like Ren is trying to explain away the idea that her real first kiss could be stolen by essentially saying a real kiss is a mutual thing based on love, which was a nice thing to do. But he ends the explanation by basically threatening her that there’s no second chance and if Sho kisses her again, he’ll be angry with her. In a later incident, Ren gets angry at Kyoko because she allowed a guy to buy her a makeover. He makes a good point that a girl shouldn’t accept such gifts if she’s not interested in the guy because he’ll get the wrong idea, but it’s hinted that at least part of his anger is due to the fact that he didn’t want any other guys to know how pretty Kyoko could look. While some of his anger may be understandable as a guy who loves Kyoko, it strikes me as a bit possessive, especially when some things (like the kiss) were out of Kyoko’s power yet somehow the anger still falls at least partially on her.

What do you think? Is Kyoko surrounded by possessive guys or is Ren’s position justified?

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Skip Beat! is one of those highly addicting series that’s hard to put down. Funny and drama-filled, it follows Kyoko, a young woman who decides to get into showbiz to best the rising star guy who used her good nature and threw her away. Some day I’d love to write a review on the series in general, but today I want to focus on something in particular: how interactions between women are presented. As I watch or read Skip Beat!, I have noticed that on her quest to rise up the ranks of stardom, Kyoko frequently is met by adversaries who try their best to trample her. Those adversaries are usually women. This alone doesn’t necessarily bother me; getting into showbiz is extremely difficult so, it makes sense that rivalry occurs. What bothers me is that these female rivalries are very reminiscent of mean girl behavior between women frequently portrayed in fiction and that those rivalries make up a majority of female interactions in the series.

From very early on in the series, Kyoko is faced with mean girl behavior. First, Kyoko meets Kanae (a.k.a. Moko) at an audition, where Moko is snide and hostile toward her for no other reason besides that she thinks Kyoko seems too ordinary and is competing against her. Soon after that, Kyoko is assigned to assist Ruriko, an up and coming actress who is spoiled and refuses to work with others yet puts up a nice face initially. She singles Kyoko out from the beginning as someone to use and bully, but her jealousy grows when Kyoko receives attention from popular actor, Ren Tsugura, whom Ruriko likes. Then there is Erika, who is not only spoiled but also a daughter of a big time businessman who used her family’s power to get herself the best roles and thwart any potential rivals. On top of all these rivals, nameless girls are constantly taking jibes at Kyoko, too.

But is this trend of female rivalry in Skip Beat! that much different from rivalry trends in other manga? In shonen (boys’) manga, the hero often has plenty of rivals of the same gender. One of the best examples of this is Naruto. Naruto starts off as an outcast who is disregarded by his peers and even made fun of. But as he gets stronger and proves himself repeatedly, he slowly begins to win the support of those peers. This set up is similar to what is seen in Skip Beat!. Kyoko is often underestimated by peers, but once she proves her acting skills and confronts the rivals in question, the girls at least acknowledge her and many even come to like her. Ruriko’s “battle” with Kyoko makes her realize how much she really loves acting and that she needs to compromise to work with others. Erika decides to stop relying on her family name to get roles but use only her own skills. Some rivals, like Moko, even become friends with Kyoko. This last bit is especially important because it allows readers/viewers to see character depth and development beyond the initial mean girl attitude and shows positive female relationships. Once friends, Kyoko and Moko help and support each other, breaking from the generally catty behavior shown of other young women.

Perhaps the trouble lies in the fact that many of the interactions between young women, rival or not, are coated with displays of the jealous, nasty, sneaky, and cutthroat behavior, even though there are some good female friendships. This is enforced with comments about Kyoko and Moko’s previous attempts at friendship: Moko says that the reason she never made female friends was because they gossip about/backstab others and and Kyoko always wanted female friends, but was shunned by the girls at her school for simply being close to a popular guy. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of how girls behave among each other. While mean girls do exist and work well for a drama, it is a shame that fiction continuously focuses strongly on the negative because it creates the idea that mean girls are around every corner and overshadows healthy female interactions and friendships. So, it’s not just Skip Beat! but the combination of so many representations of mean girls in fiction that’s the real problem.

Luckily, Skip Beat! does have some positive female interactions as well and provides a heroine who doesn’t let anything defeat her. There also seem to be less mean girl scenarios as the series has progressed. So, don’t let my musings about female interactions stop you from giving either the manga or anime a try if you haven’t already! For those of you who follow the series, what do you think about how female interactions are portrayed? Do they contribute to mean girl stereotypes or is it just another drama filled with rivalry?

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