Genres: Graphic Novel, Manga
Maya Kitajima has a special gift. She can recreate and recall any drama or show she has seen, and can embody the natural character of any role in a play. Former actress Chigusa Tsukikage discovers her and dubs her 'The Girl with A Thousand Masks'. Maya is swept up in to the world of acting and showbusiness, enduring hardships and triumphs she never thought she would see. All in the goal to be chosen as the new actress of the legendary role, 'The Crimson Goddess'.
The first thing that you notice about this manga is the cover-art. The image is that of a young girl, with large ‘manga typical’ eyes, and a small pointed nose, yet there the colors that come from obvious hand-painted marker and ink in her glittering eyes and her shining hair, and the sparkle of the glass mask in her hands, makes you very interested. There is a determination in this girl’s eyes that makes you curious about her, and seek to open the cover and read on.
This is how I became interested in Glass Mask, also called ‘Glass no Kaiman’ in Japanese. The serial is written by Suzui Miuchi, and was first published in the Hana to Yume magazine in 1976, and continues onward today. There are currently 49 volumes in the series and the author has stated that she intends to finish the series ‘soon’ (though I hope not too soon).
The artwork in the manga is indicative of the 70’s style of artistry for Shojou mangas (or novels geared toward teenage girls). The main characters have ‘sparkling eyes’ that reveal deep emotion, men are long and tall, while women are usually willowy and spritely (with exceptions for very young children and older adults). Stock characters or minor characters tend to look more like caricatures, but are still easily identifiable. The backgrounds, all hand-drawn (yes, even the sweeping forests and spiraling city landscapes), and the detail is incredible. This manga series is very special in that its style and setting are still consistently taking place during its original release-era. So, even the 2008 and beyond releases hold on to this glittering, romantic style, and still incorporate references and images evocative of the 1970’s. That is dedication to continuity!
Now, on to the plot! The story is about Maya Kitajima. She starts as a 13-year old middle-school girl who loves TV dramas, films, and plays. However, she works and lives above a Chinese restaurant, with her mom, and usually makes the deliveries of food. One day she is discovered by former star of stage and screen, Chigusa Tsukikage. Tsukikage sees in Maya the ability to ‘wear 1000 masks’- an idea that an actor or actress can put on any face and become any character flawlessly and entirely. She decides to take Maya under her tutelage, with the intent of using Maya to revive a stage-play that once only Tsukikage could perform: The Tale of the Crimson Goddess. From here, we are introduced to a true cast of characters, from Maya’s rival in show-business and acting, Ayumi Himekawa, who plays ‘perfect characters’, to the acting troupe that Tsukikage gathers, to the enigmatic businessman Masumi Hayami. Maya even gains an anonymous patron who sends her purple roses after every one of her performances, gaining the nickname ‘Mr. Purple Rose’.
One of the subplots of the series is Maya’s relationship with Hayami. He begins as an antagonist who seems overly concerned with Maya’s talent and growing career, beginning from the time he meets her when she is 13 and he is 23. That’s right. He’s 10 years older than her. Their interactions are always fiery, full of sniping and bites of wit, and the passionate exchanges don’t stop as Maya grows from promising ingénue to the feared and respected ‘Stage Storm’ (a nicknamed gained from her overpowering presence on the stage). Even when Maya becomes aware of a growing attraction to Hayami, she feels conflict concerning the various ‘wrongs’ he has done to her, and resolves to hold on to her grudges.
This manga is a joy. You get in to the process that comes with becoming an actress or actor, from formal training in theatre companies, to the audition process for commercials, plays, and television, all the way to the harsh realities and glowing triumphs of being a professional. It isn’t easy, and they make that clear, but Maya forges on with enthusiasm and hope, wanting to obtain the right to play her mentor, Tsukikage’s, legendary role, and win out against her rival, Ayumi. And while Maya’s story is thrilling and epic in its own right, we don’t just watch her tale! We see the story at times from Ayumi’s perspective, as well. As a daughter to two well-known film and stage legends, Ayumi strives to show that her talent is all she needs to gain roles, and not her mother or father’s names and wealth. She also desires to play the Crimson Goddess, and envies Maya’s natural, seemingly effortless ease with slipping in to the mask of her roles.
We also get the perspective of Masumi Hayami, as he seeks to buy the rights for The Crimson Goddess, and struggle with his own internal conflicts concerning Maya. He grows to care for her, but his age and his position, and his own need to hide behind acidic insults and barbs, make it nearly impossible for him to connect to Maya except as a bully and a force that makes her become better to spite him. He too wishes to step out from under the eyes of his adoptive father, but his sense of duty and his desire to show his own worth become his own stumbling-blocks.
We are even given the tale of Chigusa Tsukikage, who rose from the streets as an orphan and a beggar, to be taken in by a famed script writer and stage director, whom became like a father to her, and then with whom she began a tragic and deeply moving love affair. Chigusa’s troubles do not end with her fame, as an accident on stage is what takes away her beauty and her strength, causing her to give up and, it seemed, retire the role and play that her beloved wrote just for her.
These various story-threads build up a world that keeps you pulled in and entirely overwhelms you! You’re taken along to every audition, filming, and performance. Through Maya and the rest of the characters you not only get to see their stories, but some of the best plays and novels acted out in front of your eyes. From Shakespeare to Bronte and beyond, the stories told through the manga’s cast are astounding, and completely believable as a real performance. And every story connects and manages to weave their way in to others within, and makes you concerned for just about everyone that you, and Maya, come across.
In summary, this manga is gorgeous in an aesthetic and artistic sense, and doubly so in its writing. You’ll follow all 49 volumes through, and hope and pray that the Mangaka (Manga Artist) will hurry up with the next installment so that we can learn how Maya and company fare in this overwhelming saga. I only hope that it doesn’t end too soon!
If my own review isn’t enough of an endorsement, consider this: Two anime adaptations of this manga exist; one made in the 1980’s (and set in the 70’s), and another that was made and set in the year 2005. Both are good, but do not tell the whole story (the first stops at just barely the beginning, and the second only half-way through!). What’s more, a live action version was made from 1997-1998. This is one of the staples of Manga, especially the Shoujo genre, and I would certainly recommend it.
Four and ½ Stars: Magnificent story, beautiful artwork, endearing and addictive characters, and I love it, but I’m not fangirling too much yet.