Surfacing in manga form in the mid-70s, Glass Mask is a rare spectacle that presents the life and career of an actress as she rises to fame from humble beginnings. I call it rare because, despite the general idea existing since time immemorial, there are few writers who have dared to write a blossoming acting career in such depth as Suzue Miuchi. Perhaps because of this, the Glass Mask manga found huge success in Japan during its run and spawned a couple of anime adaptations – including this one, circa 2005.
Glass Mask follows the acting life of Maya Kitajima, a prodigy discovered by a retired leading lady who immediately invites her into an acting troupe she's just formed, with the eventual aim to fashion her into a specific role; the role of the mysterious Scarlet Angel. However, Maya soon finds out that it's a dog-eat-dog world and that the wrong word at the wrong time can sway public opinion in an instant. In fact, Glass Mask really finds its feet when it comments on the idea of celebrity. On several occasions, we get it drummed into our skulls that acting isn't just about individual talent, but about how the audience is affected and about the power of the media. Most of Maya's trials and tribulations come from external forces rather than her own internal conflicts (of which there are still many as she journeys through puberty), with a number of characters attempting to mould her future to their designs.
So, on one hand, what we have is a social commentary on the theatre industry. Unfortunately, on the other, we have a somewhat laboured coming-of-age diatribe coupled with a few hundred over-dramatised performances of some of the greatest literature in the English language. For all its talk of how much acting is about getting the right expression in your voice and flourishing the right hand gestures, it's unthinkable that the creators would make such a heinous crime to literature as making up scenes. Being an English nerd, I baulked at the additional scenes they magicked into Little Women and A Midsummer's Night Dream and there were several times where their interpretations of important fictional characters were too simplistic and verging on the side of being completely wrong. For a show that uses these as plot developers, this was downright loony.
The romance side of things is also a historical throwback. The romantic link that Maya develops in the first handful of episodes isn't resolved (despite some fairly obvious hints that would knock anyone out through their lack of subtlety) until the final episode – at which point, it takes on a distinctly spiritual, almost magical atmosphere that's some stretch from the actual bipolar situation. The ending itself is the hardest pill to swallow because it isn't really an ending – it's the equivalent of “but that's another story” at the end of Thomas the Tank Engine books, which suits pocket kids' books the size of your fist just fine, but doesn't exactly sit well after fifty-one twenty-something-minute episodes.
Not a great deal to say on this point: it's pretty mediocre for a 2005 production, but it's not eye-bleed material. Character designs are pretty retro, but not in the good way, with Ms. Tsukikage being the only character that stands out because she's meant to have a facial deformity. Everyone else, including Maya and her supposedly more attractive counterpart, Ayumi, is pretty much pulled from a “how to” guide on drawing anime characters. Landscapes are pretty dull, including the sets, which you'd think would be the first thing to focus on for a series that focuses on the ability of plays to transport you into other worlds.
The opening song is laughably retro to match the animation style and it almost works. The voice actors, however, fail to display any individuality and there was more than one occasion where I felt the voice acting spoiled a well-worked scene due to lack of emotion and emphasis on the right words. Considering how important performance is to this series, I was a little disappointed at how little of a performance I was given by the voice actors.
It's perhaps a little unfair to rebuff these characters for being clichéd because I'd imagine they weren't so stereotypical back when they were created in manga form. However, despite sitting through fifty-one episodes of this series, I failed to connect with a single character. Not one. The creators seem to assume that we'll all root for Maya because she's the clumsy girl, the one who can't get anything right – plucked from obscurity into the limelight because of an amazing talent for remembering lines. Sure, we buy into this the first few times it's brought up, but after a while, the repetition wears you down. Especially when Maya is so meek that she wavers every time she's met with adversity before she overcomes her fears by putting more effort in. Her blind faith is sometimes entertaining, but aside from that, she's a naïve little girl who doesn't ever seem to learn from her experiences.
The other characters are pretty much anonymous. Only Hayami shines as the CEO of Daito Entertainment, a multi-faceted theatre company that is at once Maya's greatest ally and greatest enemy. The interplay between Hayami and Maya is pretty much the only reason to watch this series and unfortunately, the rollercoaster of emotions between these two is so hackneyed, it's vomit-inducing. Maya oscillates between wanting to kiss him and wanting to kill him, while Hayami does his best to repel Maya at the same time as attempting to invite her in. This would work better if it wasn't so goddamn annoying all the time.
Ultimately, Glass Mask falls down where a number of similar shoujo titles fall down: believability. The biggest flaw comes from the fact that Maya takes nearly fifty episodes to work out who her secret admirer is, despite having some pretty colossal hints along the way. Think Sailor Moon and her inability to see through Tuxedo Mask's paper-thin mask and you're pretty much there. It wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that it's the only interesting part of the plot. The rest of the series seems content to wander from title to title in the literary canon, destroying classics as it goes, with additional characters thrown in just to make up the numbers.
But don't get me wrong, there's definitely a good story in here somewhere – the problem lies mostly with the fact that the series never really knows what it's driving at and usually ends up defaulting to its usual moral viewpoint of: if you put enough effort in, you'll get everything you want. Such a simplistic philosophy just doesn't cut it when you consider the sheer insanity of the acting world. Couple this slightly dodgy get-out-of-jail-free clause with the yawning crawl of a fifty-one episode iceberg and you'll soon be jumping for your copy of the far superior Skip Beat!
Here's an interesting hypothetical: how much can a terribad ending ruin an otherwise watchable 51 episode series?
I'm not about to waste a five-dollar reviewer word like "captivating" on the narrative, but at the same time I can't say I was bored. There is a somewhat shounen-esque theme of powering up throughout the series, except that in this show, the heroines are powering up their ACTING. Of course the premise is ridiculous, but it works to a surprising degree... up until that ending.
At that point, all the build up over the first 45 or so episodes is squandered. The absurd progression of acting skillz reaches its apex when the two heroines act out the four elements to prepare for the ULTIMATE play. Yes, really. Do you really need to see someone acting out "Water?" Don't even get me started on the bullshit spiritual nakey time that sums up the series' overarching romance.
But there's only so much I can deride a series that, for what it's worth, kept me watching till the end. Overall, I think the answer to my own question is: if the rest of the show is entertaining, I can only fault the series about half a point. Whatever that means.
For some reason... I was able to watch this anime all in one go. (in 3 days, no other animes during that time).
The thing i liked about it was the "suspense" i guess. The characters would be very nervous, but then get on stage and do very well. The suspense during that time was... enjoyable? and also... whatever they did was almost always unpredictable, and exciting.
The only thing i "hate" about this anime, although it not only partains to this anime, is that they say each other's names too much. Especially a name like "sakurakouji kun" gets annoying when you hear it for the 8th time within a minute.
The ending was... satisfactory. nothing special... but it didnt let me down.
My advice is to watch a few episodes... and if you like it... you wont be able to drop it... lol
Not only was i entranced to watch more, but where i watched it: crunchyroll, there were many people that talked about staying up way too late to watch more. (its 4:45am now here, so take a hint)
If you dont like it from the first few episodes, give it up. Its not for everyone. I found some common ground with the acting... since I live in an environment of serious religious people (and im not), I have to put up an act or else my life would be very very hard. It would probably give my grand parents a heart attack, my mother in denail... and well my dad.. I told him, but i still have to respect things like the blessings(before eating), which still take a great deal of will power to act. Most will not have this specifically in common with me, but I think everyone in this culture has to act ways that they dont want to... and watching this anime may let you relate in a way.
I havent realized it much, but we tend to look for characters that are either like us, or what we would like to be like. shoot... i forgot where i was going with this...
My favorite character was Ayumi. She grew up in a well off family, but she like earning things fairly... instead of using dirty tricks. From the very beginning, she realizes Maya's talent, and welcomes the challenge. Thats my type of girl. She is smart, yet not so foolish as to not see the good in others. Maya is talented, but thats about all. She is quite stupid otherwise.
This has a bit of one-sided-both-sided romance in it between Maya and the man. Some people find this relationship amusing, touching, or relate to it. w/e... (most of maya's stupidity is involved in this relationship)
Story: A modernization of a 1970's manga or a remake of a 1970's anime. However you look at it, it has old roots. When you watch the story sadly it falls into many of the steroe types because IT's the one that gave birth to these stero types. The story line of a clumisy girl suddenly propled towards stardom is nearly as fun to watch as the character interations revolving around the plot. The rivailry/friendship going on plus Mqaya's relationship with with her secer admirer is fun to watch though so many clues left unnoticed.
Animation: It attempts to be like the old cell stil animation and it does look good in some spots but in other's it just looks akward.
Sound: Not very impressive japanese voice acting. It had another day at work feel to it. The sound track wasn't memerable either, in fact it's rare but I hated the opening themes......
Characters: Again the Character fit in the steroe types quite nicly due to the fact that they were the ones which gave birth to these stero types. The not so smart, clumsy girl, Maya, amazingly despite being the lead character she's the hardest of all the characters to relate to. Due to her inate talent and total absorbed personality it's hard to find a way to find common ground. Her mother who would seemingly go out of her way to brand her daught as a failure and make swure she fails with her polar opposite to the extreme being Tsukikage treating Maya as a diamond in the rough and willing to risk life inorder to see Maya successed. The two best characters however were the secert admirer (I think the whole Tuxedio (sailor moon) character book was taken from "Mr. Purple Rose" and the rivial character Ayumi, who was born into her role but worked twice as hard as everyone else to ensure her place was actually the best character with the most ease to relate too.
Overall: EVERY SINGLE EPISODE ENDED WITH A CLIFF i thought i was going to go insane froming HAVING to see the episode just ebcause the last ended in a cliff. The ending Kinda feels random like it's screaming "Sequel, Squel!" I then looked at the manga only to disocver that it left off at the end of one of the most recent manga volumes almost exactly the same manner
I was led to Glass Mask mostly because I was looking for another rivalry story like the one in Hikaru no Go, and this was recommended on Anime Planet's Hikaru no Go page. Also, while I had no previous knowledge of Go, I am a lifelong theatre professional, so this would be more of my own world.
In the end, after 51 episodes, the rivalry between Maya and Ayumi - though it mirrored that of Hikaru and Akira - it failed to live up to the same degree of oomph. For 51 episodes, I willingly suspended my disbelief about so many aspects of theatre. "If you don't get this right on the first try, you're a failure as an actor!" "There are only two actresses in all of Japan who could possibly play this captivating earth-shattering role!" And of course, every time Maya or Ayumi take stage, audience members lose control of their gutteral utterances and begin a wave of gasps. This really only scratches the surface of the grains of salt I had to take with this show to enjoy it.
What wound up captivating me was the intriguing role of Hayami Masumi, a cold-hearted and highly imperfect young businessman who finds his heart warmed (highly inconvenient for hisplans) by young, innocent, brave-hearted Maya. Yes, their story veered into the ick factor as often as not - as he's a full-grown buff-chested man when she's still a young petite teen, and he has this creepy habit of showing up unexpectedly. Ah the trope is so stereotypical, the dashing, internally troubled man who secretly admires you and only you can save him... :-) Not so great in real life, but is a nice indulgence for a dream. You could almost believe romance under the stars was still possible for someone like you after some of those scenes.
Apart from Hayami Masumi, I was unable to really become attracted to any other character. I came closest to appreciating Ayumi, Maya's privileged, talented rival in the acting world who is not an enemy as she is a perfectly dignified young woman who often speaks up on Maya' behalf when others would tear her down. Not until the last few episodes does she risk losing her composure and becoming unworthy of our admiration. Yet somehow, I personally was never able to really love her. Maya never really grabbed me either, since she never really seemed to know anything that was going on, and Tsukikage, Maya's old mentor and teacher, was just a ridiculous person who caused a lot of trouble and slapped Maya a lot. In the end, I had to wonder how long she was going to drag Maya and Ayumi along, only to deny one of them the role they had fought so long for.