Ren Tsuruga (敦賀 蓮) is one of the main cast members in the shōjo, RomCom manga series, Skip Beat! (スキップ・ビート!), and one of the very first otaku characters that I admired ever so greatly, after Takumi Fujiwara and Ryōsuke Takahashi from Initial D. In many ways, he’s the quintessential romance character with his tall, charming demeanour, kind heart yet broody and somewhat salty attitude, desire to protect the ones he loves, and overall air of mystery that he carries around with him. But what makes him such a fascinating individual beyond the blatantly obvious is how human he truly is beneath the varnish of hardass celebrity fame and dazzling superficiality.
In the manga, Ren is Japan’s number one actor. Being a remarkably talented and hardworking dude, he also has the love and attention of a humongous fandom in almost all corners of the nation. Eventually, he comes across a bitter, angry, and vengeful teenager named Kyōko Mogami, who is also aspiring to become the best actress in the country. Through their many run-ins, both professional and personal, Ren eventually learns what it means to face the demons of one’s past in order to live a more meaningful life filled with joy and potentially even love.
Aside from his devilishly good looks, a few of the things that I absolutely adore about this character include his family values, desire to move beyond the scope of his past mistakes, and the way he wholeheartedly falls in love with every ounce of himself.
It doesn’t take too long to recognise the respect and love that Ren harbours for his family. As an actor, we see the many shades of his intimate relationship with the president and owner of the agency that he works for L.M.E., Lory Takarada. Lory is actually a friend of Ren’s parents and has become somewhat of a mentor for the young brooder, an adoptive father in many respects. While they have their differences with regard to personal relationships and the joys (and downfalls) of allowing oneself to love freely, their chemistry and ability to be unfiltered yet honest with one another is wonderfully endearing. In one specific scene when Lory is having a bit of a spat with his granddaughter, it’s Ren and Kyōko that help them to resolve the root of those issues. Later, when Ren’s parents are introduced, we get to see the same sort of meaningful affections between father and son, and then the trio of them together, and it’s gloriously fluffy and feel-good.
Because Ren has such nurturing and loving family dynamics, which become the biggest source of his compassion and empathy when he encounters Kyōko and recognises how much she craves the things that he had always taken for granted. It also helps him to overcome a lot of the terrible mistakes that he made when he was an adolescent, which is something that I relate to the most with him..
While living in another country, this headstrong, stubborn, and rather entitled leading teenager (at the time), gets caught up in a bad crowd of individuals, which leads him down a path of tragedy, guilt, shame, and grief. The event overwhelms him to such a degree that he becomes so lost and downtrodden with life. Through a series of circumstances, he gets an opportunity to start fresh in his ancestral country, Japan. This whole bit gives Ren’s character such an amazing amount of depth because it plays into the person we are introduced to in the beginning of the series. This insanely disciplined, workaholic dude that is intimidatingly serious about his work and professionalism. Why does he work so hard? Why does he avoid unnecessary relationships? How can he dodge scandals and other frustrations so nonchalantly while living in the limelight? How can he be so damn regimented and emotionless without burning out? It goes on and on.
As glimpses of his past are revealed, so is the cold, hard truth that he never really deals or processes through what had happened to him. Rather he chooses to run and to keep running via his work, which is never an authentic solution to something that is so enthusiastically ingrained into his brain and heart. It contributes to his inability to accept that he deserves happiness and companionship, or that people can actually grow and mature from their past errors, no matter how heart-breaking. Instead, he focuses on building this gigantic walls to protect himself as well as others from him.
You need to stop putting up this barrier between you and others, and don’t be so shallow. Otherwise, you won’t see the good in others.” – Lory Takarada
This is something that many people can relate to, particularly as adults. I know that I definitely did, and it eventually helped me to want to be better and avoid falling into the same emotional and mental traps that Ren finds himself in later in the series.
Lastly, the way that Ren loves Kyōko is so deep and beautiful, while also being outrageously comical and brain-bustingly frustrating. It’s my favourite romance in all media I’ve consumed because it’s so godawfully slow-burn. As much as it infuriates me to no avail, it also entertains me and is one of the things that inspired me to start writing stories. My very first writing project was a fan fiction tale of these two idiots finally getting together. Ever since then, I realised how much I loved writing stories and, as they say, the rest is in the past.
Ren cares for Kyōko in ways that makes him want to obsessively protect her, yet he also recognises that she is a strong-willed yet highly impulsive individual that doesn’t need saving most of the time. She is capable of handling herself. When there are moments that her lack of experience with social interactions, particularly with regard to the opposite sex, he gives her an unbeknownst nudge in the right direction and ends up rescuing her without compromising her sense of self or that independence that draws him to her. Kyōko is never demeaned or devalued in the presence of Ren Tsuruga and that is such a powerful message of self-respect that more young readers need to read and see, and it’s what makes this coupling my favourite in the manga medium. Plus, she has a way of challenging everything that he thinks he knows about life, making him recognise that in reality, the pretty boy doesn’t know shit for the most part, giving him space to grow and mature alongside his beloved.
Overall, Ren Tsuruga has been my heartthrob boy for way too damn long because the series has been going on for way too damn long. But I love it. It makes me laugh my ass off so much that I fall off the couch (my first time reading it, this happened at 2am, and I have no regrets). It makes me cry and feel enraged and frustrated, yet comforted and understood. The characters really make Skip Beat! a beacon of excellent character-driven narratives, and Ren Tsuruga is one of the most fascinating people in the franchise. If you’re in the market for a feel-good, fluffy, and on-occasion mildly maddening manga series, then I highly recommend Skip Beat! to you, more so if you love shōjo titles with strong, leads that don’t take shit from anybody.
Have you read Skip Beat!? Do you have a favourite character or maybe a character that you absolutely loathe? Please, come chat with me in the comments! I’d love to hear your musings.