Glass Mask by Suzue Miuchi is 46 volumes long in Japan and has never really been brought out in the English-speaking world, although I do remember seeing some volumes of it on sale on my last trip to France. A shame, really, because it's damn good.
It's about a poor girl called Maya Kitajima, who wants nothing more in the world than to become an actress. However, this dream is on hold, as she and her mother work as waitresses and delivery-girls in a Chinese restaurant, and don't bring home very big pay cheques. Maya's passion is unrivalled, and even though she has not had any stage training, her determination is what gets her through the difficult times. She has a rival in Ayumi, a girl who is classically trained, and a potential love interest in a mysterious fan who gives her purple roses after each performance. Who may or may not be Masumi Hayami, the president of an acting agency at odds with Tsukikage, Maya's mentor who used to be an extremely talented actress before she retired, following a nasty accident.
This manga is such a classic of the shojo genre, but you know what? I don't see any clichés in this. Just the tale of a raw, honest girl who genuinely wants something (unlike on TV talent shows, where it's become a staple thing to say), and is willing to take on whatever challenges come her way. Plus a rather compelling romance between her and a secret admirer, and catty competition between her and her rival.
I love the art too. When I was 13, my dad bought me a huge book on the history of manga, and the artwork that impressed me the most was Riyoko Ikeda's Rose of Versailles, drawn in the 1970s and 1980s. Glass Mask uses a similar style, and it's really beautiful. Sparkling eyes, lithe bodies, tumbling waves of shiny hair... I still think it's really pretty and wish more manga was drawn this way. It looks incredibly time consuming, though.
Anyway, yeah, a definite recommend. If only it would be released over here.
...However, there is some reprieve. If you understand French, you can import the manga, and there also the 1970s anime which became quite popular in France: Laura Ou La Passion Du Théâtre. There is an American box-set of the 2005 anime, but apparently the second box-set was never released due to poor sales. And although it's all been posted up on Crunchyroll, you can't watch it in the UK. =___= There's also a J-drama and an older OVA.
Although Miuchi says she's going to end the series soon, there's no doubting that it's left its mark. It's the second best-selling shojo manga of all time in Japan, and one of the best I have ever read.
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