The Play’s The Thing: Glass Mask Collection 1

If no one believes in you,

you’ve no choice but to believe in yourself.

Today’s review is another of those that I’d wanted to check out ever since I first began exploring anime. Then, by sheer luck, Anime Network began airing it on demand! O frabjous day, callooh, callay! Admittedly I was mostly interested because I thought that the title sounded cool. Then I found out that it was about struggling actors, and I wasn’t so sure. However, in just a few short episodes, this series became my anime crack. I was thoroughly addicted, and couldn’t get enough!

I’m Maya, and I have more talent in the tip of my nose than most folks ever dream of. Woot!

This is actually the second incarnation of Glass Mask (or Garasu no Kamen, literally Mask of Glass), which was originally a shoujo manga from the Seventies. In the Eighties it became a twenty-three episode anime, then there were three OVAs in the late Nineties, and finally it was redone as a fifty-one episode anime in 2005. The story revolves around Maya Kitajima, an unremarkable thirteen-year-old girl to most everyone who encounters her, especially her overworked mother. However, Maya has an unbridled passion for acting, and one day she is discovered by Chigusa Tsukikage, a famous former actress who had to quit after a stage light fell and scarred her face. Chigusa has been searching for an actress who can properly fulfill the role of The Scarlet Angel, a role that she originated and still owns the rights to, and she sees something special in Maya. Despite her mother’s discouragement, Maya joins the fledgling Tsukikage acting troupe and slowly makes her way through trial after trial, blowing everyone’s minds in the process with her ability to totally become whoever or whatever she portrays on stage (Chigusa tells Maya that acting is about “wearing the glass mask,” so before she goes onstage Maya’s eyes become blank as she puts on the mask of her character).

“Excuse me.” “No, excuse *me*.” (Uncomfortable silence…)

Popular opinion and her mother’s disapproval aren’t all that Maya has to overcome, though. Ayumi Himekawa is the daughter of a famous actress and a notable director/producer. On top of that, she’s already quite an accomplished actress in her own right even though she’s just a teenager. Ayumi is a member of the Daito acting troupe, a rival group who have more money and power than Tsukikage troupe, and the higher-ups want to gain the rights to The Scarlet Angel. When Chigusa won’t sell them the rights, they plot and scheme to crush her troupe, and Maya with it. Ayumi, however, respects Maya, because like Chigusa, she sees Maya’s raw talent from the very beginning. As Maya becomes more and more known for her acting, Ayumi vows to crush Maya in honorable competition and win the coveted role of The Scarlet Angel.

“Umm, Miss Tsukikage, can I go pee now?” “No.” “But I gotta go real bad!” “Utilize the pain in your acting.”

This anime presents different versions of the same storyline again and again and again: Maya is wronged and/or treated like dirt, but every time she falls, she rises up again like a phoenix from the ashes to stun all who see her perform. Instead of feeling bored with repetition, I found myself waiting with bated breath for that inevitable moment when Maya would shine in every story arc. To be fair, she’s given some very difficult puzzles to solve, such as how to perform using no words, or how to enact an entire play without the rest of the cast, or how to go onstage without knowing any of her lines or even the full story of the play. It was quite marvelous to behold, and as someone who loves the theatre and has dabbled in acting over the years, I could appreciate what it took for Maya to keep going. Often it seems like no one is on Maya’s side, not even Miss Chigusa, who is a very harsh (but effective) acting coach, except for a secret admirer who sends her purple roses. This admirer turns out to be Masumi Hayami, one of the men who runs the Daito acting troupe. He acts mocking and cruel whenever he speaks with Maya in person because he believes that she needs him to play the villain in order for her to succeed. However, whenever he can, Masumi acts as a guardian angel, helping Maya out of scrapes without revealing his true nature to her.

Masumi is so dreamy! It’s okay to overlook the age difference just this once, right? Um, right?

I love this anime. Love love love love it. As I mentioned before, Maya’s ability to rise above misfortune was thoroughly engaging, and Maya herself is an excellent shoujo protagonist. She might be too trusting, but she certainly learns and grows as the series progresses. Ayumi is a worthy adversary for Maya, one who is impossible to hate due to her honorable actions involving all things theatre. The art is excellent; it’s bright, detailed, and fitting to the story, as is the slightly melodramatic music, which I adored. Maya’s struggles are just as fascinating to watch as her slowly burgeoning love life, which naturally changes and grows as the character ages and becomes a figure in the public eye. There are hints that Masumi might have more than platonic feelings for Maya, but he’s such a gentleman about it that their scenes together feel as though they could have been lifted from the pages of Pride & Prejudice or Wuthering Heights. I kept telling myself that it was wrong, but it felt so indulgent to root for them to get together that I found myself squealing out loud as I watched.

Maya puts on the “glass mask.” Yeah, it’s super creepy.

Sadly, Sentai only released the first twenty-six episodes, and due to low sales they have no plans to release the second half of the series with English subtitles. This would probably drive me insane as it ends abruptly on a cliffhanger, but luckily Crunchyroll.com has the second half available for English-speakers to view. If it wasn’t such a busy time of year I’d be completely glued to my computer screen to find out how this dramatic tale ends, but alas, it must wait for now. But I can guarantee you that the second I have some free time I’ll be catching up on this excellent tale of rivalry, stardom, and forbidden love. Glass Mask is a positively delicious shoujo anime, one that I find highly addictive, and anyone who loves acting and the theatre should make it a point to check this one out.

Rating: ★★★★★ Possibly the most addicting anime I’ve watched to date.

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