Skip Beat! – Shou Fuwa Is a Shithead
This fucking guy . . .
Just kidding. This post won’t be about that douchenozzle (mostly). I just wanted to rile up any irrational Fuwa fans out there. Hi!
Part of what makes Skip Beat! so enjoyable is that while it employs its fair share of shoujo character types, development and storylines, the series is also clever enough to use all of that as a simple base and build its own story from there. Where this especially interests me is in the romantic development — Skip Beat! takes a cue from Nodame Cantabile in that the (potential) romance develops as a result of Kyoko and Ren pushing their respective acting careers rather than direct, contrived development on the part of the story. And make no mistake: In the anime, Ren is the clear romantic suitor, no matter how conflicted about his feelings Shou is during eps 18-19.
Shou is amusing because if this were many other shoujo series, then he would absolutely be the stronger love interest for Kyoko. He’s basically the prototypical haughty lead: Pretty boy, talented, childhood friend, antagonistic toward the female lead but also crafted in such a way that she can get under his skin, solve his personal issues and then they can have a turbulent yearlong relationship followed by a furious break-up long after the conclusion of the main story. But it shocks me how small a presence Shou has in the series.
He is of course important to Kyoko’s development, because his assholery is the impetus behind Kyoko’s desire to enter show business, and the arc in eps 17-19 helps Kyoko discover the true professional in her and also what is truly important in her life. Shou being a humongous prick helps Kyoko grow into a woman rather than cling to her childish revenge fantasy. However, that is basically as far as Shou’s role goes in the anime. He appears in maybe two-fifths of the series, at best, and almost always in short bursts. While Kyoko is busy maturing as a person and an actress, Shou is stuck in his own ennui, obsessing over his popularity and cool image while being a greedy, childish idiot behind the scenes. (Though, to be fair to him, I can’t imagine many other 16-year-old rock stars acting different. However, he’s still a Grade A fuckhead.)
In the Skip Beat! anime, there is exactly one spark of potential romantic interest from Kyoko toward Shou post-identity change: When Shou is onstage singing at the talk show, Kyoko reflects on how cool he looks despite what a shitty friend he was to her. And that is directly contrasted by the events of a few minutes prior, where Kyoko covertly tries to get Shou to unveil his true self in front of many fans and TV viewers. It’s telling that the only attraction Kyoko feels toward Shou is when he is literally putting on an act, since it is the only source of coolness he possesses. Kyoko admires Shou’s showmanship much more than she will ever admire the man himself.
Now, I have not read the manga, nor am I familiar with Yoshiki Nakamura’s other works or her views on these sorts of matters, so this is pure speculation on my part and thus should be taken with a grain of salt: But it seems as if the way Shou is developed during the portion of Skip Beat! adapted by the anime, the author is sticking it to the type of lead male Shou represents, as if the story is sticking it to the idea — the fantasy — that an asshole of Shou’s caliber could ever change to the extent where he could deserve a strong girl (and, later, a strong woman) like Kyoko. Shou sees how much Kyoko has grown, becomes confused and then lashes out in jealousy by nearly ruining the goodwill that developed between Kyoko and Ren. All the guy can do is stew in his own anger.
Ren is a different animal. His problem is a romantic cliche — he’s the loveless man who needs the headstrong, fiery Kyoko to unwittingly open his heart, but in many other ways he’s a refreshing male lead. Like Shou, Ren is initially antagonistic toward Kyoko, but his antagonism toward Kyoko makes sense, even if it is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the type of person Kyoko really is: Ren believes that Kyoko does not treat the acting profession with respect, and thus he does not treat Kyoko with much more than the modicum of human respect he doles out to most everyone who comes across him every day (but he never treats her as if she is subhuman). Ren is a cool, snarky, reserved dude (but with plenty of little human touches, especially regarding his jealousy, which makes me like him even more), but he takes his shit seriously, and it’s that seriousness that makes he realize he was wrong the entire time about Kyoko.
What really makes the sparks between Ren and Kyoko work is that they’re based upon earned mutual respect rather than puppy love. Ren has his past with Kyoko (which Kyoko does not totally recall, probably because Ren looked different back then; there has to be a reason his face is never shown in those flashbacks), but he does not realize at first that this is her, so all Kyoko has to get by with him is the respect she receives as a result of becoming a strong actress. Ren pushes Kyoko in that direction as much as Shou does, but where the energy Kyoko gets from focusing on Shou is mostly negative, she gets a lot of positive energy from Ren, even though he is highly critical of Kyoko at first. Ren pushes Kyoko toward self-improvement, toward appreciation of and growth within her craft.
But what else is cool about the respect angle is how it slowly flips as the sparks develop between Kyoko and Ren. In the beginning, Ren holds the power; he’s the talented, experienced actor, while Kyoko is the upstart who doesn’t take the job seriously. But Kyoko improves. She really gets into the heart of her characters, whether they’re girls running through the field in a commercial or complex roles like Mio, the scarred, jealous older sister Kyoko plays in the drama remake in the anime’s final arc. (Side note: I love that Kyoko has a bit of Al Pacino in her acting; she’s totally hamming it up as Mio! She’s also got some crazy Daniel Day-Lewis in her, what with staying in character for so damn long.) Kyoko continually takes what Ren throws her way and gives it back to him tenfold, and she shows Ren that he has to be mindful of her as a person. The guy has no other choice; Kyoko is just that intense.
And when Ren starts to slip in the acting department, Kyoko is there to help him back up, albeit indirectly. There was a gap between Ren and Kyoko to start, and now they’re damn near equals . . . and the next step for Ren isn’t to reassert his dominance over Kyoko, but to become equal to her by discovering what she discovered — how to open his heart so that he can truly inhabit his characters heart and soul, their intelligences and their passions. Not that Kyoko is an idiot, but I think Ren helped temper Kyoko’s style with intelligence, and she responded by opening up his style to discover passion. They work, they observe, they respect . . . and then they love.
I probably wrote a bit too much about the guys, because Kyoko really is the star of the series (and a hell of a fiery lead!), but her relationships with Shou and Ren display how much she is able to grasp at her dreams herself and earn what she gets through work and passion. They don’t lead her into anything; they may provide a kickstart or some blunt advice, but Kyoko recognizes her luck and unique opportunities and grabs them with as much force as possible. Shoujo is often derided as wish fulfillment, and Kyoko is often compared to Cinderella by several characters . . . but Kyoko busts her ass for everything she gets, no matter where the opportunities come from.
I’d be remiss if I ended this post without mentioning how fantastic Marina Inoue is as Kyoko. She nails everything: The sweetness, the childishness, the anger, the sarcasm and especially the humor. The part where Kyoko has to dress as the chicken mascot for the talk show results in an unbelievably funny performance from Inoue. Wonderful stuff.
EDIT: ALSO, SKIP BEAT! NEEDS A SECOND SEASON, ARGH *goes to burn through the manga*