What does it look like to achieve success on your own terms? To break your own records and unlock your dreams without anyone second-guessing your age, womanhood, appearance, or disposition? Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that these are the battles that women fight on the daily—Olympic athlete or otherwise.
Taking a stand against the toxicity of the social pressures that women face, global prestige skincare brand SK-II, along with its newly minted SK-II STUDIO, touched us with Japanese Olympian swimmer and cancer survivor Rikako Ikee’s emotional return to the sport in their first film, The Center Lane, back in March. And now, the brand has once again upped their game with the new ‘VS’ Series, an animated anthology series that reinforces the conversation on what it means to beat the odds as women, and our innate ability to #CHANGEDESTINY.
This six-part anthology series features top Olympic athletes—US gymnast Simone Biles, Chinese swimmer Liu Xiang, Japanese table-tennis player Kasumi Ishikawa, Japan’s national volleyball team Hinotori Nippon, Japanese professional surfer Mahina Maeda, and Japanese badminton duo Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo. Each story is led by awe-inspiring women as each of them faces a different social pressure, in the guise of massive Kaijus (the Japanese term for strange beasts), illustrating that fundamentally, we are all human.
The setting for each film ranges from sci-fi cyberpunk-esque to a dystopian city in despair. Reminiscent of some of our favourite animation series growing up, it is here where our female protagonists go up against their personal kaijus—a glowing green digitised monster, tsunami-like tidal waves or giant machine-like robots. Each story draws us into our heroines’ internal struggles, making us root for them when they emerge victorious, stronger and more determined in their personal #CHANGEDESTINY moments.
Everyday struggles brought to life in an artful fashion through animation
While each short film is a representation of the specific pressures that the Olympic athletes struggle with constantly, the stories are sure to resonate with every one of us. Be it unrealistic beauty ideals, hate comments or constant objectification, these are the same oppressive forces that women all over the world battle daily.
We truly feel for Kasumi Ishikawa as she falters when struck with insecurity and self-doubt, unsure of her future, in the film VS Self-Doubt. As women, our harshest critics are sometimes sadly, not the people around us, but ourselves. t’s easy to buy into the myth that we’ll never be worthy, that we need to excel or worse—that we’re only ‘good enough’ if we’re productive and hustling. But like Kasumi, we must not allow self-doubt to sit triumphant and actions to go undone. Your doubts are not the truth—choosing to believe in oneself is all it takes to keep on moving forward.
In the film VS Machines, the badminton duo literally rages against the machines that they’ve become. In this relatable story, instead of allowing ourselves to feel pain, we are told to toughen up to meet the challenges head-on, even when life gets difficult. In reality, a life devoid of emotions—be they positive or negative—is unhealthy. This film reminds us that we are not machines. The feelings that we experience, both the joys and failures, actually make us into the people we are today. And, if there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that no woman is an island. The human connections we form are equally as important—in fact, researchers in Singapore’s NUS-Duke Medical School found that one in three adults, particularly women and younger adults experienced psychological distress related to the unprecedented year we’ve had and the lack of connection.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that we are only limited by our determination and beliefs. As long as you believe, you can succeed, and this is what the Japanese national volleyball team teaches us in the VS Limitations film. More importantly, it also reminds us that when women come together to help one another, achieving anything is possible.
The series also tackles other real-life pressures that women face when it comes to expectations of beauty. VS Trolls uncovers the issue of cyber bullying as Simone Biles battles the Internet trolls who have been trying to pull her down for her physique and appearance throughout her career. In VS Obsession, Liu Xiang fights for her worth as a world record swimmer rather than her looks. In VS Rules, Mahina Maeda challenges the unwritten rules of how women should act, look, and behave and chooses to embrace her true self and passion, even if it may not be what society deems as beautiful.
Powerful storytelling born out of impactful collaborations
As inspiring as their stories are, the female protagonists are definitely not the only headliners, as the creative teams behind each ‘VS’ film are also acclaimed professionals in their own right. Grammy winner, singer and songwriter John Legend and Chinese singer-rapper-songwriter Lexie Liu lent their talents to the soundtrack while award winning production houses, Imaginary Forces (the team behind cult series Game of Thrones and Stranger Things), Passion Pictures (the team behind Netflix’s Zima Blue), C3 and Platige Image helmed the visuals, graphics and animations.
With so many talented cooks in the kitchen, it’s no wonder that every second of each film is a delightful visual experience. From traversing a sapphire blue underwater world to being transported to a glossed, futuristic city, the SK-II STUDIO ‘VS’ Series makes great use of visuals to convey its messages.
You too can #CHANGEDESTINY
To officially launch the highly anticipated SK-II STUDIO ‘VS’ Series, a global premiere took place in Hainan, China on 1 May. It saw over 30 industry leaders coming together to rally behind SK-II’s #CHANGEDESTINY message in empowering women in their chosen destinies. At the same time, SK-II also brought its first-ever virtual city into the homes of every woman across the globe.
Inspired by the vibrant scenes of Tokyo that we miss so dearly, you’ll be transported to the heart of the bustling city, complete with sights and sounds, from the iconic Shibuya Crossing to the Tokyo Tower and Mount Fuji. Don’t forget to catch every one of the ‘VS’ Series in the SK-II Cinema or even go on an exclusive backstage tour of the SK-II STUDIO, where you can discover fascinating behind-the-scenes moments in the creation of the ‘VS’ Series.
Continue to show your support for every woman who has made the decision to rewrite their destiny by watching all six episodes of the ‘VS’ Series. For every view, SK-II will contribute $1 to its #CHANGEDESTINY Fund in support of women pursuing their own #CHANGEDESTINY. Do your part and help SK-II reach its US$500,000 goal. You are your own hero.