The ‘VS’ Series

Merging animation, live action and story-telling with purpose

“I’m not a vase, I’m a world-record holder.” Chinese swimmer Liu Xiang didn’t hold back her words in an interview with Tencent Sports shortly after breaking the women’s 50 metre backstroke world record in August 2018 at the Asian Games in Indonesia.

Liu Xiang’s remark was prompted by the constant mainstream and social media references to her looks rather than her sporting achievements. After her Jakarta triumph, she was constantly compared with Chinese supermodel Liu Wen. “Wow, she can break a world record and has such beauty and elegance. What a goddess,” wrote one Weibo user.

But such descriptions don’t fit with Liu Xiang’s view of the world – nor of herself. That determination not to be labelled for her looks but for her sporting ability is the theme of ‘Obsession’, one of six films released by SK-II STUDIO in the new ‘VS’ Series. As documented earlier in this publication, the anthology is based on the real-life experiences of six inspirational female Olympic athletes in a series designed to inspire women to #CHANGEDESTINY.

Besides Liu Xiang, others featured include Olympic gymnast Simone Biles from the US; double Olympic medal-winning table tennis player Ishikawa Kasumi; Olympic gold medal-winning badminton duo Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo; celebrated Hawaiian surfer Mahina Maeda; and the Japanese volleyball team Hinotori Nippon.

In keeping with SK-II STUDIO’s mission, each film in the ‘VS’ Series tackles a range of different societal pressures that women experience. These include internet trolls, pressure, image obsession, rules, limitations and machine-like mindsets. Those pressures are brought brilliantly to life in the form of a ‘kaiju’, Japanese for ‘strange beast’. Each kaiju sheds light on the inner demon that each athlete must defeat to pursue their destiny.

The ‘VS’ films mix animation and live action to exquisite, sometimes frightening and powerful effect. In ‘VS Obsession’, the animated version of Liu Xiang dives into the metaphorical seas of the image-obsessed, where she must race against the speed of the internet to show the world who she truly is. As she swims, she is surrounded by social media posts. “Go, go Goddess!” says one. “Why be an athlete when you can rely on your looks?” asks another. “Beauty is her strength,” says a third.

As she is overwhelmed with social media hype, Liu Xiang clicks onto a story listing China’s top ten athletes. Her name is missing. “I’m not on the list,” she says. “This is the conversation that I want to be part of. I want to be seen as an athlete!” After being swallowed by a whale symbolising the devouring effect of social media, she swims free, breaking through a vortex of hearts that represent all her virtual likes. “I don’t want to be defined this way,” Lui Xiang declares. “I am a swimmer. I am a world record holder. When I’m in the pool, my goal is clear.”

She swims back to the surface and the real Liu Xiang appears, diving past a volcanic eruption of social media and swimming to the other end of the pool. The film cuts dramatically to her on the starting block wearing a long flowing red gown. “Looks can be judged in one second,” she intones, and dives in. “But our achievements last a lifetime.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance,” she says. “It’s a choice.”

In highly stylised form, each of the other films touches on similar themes, showing the athletes breaking free from the suffocating constraints of societal pressures. In the beautifully shot ‘VS Rules’, surfer Mahena Maeda is forced to meet the expectations of others in a lyrically portrayed Japanese dream world. She has to make a choice whether to follow the strict behavioural rules of society (and beauty) or be brave and simply be herself. That choice is her destiny.

“Should others make the rules of beauty?” Maeda asks as the film concludes with a sumptuous panoramic shot of Maeda, all alone in the vast open sea. “Or should we make our own?”

In the spellbinding ‘VS Pressure’, table tennis star Kasumi Ishikawa battles self-doubt in a neon-lit futuristic city, and overcomes the greatest opponent she has ever faced. Herself. “Pressure. I’m not the only one that feels it,” says her animated version as she faces a desperate struggle to overcome the kaiju. “I’m not the only one who doubts. Who struggles. Who fights. Who climbs. Who dreams.”

“Will you stop here?” taunts the kaiju. “Are you done? Will you give up?” “I will never give up,” Kasumi Ishikawa replies defiantly as she clings to the side of a crumbling building.

“Why do we let self doubt hold us back when we can let courage move us forward?” she asks as the movie cuts back thrillingly to the real Kasumi Ishikawa about to serve on the table tennis table. “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice.”

In ‘VS Machine’, badminton duo, Ayaka Takahashi and Misaki Matsutomo are featured in a robotic dystopian future, where they are programmed with machine-like mindsets and are pitted against each other to achieve cold, joyless perfection. Together, they learn to resist and break free of “The Machine” by holding on to what truly defines them—the human connection they share. “Perfection turns us into machines. Choose to embrace what makes us human,” the pair conclude.

In ‘VS Trolls’, gymnast Simone Biles journeys through a world beset by haters, shamers and bullies. Fighting to defeat those who relentlessly troll her, she goes from victim to victor. “Beauty is how you see it. Not how anybody else does,” she concludes.


Japan’s Hinotori Nippon volleyball team features in ‘VS Limitations’, which portrays a fantasy steampunk world. Constantly overshadowed by ‘the ideal’, the team members must embark on a quest to realise their own potential. By meeting then overcoming countless challenges, they realise that no-one can make you feel inferior without your consent. “We define our limits. We define our destiny. Destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a choice.”

As detailed on page 5, the ‘VS’ Series has been launched simultaneously with an immersive ‘Social Retail’ pop-up store in partnership with China Duty Free Group. The pop-up store is now open in the Sanya International Duty Free Shopping Complex, Haitang Bay and Haikou Mova Shopping Mall.

The brand has also unveiled SK-II CITY, a virtual city inspired by the streets of Tokyo, where visitors can watch all six episodes of ‘VS’ in a virtual cinema; take a backstage tour of SK-II STUDIO; and access exclusive behind-the-scenes content.

The animated anthology series follows the release of SK-II STUDIO’s acclaimed debut film ‘The Center Lane’ in March. That film, which embraces the strength of the human spirit to rise above adversity in unprecedented times, tells the destiny-changing story of Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee’s return to competitive sport after being diagnosed with leukemia in February 2019.

Her illness came just months after she became the first swimmer to win six gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia. Remarkably, Ikee has since qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.

The ‘VS’ Series affirms SK-II’s commitment to #CHANGEDESTINY via a tantalising blend of entertainment and social purpose. Its narrative carries a story for women everywhere, an example of purpose-led story telling done in a totally unexpected way.

SK-II’s commitment to helping women change destiny hasn’t stopped with the ‘VS’ Series. To coincide with the creation of SK-II STUDIO and the roll-out of its films, SK-II has launched a #CHANGEDESTINY fund which will contribute US$1 up to US$500,000 for every film viewing. In line with the brand’s purpose, the fund is designed to support women in pursuing their destiny to create positive change. Participating organisations will be announced at a later date.

“#CHANGEDESTINY is at the heart of everything we do at SK-II,” says Global SK-II Chief Executive Officer Sandeep Seth. “For years, we have celebrated how destiny is not a matter of chance but a matter of choice through the stories of courageous women around the world. This year, we want to further and strengthen our commitment towards our brand purpose.”

“We hope these films can give women worldwide the courage to take destiny in their own hands and be a starting point for us—brands and businesses—to come together and act as a force for good and growth to create positive and meaningful change.”

Global SK-II Chief Executive Officer Sandeep Seth

“We know from our conversations with our consumers that there are much bigger issues than skin and beauty that they are concerned about. We also know that from the pandemic and coming out of it, consumers have a higher expectation towards brands and businesses.”

“With the release of the SK-II STUDIO films, we are celebrating a moment in SK-II’s #CHANGEDESTINY history,” Seth adds. “We hope these films can give women worldwide the courage to take destiny in their own hands and be a starting point for us—brands and businesses—to come together and act as a force for good and growth to create positive and meaningful change.”

About #changedestiny

#CHANGEDESTINY (see page 8 for more) is at the heart of the SK-II brand philosophy. It celebrates how destiny is not a matter of chance but a matter of choice and is inspired by the stories of real women from around the world.

#CHANGEDESTINY sheds light on the societal pressures women face and the universal ‘box’ they are put in to be perfect in society’s eyes.

Award-winning #CHANGEDESTINY campaigns include 2016’s ‘Marriage Market Takeover’ that put a spotlight on the labels of ‘Sheng Nu’ or ‘Leftover Women’ in China; 2017’s ‘The Expiry Date’’; 2018’s ‘Meet Me Halfway’; and 2019’s ‘Timelines’ – a docu-series in partnership with renowned journalist Katie Couric about the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations women face globally.

To find out more about the ‘VS’ Series and learn about SK-II STUDIO and #CHANGEDESTINY, please visit the virtual SK-II CITY at https://city.sk-ii.com/.


Spotlight Series - MAY 2021

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