Perhaps the best way to start this is by saying that it all began forty-two years ago. It was 1976 when mangaka Suzue Miuchi started serializing what would become her life’s work: Glass Mask. This classic shojo bestseller survived a defunct magazine and inspired countless adaptations, including two tv anime series, a tv drama, and a three-episode OVA. The manga it’s still running to this day.
While I’ve had the chance to glance at parts of the manga, my true introduction to this series is the 80s anime adaptation that HiDive is currently releasing weekly, and I’ve been enjoying following this show a lot.
This Glass Mask adaptation commits to elevating its performers as much as it does with the insanely over the top–and at times, straight-up abusive–melodrama. The result are key performances with an intensity akin to Boss Battles, and performers with a strong, crystal clear love for acting. Their passion knows no bounds: no price is too high as long as there’s acting.
Maya is a talented and competent protagonist, which makes her challenges exciting to watch. You can always expect her to pull off something impressive, although the lengths she’s willing to go through for that can be a little uh, concerning. While it’s acknowledged she’s insanely good, she’s also young and has much to learn. Her talent without experience plays against her; seasoned entertainers see her as someone who causes “vandalism on stage.”
In other words, Maya can be so good that she completely steals the show, which isn’t exactly ideal when she’s playing a supporting character. She’s someone who wants to act no matter what without giving things like fame a second thought, so she doesn’t do it on purpose.
Still, this causes her to be kicked out of theaters, either because others are too jealous or because her lack of teamwork and tendency to steal the spotlight “puts the play at risk.” Her genius can be the tool that helps her follow her dreams, but unrestrained, it can also be an important obstacle.
Another important “obstacle” is her rival Himekawa. She’s the child of a successful actress with more than enough talent to prove she deserves to be a star in her own right. Her style occasionally brings to mind what we nowadays know mostly as something like “chameleon actors,” meaning they would go through extreme, big transformations from character to character, bluntly proving to audiences their range.
In a way, that’s exactly what Himekawa aims to do. She’s a gifted blossoming actress in the eyes of both veterans and her peers; no one questions her genius. However, her looks and sophisticated manner can also “set her back,” since it makes people expect her to play only certain kind of roles.
Both girls have different styles, but they share the same passion and willingness to go to any sort of crazy length to grow. This show could’ve easily fallen into tired tropes for the sake of drama, but Himekawa is truly a formidable rival with a sincere respect for Maya as an actress. She gets smug when she thinks she has the upper hand, but she doesn’t undermine Maya’s abilities.
Himekawa has a reason to challenge her limits and grow, a reason she shares with Maya: to play the Crimson Goddess. Their talent and attitude towards acting–which makes them fitting candidates for the role–and this common goal it’s what truly cements them as rivals.
The Crimson Goddess is described as a role so difficult it requires you to “master a hundred other roles” before you can even hope to attempt it. It has only been played successfully by Tsukikage, the veteran actress who, after seeing Maya’s potential, becomes her mentor.
The other big player is Hayami Masumi of Daito Entertainments, who constantly goes (unsuccessfully) after Tsukikage to gain the rights of the Crimson Goddess. Taken by Maya’s acting, he becomes an anonymous admirer and benefactor. He generally sucks.
The acting generally relies on voice actors and soundtrack, but sometimes, it leans on color: sad blues, flirty pinks, angry reds. There’s also purple as a color of change: Himekawa wears it when she faces Maya–her fated rival–for the first time, which also marks the first time “she loses.” It’s way more notable with the way it’s used with Maya and Masumi though.
Masumi usually gifts a purple rose–a symbol of enchantment–to Maya, who refers to him as Mr. Purple Rose (I was very relieved when the show didn’t lose much time to give Maya a love interest around her age. Look, I have my concerns and I’ve been hurt before). (Edit: I’ve now finished the show and regrettably, my concerns were correct. Hayami was a mistake.)
The importance of the gesture is highlighted by making Maya wear purple as well. Mr. Purple Rose, the admirer, is an encouraging figure for Maya, the actress, while Masumi, the businessman, is someone Maya hates for upsetting her dear mentor with his insistent–and mostly underhanded–methods for gaining the rights of the coveted play.
The acting, as I’ve mentioned, can be very intense and sometimes, it leans heavily on melodrama. There’s plenty of scenes with “practices” and teaching methods that can be impossible, very abusive, or both. The show doesn’t necessarily condone the abuse–the rest of the characters are horrified of what’s taking place when they should be–but it doesn’t have any intention of changing its ways either.
If you can look past its abusive elements, Glass Mask is wonderfully entertaining and over the top drama. The girls driving the story are more than interesting to follow, and while its portrayal of acting might make want to run away sometimes, I’m sure as hell not looking away.
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