When I started poking around Crunchyroll several months ago, the first oddity I noticed was not that they carried Fist of the North Star or even Galaxy Express 999, but that they were streaming the 2005 anime adaptation of Suzue Miuchi’s classic (and still-running) manga from 1976, Glass Mask. I had wanted to see this particular adaptation (or, better yet, the 1984 version) since I heard about it, but, alas, those were the days when you were required to rely upon the vagaries of fansubbers for semi-obscure series such as this one, and, to my knowledge, there wasn’t a complete set of fansubs out for either the 1984 or the 2005 version (honestly, though, there might be some VHS fansubs of the 1984 Glass Mask floating around). Not wanting to start a series that I had no hopes of completing within a reasonable timeframe, I elected to wait until access to the whole series came about.
Now that I’ve finally managed to start it and get a decent distance into it, I can honestly and objectively say that Glass Mask is most likely the most exciting—excuse me, EXCITING—anything about acting that you will ever see, hear, or read.
I could probably just end this post there, but I realize the audacity of that statement and so I feel compelled to justify it somewhat.
Glass Mask tells the story of Maya Kitajima, a young middle-schooler with the innate ability to memorize and recite lines of a play after hearing them only once. This ability places her in the sights of horrifically disfigured former actress Chigusa Tsukikage, the one actress who has played the legendary role of the Crimson Goddess and the one person with the rights to authorize another person to play the eponymous role for the long-unperformed production. Tsukikage (who dresses entirely in black, has Magic Hair that covers up her disfiguring eye injury delivered from a falling spotlight, and should really lay off her pack-a-day habit) is now an embittered woman, but in Maya she sees the raw potential that she can mold like clay into the Perfect Actress who can finally accurately portray the Crimson Goddess.
There are two things standing in Maya’s path to fulfill this goal, though: one, her family, who collectively thinks it’s a great idea to force Maya to deliver 99 ramen bowl sets in three hours so she can have a ticket to attend a play (this ticket, it should be noted, is promptly thrown into the icy waters of Tokyo Bay by a vengeful sister and Maya nearly catches her death of hypothermia trying to retrieve it); and two, Ayumi Himekawa, an actress of considerable talent who declares herself Maya’s rival (Maya, on the other hand, could care less about rivalship) and generally is part of the villainous director Hajime Onodera’s elaborate schemes to wrest control of the Crimson Goddess play away from Tsukikage by crushing her hopes at every possible turn.
The first obstacle is quite easily dispensed with, as apparently all it takes after Maya is accepted into Tsukikage’s troupe is an incident where Maya’s enraged mother throws a conveniently placed kettle of boiling water upon Tsukikage, following which all letters of apology and/or correspondence from Maya’s mother are immediately consigned to the flames by Tsukikage.
The second obstacle has yet to be surmounted in over thirty years, but experts predict that this might soon be finally overcome.
Matters are, of course, complicated by such pesky things as the fact that Onodera’s producer, the suavely handsome Masumi Hayami, presents himself as an antagonist to both Tsukikage and Maya, but secretly sends Maya purple roses as her secret admirer (ostensibly of her acting skills but c’mon it’s 70s shoujo).
Speaking of 70s shoujo, the 2005 Glass Mask anime remake perfectly captures the particular brand of shoujo that was in vogue in the 70s: the ridiculously over-melodramatic narrative. Glass Mask 2005 does not have the almost joyous panache found in Osamu Dezaki’s adaptations of Riyoko Ikeda’s Rose of Versailles and Brother, Dear Brother, but instead forswears the ostentation of dramatic chords and quadruple takes for a much more subtly grandiose tone. Insomuch as grandiose can be considered “subtle”. In fact let’s just scrap all these giant words and just say that it plays it much straighter than either Rose of Versailles or Brother, Dear Brother.
Playing it straighter, however, doesn’t diminish the fact that Maya is pretty much the sole practitioner of what I have come to term hardcore acting, which I can only describe as the acting equivalent of the title role in a Sylvester Stallone film. Tsukikage is perhaps the most ridiculously demanding drama instructor ever, requiring Maya to go to such extremes as living as though she were Beth from Little Women for a week so that she would live, breathe, move, think, and act exactly as Beth did, thereby making sure that her role as Beth was pitch-perfect.
That isn’t even one of the more extreme examples either. I have seen 14 episodes out of 51 total and I have yet to see something that could possibly top locking Maya in the storage shed for two days and then spending the next five days straight having an acting battle while standing in the falling snow coughing up blood. I find this rather hard to imagine getting topped later in the series, but my past experience with 70s shoujo instructs me otherwise. In any other reality that isn’t the Glass Mask reality I’d be wondering why the social workers haven’t shown up and slapped Tsukikage with a child abuse charge or eighty, and a restraining order to boot.
Perhaps the only real complaint I’d raise specifically against the 2005 adaptation (other than the lackluster visuals) is that it’s paced at breakneck speed. I often feel that I’ve somehow missed an episode between episodes (even when I’m watching them one after the other), and there is a tendency to engage in some serious summarization (which has only really cropped up around episode 10), even of the pivotal acting scenes. That said, when they do spend considerable time with an actual performance (most notably Maya’s performance of a fourteen-actor play by herself) the result is highly EXCITING acting, replete with shocked reactions from the audience and running commentary by fellow troupe members and other important characters.
There, sadly, isn’t much more I can really say about Glass Mask, because most of what’s good about it is hard to put in words that aren’t mostly comprised of capital letters. It is an EXCITING experience unto itself, and one that must be seen to be properly appreciated. Whether you’re a diehard shoujo fan, or somehow convinced that all shoujo is composed of quotidian romance plotlines, or looking for a way to dip your toe into the waters of 70s shoujo in preparation for a journey to Versailles, Glass Mask is worth a shot. Now if only we could get the manga licensed over here…