By Yoshiki Nakamura. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz.
In my review of Volume 21, I noted that most of it was setup for the payoff of Kyoko's full-fledged Natsu we'd see here. And what a fantastic transformation it is, as Kyoko manages to do what she knew she had to, and make Natsu a role all her own, completely separate from Mio. Of course, this is not without a little help from Ren, who gives her some instructions on how to walk like a model, so Kyoko can strut more confidently.
One thing I enjoyed is showing that every part of Kyoko's life has helped shape her into the actress that she is. Yes, she has an amazing acting talent, as Ren notes, but it's not just a savant sort of thing. The reason that Ren can teach her these things in one evening is that Kyoko already has most of the model posture down from her years working at the inn - this was brought up in a much earlier arc, where she had the proper posture of an 'ojou-sama', but now we see how it can also create Natsu, a confident and bored princess of an entirely different type.
The remainder of the volume is filled with Kyoko, now immersed in her Natsu role, being thoroughly awesome. From the moment we see her grabbing Rumi-chan's wayward hat, Kyoko is simply in the zone. She also understands what being in a clique is like, as we see her not sell out the other actresses to the director even though she knows they stole part of her costume. Kyoko notes bluntly that she won't let other people solve her friend's problems that are within the group. It's between Natsu and Kaori, the characters.
And then there's Chiaki, who's the real villain behind this arc. Not content with simple pranks like the other actresses (whom Kyoko pretty much wraps around her little finger post-change, even getting them to go out to a roadside ramen stand as it's the sort of thing a bored rich girl would find interesting), Chiaki wants to ruin Kyoko. Unfortunately, her plans backfire spectacularly here, as not only does the director decide he likes this new Natsu, but now it's Chiaki's portrayal of Yumika that doesn't fit - and Chiaki who's on the hotseat. What's more, part of her backstory is finally revealed, and it's not a pretty one. Manga in general is quite fond of 'dark mirrors', evil counterparts to our hero or heroine with similar traits and pasts. So now we see Kyoko dealing with an actress who *has* been trapped by typecasting, and is becoming more and more desperate. Cue the cliffhanger.
It's not all drama, though. There's lots of great humor here, ranging from Ren's attempts to get Kyoko to relax (and tease her at the same time), to the hysterical exchange between Rumi-chan and Chiaki about the 'new' Natsu, to Kyoko's 'Ganbatte!' note to Chiaki that's cute but also taunting. In addition, Nakamura's art and layout is simply stellar here, with many pages I wanted to go back and look at just for the sheer joy of the panel itself. Particularly the revelation of Natsu to her fellow actresses (balanced out with a flashback to Kyoko's 'plain udon' looks of 2 days before), and the final shot of Kyoko on the stairs for the cliffhanger.
To sum up, this volume is all about Ren's quote "Once she's interested in the role, she takes off real fast." I eagerly await the next volume (and particularly how others will react to it), which is all about the other half of Ren's quote: "She's scary once she wakes up."