Part two of our watchalong of the 1984 classic, Glass Mask! Vrai, Megan, and Marion talk about stage moms, scene stealing (in-universe and out), and why this ’80s shoujo seems unusually subdued about its roses and sparkles.
0:01:10 What is time?
0:03:43 Sports acting anime
0:05:55 Poverty and method acting
0:12:51 Stage moms
0:15:06 Scene stealers
0:20:26 Yuri subtext
0:22:17 The duality of mans
0:27:35 The Crimson Goddess and the nature of theater
0:33:54 Real moms
0:36:18 Theater life
0:40:28 Sound and emotion
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai. They/them. I’m a contributor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter, where I post the places I freelance, @writervrai. Or, you can find the other podcast I cohost, @trashpod. And with me once again, I have Megan and Marion. If you two want to introduce yourselves?
MEGAN: Right. My name is Megan. I’ve been a manga viewer for 8 years, and an occasional AniFem writer. You can find me on Twitter, @brainchild129, or find my reviews at The Manga Test Drive.
MARION: Hello. I’m Marion. I write and I make videos. You can find me on Twitter, @eccentricmarion, and I have a Youtube channel called Marion Bea, where I upload videos mostly on retro anime.
VRAI: Nice. Yes, and speaking of, we are back with our Glass Mask watchalong. This time, we saw episodes six through 11, which covered a heck of a lot of ground. [Chuckles] Just really tripling down on that compression issue that we talked about last week.
So, I guess to kind of dip our toes into the water: how are y’all feeling about this batch of episodes in a general sense?
MEGAN: This was wild!
MEGAN: Even if technical issues hadn’t prevented me from making predictions about this stretch, they wouldn’t have even been close to what actually happened.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, we’ve covered… In about seven episodes, this show covers what would probably be an entire cour, I feel like, for this type of story.
MEGAN: Also, based on a throwaway line, apparently at least a year has passed since the beginning of the show?
VRAI: I spent a lot of this stretch wondering exactly how old Maya is. ‘Cause at one point, it looks like she’s in a high school uniform, but also that could just be how she dresses. I got very confused.
MEGAN: No, no, no. She’s preparing for high school. They mention that specifically. So, yeah. She is 14, a.k.a. Standard Shoujo Heroine Age.
VRAI: They do, but then in episode 11, she’s got the dark skirt and the white shirt with a red bow. Which looks like a uniform, but maybe it’s not? Did more time skip? I don’t know!
MARION: It is a uniform. It’s not just… It’s not her high school uniform yet. I mean, if I remember correctly, I think her high school uniform is not that different. But, she’s not in high school yet.
VRAI: Alright. So, she’s 14 for this stretch. That’s good to know. Good to situate. The fact that… I really wasn’t expecting them to knock down the school, I’ll be honest. I assumed that this would be a plucky save-the-theater plot for a while longer.
VRAI: That’s at least the end of the first 12 that you wait to get to that, but no!
MEGAN: Doesn’t matter you won first in the popularity poll. You didn’t win the contest, so down goes the school and down goes basically Tsukikage’s wealth. All her fortune was in the building.
VRAI: The mob came and took everything she had, thanks to Discount Gendo.
VRAI: I know he came first, but, you know, events occur in the order in which I perceive them.
MEGAN: But, even before that, we went through what was basically the equivalent of a sports tournament arc in just the course of a couple of episodes. I know we discussed this previously, that this show does bear some resemblance to a lot of shounen battle tournament tropes, but that particular stretch, six and seven, really, really made it clear: this is basically a sports show without sports and boys.
VRAI: Yeah, it has some of those similar traits of… A lot of the high-skill things that your characters are doing are things that the audience maybe has only a very passing familiarity with, so you have to have characters on-screen to look impressed and explain, in detail, why this is such a cool thing that we should also be impressed by.
MEGAN: And rivals that show up out of nowhere and don’t really appear again.
MARION: Yeah. In that sense, it sort of feels like sports shoujo too. Because you have stuff like Attack No. 1, and that’s exactly how it feels. It’s an extremely intense show. There are dozens of rivals. And no one has any chill in that show.
VRAI: No time for chill. There are… All of the secondary rivals for Maya who appear throughout this stretch are incredibly weak in terms of writing. They are just walking plot contrivances, and they know it. And you can sense their despair. You can’t help but feel a little bad for them
MEGAN: Except not, because they’re basically one mustache short of a mustache-twirling villain.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah. That’s also true. And that is definitely the part of this run that I enjoyed the least, because whenever there’s a character who gets drawn up purely to make a single bad thing happen that Maya has to overcome, and then they immediately go away—it goes beyond the heightened melodrama that I accept and enjoy about this show, and into, [disappointed] “Oh, well, that’s bad writing. You couldn’t think of a sustained way to do this. Okay.”
MARION: Yeah. There’s a lot of characters who just exist to make Maya’s life harder for a little bit, and that’s it.
MEGAN: This whole stretch is about making Maya’s life harder, because as we noted, the theater is gone, so basically, they have to be poor for a while, and actually focus on things like school and part-time jobs instead of acting. [Flatly] And, oh, how they endure their poverty in such nobility.
Which, for me, was such an interesting throwback, because this is something I discussed in the article I did on early shoujo manga: that a lot of the really early ones from the fifties dealt with heroines who… Their point was basically to endure, to suffer nobly against all the slings and arrows of fate until someone else rescues them from their fate. And that is very much Maya’s story arc here.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s… Let’s say “interesting.” Let’s use that word. [Laughs] How the show treats poverty as this sort of hat for Maya… Because we’re told that they’re living in poverty, but what we see isn’t materially different than the way it was before.
Tsukikage can’t go to the hospital until their mysterious benefactor steps in. But she refused to go to the hospital when they had the dormitory too, and we don’t see enough of the interior of the house for it to feel meaningfully different. And also all of the secondary characters seem to be doing the actual work to keep the roof over their heads, while Maya gets to go and continue doing acting.
I feel so bad for Rei.
MEGAN: Rei’s doing okay for herself. She’s got a part-time cafe job, and she’s definitely building up a clientele. She’s basically the princely one at her cafe.
VRAI: Yeah, but she’s not acting! Everyone else has given up on acting to do work, and we’re told that it’s really hard, ’cause they don’t have a practice space. But Maya’s still getting work. Maya’s the only one.
MEGAN: Well, of course. She’s the heroine.
VRAI: Of course. My mistake. It’s another one of those moments where I wondered, “Did these characters matter more in the manga, or is this just a case of ‘Maya needs a support posse to tell her she’s doing a good job?'” I don’t know. We’ll probably never know because old shoujo doesn’t get brought over, unless you’re Moto Hagio.
MEGAN: Yeah, they are kind of the Speedwagons to her Jonathan.
MARION: Yeah, I kind of suspect that it’s not that different in the manga. I have that suspicion.
VRAI: That’s too bad. And then the poverty stuff comes back again with Ayumi, where, you know, she’s pretending to be poor—
MARION: [Exasperated] Oh my…
VRAI: —to get deeper at her acting.
MEGAN: That was amazing.
MEGAN: That whole scene where she cuts her hair dramatically. I loved it.
VRAI: It’s so… And her hair sparkles, ’cause you got to have that important hair cut, and it has to be done badly, of course.
MARION: That’s where you have your shoujo aesthetic. It’s so sparkly. It’s not necessary, but I enjoy it.
It’s just… That section was very odd to me, because I want to be like, “Ah, it’s the ‘80s-anime-ness of it,” but at the same time, I can’t say that, because that’s just how acting is, where you do this… It’s the same as when Maya gets that bit part and ties up her leg so she can really understand this ennobling pain. This idea of “doing casual tourism through more marginalized experiences to make you a deeper person, and that’s so great of you, the actor,” is definitely still, to this day, a stain on the profession.
VRAI: So it’s very interesting to see it in the context of this super-over-the-top, sparkly ‘80s anime for children. Like, “Oh, yeah, real adult people think that this is an okay thing to do. Okay.”
MEGAN: [Facetious] Yeah, it’s okay to make yourself sick to get into Little Women, or to tie your leg up so you can understand what a disabled girl’s experience is like. You know, this is fine. This is fine. As long as you’re Tsukikage.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah.
MARION: I mean, method acting, it feels super romanticized.
VRAI: Oh, highly. The fact that nobody for a second is like, “Should we hire disabled actors?”
MEGAN: [Flatly] No. No, of course not.
VRAI: No! This has to be her moment to shine!
And this idea that it’s brave to play a queer character or a disabled character or something that is less-than a beautiful leading lady… Those are a gateway for a beautiful, able-bodied person to let their own innate specialness shine through… It’s weird to see that show up here.
MARION: Yeah. It’s also like… They want to pick something that’s dramatic and hard, so they’re there without necessarily giving it a second thought.
VRAI: I found it interesting that, you know, we sort of talked about the influence of the plays that were real-world productions in the last batch, but this one… In these episodes, at least as far as I was able to find through my research, the only actual, real play that gets referenced is King Lear. Whereas the other ones are, I think, all made up. Or, at least, when I googled them, “Glass Mask” was the only search return that I was getting. And some of them have fairly nondescript titles, but still.
MEGAN: Yeah, same here. And they all seem to be fairly basic, almost fairy tale-style ones.
VRAI: There was kind of a theme that I noticed, at least between the bits of dialogue that we were able to see on-screen, and then with King Lear, you have… There’s sort of that continuing idea of, you know, unappreciated beauty or talent. But also kind of father-daughter-type stories, which is very creepy with Hayami still existing.
MEGAN: [Nervous chuckle]
MARION: [Groans] I mean, again, this is a Daddy Long Legs story. He’s… I feel like they want him to be the love interest and father figure. So… [Groans]
VRAI: Kudos to his secretary, whose entire job is to come on-screen and be like, “Shouldn’t you be doing your job? Sir? Sir? Are you thinking about fucking that 14-year-old again?”
MEGAN: Oh my God. Ugh.
VRAI: “Sir, that’s fucked up.” And then she leaves.
MEGAN: “Sir, why won’t you notice me? Please? Please notice me.”
MEGAN: Oh yeah. It’s not just her job as dictated by Hayami’s father to keep an eye on him. They make it pretty clear that she’s got the hots for him too, and it’s becoming kind of a weird love triangle.
VRAI: Yeah, which I don’t enjoy.
MEGAN: No. It’s also weird to have this father-daughter thing, because, really, the stronger theme here is mother-and-daughter, at least kind of substitute-mother-and-daughter. Maya gets two this time!
VRAI: She does! We have a return of Tsukikage, although she’s mostly out of commission because she has Dramatic Anime Disease. It’s a killer.
MARION: [Laughs] I mean, no, it’s not a killer. It’s just enough to create drama, but it’s not even to actually put her in mortal peril.
MEGAN: Just enough to get her out of the plot for a while, because the writers of the anime realized, “Oh, we don’t really have anything for her to do at this point.”
MEGAN: So, she gets a new “stage mother,” if you will, in the form of—I can’t remember her name—Kikuko Harada.
VRAI: Harada, yeah.
MEGAN: And Harada is like Tsukikage, but with the drama toned-down from 11 to, like, 5.
VRAI: It’s all in her hair. She puts it up in that traditional hairstyle and it tamps it down.
MARION: I mean, she’s intense. She’s strict. But she hasn’t tried to kill Maya yet, so…
MEGAN: Yeah, she doesn’t believe in acting lessons through abuse… Which, we have two prime examples in this stretch. “You! Act like you’re a tree! I’ll throw a rock at you! Rocks don’t flinch!”
MARION: “Would a tree scream?” Well, to be fair, I suppose it wouldn’t.
MEGAN: And: “Oh, let me push you down the stairs. Oh! You landed on the leg that’s supposed to be disabled! You can’t do that!”
VRAI: And then Maya immediately justifying her actions, like, “Oh, she did this to help me.” Okay?
MEGAN: That’s one way of phrasing it. Absolutely.
VRAI: [Uncomfortable] Uh-huh?
Harada was super interesting to me, though. Aside of the fact that she straight-up fired a performer within days of the performance, which is a horrible thing to do to the rest of your cast, she’s kind of the way we introduce that idea of—at the very end of this run of episodes—that Maya’s a really dangerous person to work with, potentially, because she’s a scene-stealer.
MEGAN: [Dramatically] Vandalism on stage!
VRAI: [crosstalk] And I thought that was really interesting.
MARION: [Laughs] It’s such a good scene. It doesn’t need to be so dramatic, but it is! This entire show is, “They don’t need to go that hard, but they do, every time.”
VRAI: They do! Well, that’s why I kind of didn’t expect them to bring this up, because, you know, it’s the kind of show where it’s about the heroine climbing through the highest heights through the greatest adversity, but now they’ve brought up that good theater is really an ensemble group work, where everybody balances out… certain roles are supposed to shine in whatever scene so that the audience gets the most reaction out of the play.
And Maya doesn’t do that. She’s a really good actor, but she draws all of the focus to her, even when it derails a scene she’s in. So I’m really interested to see where they go with that.
MEGAN: Especially since this comes right after the single episode where she gets a bit role on a movie, which goes to show that, even in the ‘80s, Japan just kept shoving idols into movies and pretending they can act.
MEGAN: But she’s… They make her climb up two flights of stairs for this single scene! And she completely steals the show. Which, again, is just another one of those brilliant, shoujo-melodrama moments, but it also makes her kind of a crappy extra?
VRAI: What is the experience of watching this film, where all of a sudden, the movie just stops for a full two minutes to do a long take?
MARION: I mean, she has sparkly tears! What more do you want?
VRAI: [Cracking up] Are you not moved by her perseverance of this inspiring disabled girl?
MEGAN: Who is on-screen for less than a minute.
VRAI: She’s a very minor character. “And, go!”
I mean, to be fair, I do have a lot of actors that I love personally who are not leading roles, but end up being, you know “that guy” quote-unquote actors, where they do crappy parts in crappy movies and they’re a delight every time they show up, and they bring it. But that’s not quite what Maya’s got going on here.
MEGAN: No, she’s not a character actor.
VRAI: And then meanwhile, you have Ayumi, who’s kind of the opposite situation, where she’s too recognizable as “Ayumi the Star,” so she’s decided to go on her poverty tourism journey to learn to play pants roles.
MEGAN: In The Prince and the Pauper, of all things.
VRAI: I’m very curious… I just wanted to sit and watch that performance, frankly, because…
MEGAN: Yeah, they say she plays both roles. And how does that work?
VRAI: [Laughs] You just need to put a big mirror on-screen. I mean, Maya did an entire one-person show… I was glad that somebody brought up that one-person shows already exist. Because I was about to say, “Did Maya invent the one-man show?”
VRAI: Are you trying to tell me that, Glass Mask?
MEGAN: And then it gets disqualified on a technicality, because some old guy made a fuss.
VRAI: And he’s gone now. We haven’t seen him in several episodes. Onodera is the worst in that he’s just kinda gone.
MARION: Onodera is a bitch. He exists to be a bitch, and that’s it.
VRAI: I mean, he’s very efficient at it, to his credit. He hasn’t gotten… I guess he did technically achieve his goal. Tsukikage’s school is gone now. But he was ostensibly helping Hayami get hold of The Crimson Goddess, a show that cannot… I hope they don’t intend to ever show us any of it, because at this point, it cannot possibly live up to the way people talk it up.
MEGAN: Oh, no, at this point, it’s virtually mythical. Particularly the way Tsukikage herself describes it. [Dramatically] “To play this role, you have to become something other than human!”
MARION: Yeah, it’s sort of the ultimate role. Something that’s mystical. Something that’s otherworldly. And in this sense, it kind of reminds me of this 1950 movie, All About Eve.
MARION: Where you have an up-comer actress, who… I mean, she wants to be a star. She wants what Bette Davis’ character has, right? And she’s supposed to be extremely good. How do you have someone who is so extremely good that she steals the show from someone like Bette Davis, right?
VRAI: [Laughing] From Bette Davis.
MARION: It’s impossible! How do you do that? And they don’t even try. They never show you how she acts. They just tell you. They leave that to your imagination. And I think that’s something that they are doing right now with The Crimson Goddess and that’s why it works. Otherwise it wouldn’t.
MEGAN: It’s also becoming something of almost a Pavlovian response. Like, someone says, “Crimson Goddess,” and both Maya and/or Ayumi just instantly go into Rival Mode.
MEGAN: And, I have to say, I know last time we mentioned there’s a surprisingly low amount of yuri subtext that you would expect. That’s not so true for this stretch.
VRAI: [Laughs] Mm.
MEGAN: I mean, not only do you have Rei and her fangirls at the cafe, you have Ayumi basically turning into the shoujo-manga-equivalent of that Kate Beaton comic about the pirate and his nemesis.
VRAI: The comic is good!
MEGAN: Yes it is. I’m not saying that Ayumi has a picture of Maya that she carries with her all the time and puts on the pillow next to her as she sleeps, but she’s not far from it either.
VRAI: [Cracking up] Give it time. Give it a few more months.
MARION: She doesn’t even need to do that. All she needs to do is [dramatically] look at the stars, and she sees Maya manifesting!
VRAI: [crosstalk whispering; unintelligible]
MEGAN: “Bro, is it gay to see visions of your rival against the night sky?”
It is interesting… I can’t wait for them to interact again, and yet at the same time, the show really knows what it’s doing in keeping them apart. Building that tension. They haven’t really talked since they did that acting exercise together. It’s just a lot of them watching each other perform.
MARION: Yeah, they don’t even interact. They just watch each other perform.
VRAI: This show has a really interesting theme that’s developing, I’ve noticed, about how it uses theater both as it’s a way for characters to get away from their emotions and their inner turmoils and also it becomes almost this stand-in for actual communication at certain points.
Maya and Ayumi don’t really talk, they just watch one another. And that feels like they’re getting closer in understanding each other as rivals, but also, Maya and Sakurakouji… He wants to tell her how he feels—
MEGAN: [Crosstalk] Oh my goodness.
VRAI: But they’re just doing lines at one another, so it’s not getting through.
MEGAN: Oh my goodness! Oh, that moment. That was so sweet. Poor, doomed Yuu.
VRAI: This dumb boy ain’t got a chance.
MEGAN: The problem is Maya has nothing in her head but acting, so she can’t understand that Yuu is basically declaring that “I love you! Please go out with me!” They could go on multiple dates, and she’d be like, “Oh, we’re dating?”
VRAI: [Exasperated] They’ve been on multiple dates! They have a romantic boat ride in the park!
MEGAN: They go to the carnival! They eat crepes!
VRAI: Romantic crepes! I think they called it a date! I don’t know how much clearer he has to be! He’s not even being a Nice Guy. She’s just dense.
MEGAN: She’s just that oblivious.
MARION: I mean, Maya herself gets jealous and she asks him about his relationship with Ayumi.
MEGAN: Oh goodness, yes. The first-episode stretch where it’s like, “Oh no, he caught Ayumi when she fainted. Therefore, that clearly means he loves her and not me! [Quieter] Oh, no, wait. It’s fine.”
VRAI: [Laughs] It’s fine. That’s just, “I don’t want the lead performer in our show to go down. Then we’re all screwed.” Because acting is a team effort!
MEGAN: In contrast to that, of course, we still have Hayami being a creep, as always. Getting to the point where you’re not sure whether he thinks he loves Maya, or he wants to possess her, or a bit of both? In that he’s both determined to tear down her life and make her submit to him and join his agency, but also keeps adoring her from afar and helping her behind the scenes?
VRAI: It’s… He’s very confused, and I get that I’m supposed to invest in the duality of his obsession and maybe he doesn’t even understand it, but I’m still stuck on… I cannot put aside the fact that she is 14. I refuse. It’s creepy.
MARION: I mean, I think the show is kind of trying to follow through with this image of Masumi being someone who’s capable of being ruthless to get what he wants, because he was raised to be this way, or whatever. But it’s supposed to mostly be in relation to the play that he has to get the rights of.
But then he sees the girl struggling and can’t help but feel for her and want to help her, which shows he’s not so cold after all, because Masumi’s supposed to be a redeemable asshole and not the goddamn creep that he is.
MEGAN: Yeah, it always likes to play it like, “Oh, poor him! He feels he has to play this role to satisfy his father!” But the thing is, he doesn’t. He always has a choice. He could just choose to not be a jerk?
VRAI: Yeah. And if these characters were both teenagers… If this was, like, a Takahashi manga, I’d understand. Like, “Ah, in the moment, he says a dumb hotheaded thing and then regrets it immediately after.” But, you’re in your twenties and she’s a child! Be a grownup!
MARION: The worst part is this is shoujo, man. They go about how… Masumi would have been a teenager who’s extremely rich and who has an amount of power no teenager would have, because it’s shoujo. You have these kind of characters a lot, not just in shoujo but in anime in general.
VRAI: I don’t think it helps that they keep doing the same scene between him and Maya, where they’ll confront one another and she will immediately accuse him and throw things at him and run away, and he’ll stand there stoically and take it, and then immediately do something philanthropic. And it’s the same every time, and it’s so repetitive.
MARION: I think it’s hilarious where Maya is attacking him and he supposedly doesn’t feel anything like a normal human being. He just stands there. Doing nothing.
MEGAN: She calls him a fruit.
MARION: [Unintelligible due to crosstalk]
MEGAN: And slaps him with a bouquet. A moment which I loved.
VRAI: Why? Please do something different, Glass Mask, if you insist on carrying on this charade where she doesn’t know that it’s him. Which I’m fine with, because as soon as she learns that, we go into The Badlands.
MEGAN: Yeah, as soon as she learns the true identity of Mister Purple Rose, oh dear.
VRAI: I’m just hoping that the anime ends before then, frankly. Oh dear. No! Noooo!
MEGAN: [Crying noises]
MARION: Well, if it’s… Maya’s not a particularly bright girl, so…
VRAI: [Laughs] She might forget. All she has on her mind is The Crimson Goddess, and she has to be on her toes because apparently if Ayumi gets good enough, she can usurp daugher-position in this weird, weird grooming scenario.
It is interesting how they… The way they position The Crimson Goddess as this incredibly memorable, singular performance when it’s a stage show that doesn’t seem to have been recorded in any way? In reality, there’s a very limited timeframe on how long Tsukikage can be remembered for playing The Crimson Goddess even if nobody else ever performs it.
It was… Nowadays, we’re so used to, “Ah, you record it.” You do it for a film, or even just a recorded stage performance. But it’s this clash of ephemerality and the supposed immortality of the role.
MEGAN: True, and this is something that comes up in the history of theater. You could read so much about legendary actors like Sarah Bernhardt or a lot of the actors who specialize in things like Sherlock Holmes. And all we have are eyewitness accounts and reviews of the time. We don’t know what Sarah Bernhardt’s acting was like. We can only read about it. But that unto itself almost makes it just as legendary.
Just like The Crimson Goddess is only in these records and in the imaginations and memories of others. And so despite the fact that theater acting, by its very nature, is live-performance, is very fleeting, very ephemeral… If it is memorable enough, unique enough, it can live in cultural memory.
VRAI: And I’m surprised they don’t… And, I mean, maybe that’s too heady to get into in a show that’s ultimately meant for kids. This is more of a Rakugo… This is, I think, [something] that Rakugo Shinju dives into. This idea of: “Is it selfish for a performer to hold on to this text that they made iconic, when it’s a living text that you’re not really meant to read to get the full performance? Do you preserve the well-regarded singular performance and let it die, or do you let more people see it, even if it risks deluding the talent of the people who get to perform it?” It’s kind of interesting, and so not what this show is interested in.
MARION: That’s definitely too deep for this show. [Laughs]
VRAI: I can dream! I didn’t have time to do much research, but when Maya gave me a brain melt during the middle part of this episode, where she goes around cold-calling acting companies…
MEGAN: Yes! Because she’s never heard of auditioning because, of course, Tsukikage has never made her audition. She just says, “You’re playing this role,” and she does. So she just goes around like, “Hey, can you give me a job?” And they’re like, “No, you have to audition, you strange young woman.”
VRAI: At the same time, they’re also like, “Which theater are you with?” So it made me curious about how theater companies in the 1980s work, whether it’s like comedy troupes like the UCB and such, where you kind of get together with other performers where you’re known for and that is a sort of rep, or are open auditions as much a thing? It made me want to read more into that, and I am sorry, listeners, that I did not read up on that before the podcast today.
MEGAN: Or another analogy: comparable to an entertainment agency, like Onodera.
VRAI: Yeah, you’re right. That is an explicit tension going on, where they’re… part of what Hayami is on about is they want Maya to be represented by them. So I guess that that is a considerable element.
MEGAN: As in acting, like so many things, it’s not necessarily what you can do, it’s who you know and who you’re connected to. And she’s just fortunate enough that she’s connected to this crazy-legendary actress and her theater troupe.
VRAI: Yeah, it does blur the lines of, you know, how much of it is “She’s just that good and her talent radiates through,” and also: she has had some wicked-good coincidences since she got started with her acting career.
MEGAN: You could argue that this entire show pretty much lives and dies on coincidence.
VRAI: Yes. Yes you could.
MARION: Or maybe convenience.
VRAI: That too. That too. It is… I can’t decide… I think I love the way that they just eventually stopped giving a fuck about how much material they clearly had to fly through, where the narrator just comes on to be like, “And then Maya did this for a while.”
VRAI: “We just don’t have time to show it. But rest assured. They were all working, and it was very hard that they didn’t have a place to act. We assure you.”
MARION: I mean, at no point in the show do you have any idea of how much time is supposed to have passed. She goes and auditions for a movie, and the movie is out in what, weeks? How much time was supposed to pass?
MEGAN: Yeah, I noticed that too.
MARION: That stuff takes years! But she didn’t age a month. I don’t know how much time was supposed to have passed.
VRAI: Which is… On the one hand, you would think, “Oh, well, it’s a choice,” because it’s that comic-book time, or it’s the eternal sensation of youth and you’re thinking your best years are going to last forever, and it seems like you’ll never be grown up and then it’s here before you know it.
But then, at the same time, they put so much emphasis on how fleeting an actor, particularly a woman’s timeframe of their career is. Because you have all these older women who… Tsukikage can’t act anymore, and these women who transitioned into management roles, so it’s very odd. It’s very odd.
MEGAN: Or motherhood. We actually get to see a little more of Ayumi’s family, which is something I did want to see more of. And the dynamic between them and her mother, in particular, is really fascinating, because while it’s a little bit stiff and formal… It’s not like her parents are pressuring her into this role as this fabulous actress, and they’re honestly kind of supportive. And even when Ayumi’s like, “Well, I’m going to become the greatest actress ever and outdo my mother,” her mom’s like, [cheerily] “Okay!”
VRAI: Yep! And it’s almost? Kind of? Heartwarming? A little bit?
MARION: Yeah. I told you two that they were supportive.
MARION: They are fine.
VRAI: It’s good! It’s nice! It’s just so unexpected.
MEGAN: It’s fine. “Where’s Ayumi? Oh, she’s in the garden, dramatically cutting her hair. Oh, that’s nice.”
MARION: I mean, they are probably the chillest people in the entire show.
VRAI: Ayumi’s haircut did make me want to die a little bit, though, because it looks like the terrible wig they placed on the actress in Flowers in the Attic after that story’s dramatic hair-cutting scene.
MEGAN: Honestly it doesn’t look all that different from Rei’s, but I chalk that up to bad late-‘70s hair. What can you do?
VRAI: Why hasn’t Rei left to join the takarazuka is my question, really.
MEGAN: It’s true. It feels like that girl has a future in pants roles.
VRAI: She could make a killing in that market! Yet she’s doing straight plays, which mostly don’t seem to have roles for the type of role she is playing. Very confused.
MARION: “This show is too straight for me.”
MEGAN: It truly is.
VRAI: Uh-huh. It’s very sad. Rei needs to be in Revue Starlight.
VRAI: She’d be happier there. These shows… Speaking of shounen, which we were talking a little bit about off-mic, it is amazing how fast these episodes fly by, partly because Everything Happens So Much. I had a good time.
I guess that kind of brings us to talking about next time. These are… These episodes are a little bit shorter than what we normally do, but Glass Mask is a little bit of a short, weird anime, so I think that’s okay.
MEGAN: It’s short and intense. We’re recreating the Glass Mask experience.
VRAI: It’s meta.
MARION: Around these episodes, though, there was something that really piqued my attention, and it’s interesting how, when they’re acting in the play, there are details like close-ups of their shaky hands, or very subtle shifts in expressions that elevate the acting that we can see because we’re watching a TV show, right? But that’s… It’s not like the audience will be able to catch those details, but this show acts as if they do.
VRAI: I mean, they are very small, intimate theaters. But yeah. Definitely, the people up in the nosebleeds are not going to get the subtle shift.
MARION: It’s theater, but the show uses TV or film language to elevate the performances, and for me that was… I mean, it really piqued my attention.
MEGAN: Yeah, that’s an interesting point.
VRAI: Yeah, I do love that it has a moment… It spends the entirety of the last episode focused on the drama of The Realest terror in anyone who’s ever done a play, even in high school, of when a prop fucks up.
VRAI: And you gotta cover. That was great. I really loved that scene. I think those are becoming my favorite scenes, is just when, in the middle of it being so extremely The Most, it finds a way to genuinely kind of capture the emotional experience of what it feels like to do performance. Even not on a professional level, but just if you’ve been involved in that world at all. There are some really emotionally resonant moments that are neat.
MEGAN: Yes, whether it’s the backstage panic of things not coming together, whether it’s props are failing on stage, or whether it’s just almost collapsing the moment you get off the stage, because [sigh of relief] you just drop the character like a ton of bricks!
VRAI: Okay, the show does need more respect for the backstage production crew, though.
MARION: I mean, it’s really… The show does focus almost exclusively on the acting, to the point where when Maya goes alone on the stage, it feels like the special effects were magic. And only at the end, you had a throwaway line, “Oh, yes, these people help a little bit!”
MEGAN: Oh, yeah!
MARION: “We could have gone without it.”
MEGAN: Oh yeah. No, those first few episodes where the troop from Hokkaido, which has clearly gotten more a cirque-du-soleil-ish thing going on, with a lot more tumbling and dramatic posing and all that, basically serve as her impromptu sound crew for her impromptu one-woman show.
VRAI: Yeah, they’ve had to completely redo the light cues because there’s not the rest of the crew here anymore. Justice for backstage crew!
MARION: That’s one thing that I will give to the 2005 version, which I like considerably less than the ‘80s version. In this performance, they really show what is happening backstage. So it doesn’t feel like magic. You can really see, “Oh, so that’s how they’re doing this.” And it’s a neat detail.
VRAI: I mean, it is really fun to watch the first time when you’re an actor, just to… That entire single show she does is really captivating and well-done, especially the actress playing Maya sells it really well. But once you think about it, it seems like a less-effective choice to frame it from the point of view of an audience when this is so much, supposedly, a show about craft. And it seems like Glass Mask kind of slips back-and-forth along that line when it’s convenient to, basically.
MARION: I’m not sure which version was better, but I will say, again, that the soundtrack really, really elevates this show. It knows when it has to go all-out, and it knows when silence is the best choice. Which, again, it really stood out to me when I was watching the 2005 version, because it really… The soundtrack really doesn’t compare. They really don’t know how to use it. They have a soundtrack that sounds like elevator music. They have one part of the soundtrack, which is dedicated for Masumi. It sounds like that Instagram purple filter. It really sounds… It really… It gets me out of the show.
MARION: And it has a narrator that sounds like the narrator from Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It just has… He has that vibe.
MEGAN: Like distant and historical?
MARION: The way he talks… The way he narrates, it sounds like I’m watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes whenever he talks. And, again, I mean, the 2005 version has its merits. I just feel very strongly about preferring the ‘80s version.
VRAI: It’s a trade-off, ’cause when you want to… Something has to give in the type of story where Glass Mask is. If you want to focus on the hard work of stagecraft and those little details, you kind of have to… Then you also start turning your eye towards the details of the Everything Happens So Much and why is this about Tsukikage totally abusing Maya but it totally works out in the end?
MARION: This show definitely requires you not to think too much.
VRAI: It is almost entirely skating by on its aesthetic, and the passion and emotions that you cannot think about for even a second. It’s like all of the shakier parts of Fushigi Yugi turned up to, like, twelve.
VRAI: Which I enjoy very much. I am… I suspect that I would not enjoy it so much on a rewatch, ’cause I’d be thinking about things.
MARION: Well, I’m not sure. I mean, just don’t rewatch it too soon, because I have seen this show more than twice. I think this is the third time I’m watching it, and I have become a little desensitized to how crazy it is. But it’s still captivating to me. It’s still… I’m still entertained.
VRAI: I mean, I certainly… I’m certainly eager to keep watching it, you know? We’ve got… Next time we’re doing… Let’s see. We did six to 11 this time, so next time we’ll be doing episodes 12 to 17, which is another six-episode stretch, so I assume that by the time we get through those six episodes, Maya will have graduated high school.
MEGAN: [Laughs] I’m almost scared to make predictions for what’s in this next stretch. I certainly have hopes. I hope we see more of Ayumi. I hope we actually get some Ayumi-centric episodes. We actually get more into her headspace. Because I feel like that’s something that’s been missing, to really build up the rivalry. Because at this point it’s feeling like “Poochie and the Fireworks Factory.”
VRAI: A little bit.
MARION: What I can say is that it never slows down, and the rivalry is very important.
MEGAN: Also it’s really gonna get crazy, ’cause the next episode preview says they’re putting on Wuthering Heights, which, hoo boy! You wanna talk drama?
VRAI: Oh, my wife was sitting in the room with me, and as soon as she heard the phrase, “Wuthering Heights,” she got instinctively mad.
VRAI: She was in a college class, it was a theory class, where they taught every lens of critical theory by having them reread Wuthering Heights again, and then reinterpret it through a new lens.
MEGAN: Oh boy.
VRAI: She hates that book so much.
MEGAN: Whereas I just thought of Kate Bush, and, really, the intensity with someone like Kate Bush is a shockingly good match for a show like this.
VRAI: I mean, Kate Bush is The Most.
MEGAN: And Glass Mask is The Most.
VRAI: Much like Glass Mask. There you go.
My for-real prediction is that I have a sinking suspicion that by the time we get to episode 17 or 18, we’re gonna get back to the Purple Rose reveal thing. I feel like we can only avoid it so much longer. [Groans] And then we’ll have to deal with the drama and the angst and the “How does she feel about this?”
Although, this would have been only, what? Ten volumes into the manga? That’s awfully soon for a reveal like that. You could stretch that out for years. Maybe she’ll get amnesia.
MARION: I mean, this show adapts… It feels like this show adapts so much, but at the same time, so little. You’ll get what I mean later.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, ’cause this is 8 years into the run of the series, but it’s also a series that has only had 50 volumes over almost as many years, so it’s hard to say. It feels like… Mm, probably won’t end up being that much when all is said and done.
MEGAN: The only thing I feel like is absolutely certain that’s going to happen is that there will be more men who will just be terrible to Maya and Tsukikage and all the women around them, and they will be the worst.
VRAI: That sounds right. I am… I’m 50-50 on whether Tsukikage dies. I guess probably not, because we’ve taken this moment for us as the audience to be reassured that she’s in a fancy hospital, and well-taken-care-of, but…
MARION: What happens to The Crimson Goddess if Tsukikage dies?
MEGAN: [Gasps] Oh no.
VRAI: That’s a good question. That feels like a question from which the show could mine a lot of drama.
MARION: Because, clearly, we don’t have enough drama.
MEGAN: Of course not!
VRAI: I mean, I assume at some point, in the manga, she dies and wills the rights to Maya, and then that’s dramatic, but I highly doubt, if the manga did something like that, we would get to it in this anime.
VRAI: Which has put so much emphasis on, “You’re not ready yet. Someday, you will be. But not yet. Definitely not by the end of this series.”
MARION: Yeah. In that sense, if you want to get the most story without reading the manga, because it’s not like it’s an option, the 2005 version is very good for that, because you have 50 episodes. It’s more than twice. It’s twice as long than this show.
VRAI: That’s room to do a lot, although you did also say it adapted things quite a bit more slowly, so, six of one, half-dozen of the other.
MARION: Mm. I mean, I think until a point, it’s slower, but then it just kind of catches up. Because the play that the ‘80s version adapts around episode 20, I think, is the same play the 2005 version adapts around, also, episode 20 or 22 or so. So, it catches up.
VRAI: Mm. Interesting. Alright, well, I really enjoy you giving us these updates on this other version that, if I’m honest, I’m not going to watch.
MARION: I mean, I’m clearly biased. I really prefer ‘80s anime in general. I’m not super fond of nowadays’ adaptations. That early [unintelligible] anime era is just not my favorite. If I’m being shallow, in terms of style, I love Ouran High School, but I don’t love how it looks.
VRAI: The 2000s is a very particular style, and Glass Mask 2005 certainly got hit with a big old stick of it, shall we say.
MARION: Yeah, it feels a little bland.
VRAI: That was when CG was really starting to take an advent, you know, of fully-CG-animated series and they looked a little plastic-y and flat, a lot of them. They didn’t have… Yeah.
MARION: And also, at the time, they were a lot into Aryan tones. You may notice that a lot of people in this show are blonde and have blue eyes, and in the adaptations around that time, a lot of people have brown hair, and that’s not a bad thing, but, in general, it tends to be a little more subdued.
VRAI: Yeah, this… Glass Mask ’84 certainly has a lot of impressively bright colors [quietly] that, honestly, I enjoy. I do.
MARION: Yeah, same. It’s my personal aesthetic, so… I mean, not the blondes, but the bright colors.
MEGAN: The bright colors. The shoujo drama. The opening that features strange amounts of aerobics.
VRAI: I don’t like the opening. I just don’t like it.
MARION: I love the opening! But then again, I love movies like Footloose and Flashdance, but I love them because of the dancing, not because of their stories. I’m not super into their romances, for example, but I like the dances, because it’s so crazy. It’s so athletic. They don’t have to go that hard, and yet, they always do. And they did it for us. [Laughs]
VRAI: If the Glass Mask opening is not at least somewhat based on the opening to Fame, I will peel off a toenail. But I just… I don’t like the way that she’s… I know that it was probably an affordability question, but the fact that it’s just a figure on a dark background loses all the weight and power that makes dancing really impressive. So, it looks like she’s just kind of gesturing in a void, and it looks very unsettling and uncanny valley, and I kind of hate it.
MARION: I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was an intentional choice for drama. It sort of feels like a training sequence. A highly-aerobic training sequence rather than an actual performance.
VRAI: Mm. Yeah.
MEGAN: That actually reminds me of something I looked into while watching this show. That opening is directed by the show’s director, but it’s animated… The key animator is a woman named Michi Himeno. She’s mostly known as a character designer.
She actually started out in the ’70s with stuff like Lunlun the Flower Child. She was one of three character designers on The Rose of Versailles, but she’s mostly known—since the ’80s, around this time—for a lot of shounen. She did a lot of work on various Masami Kuramada projects, including, of course, Saint Seiya. She actually did key animation for both that show’s openings. And, once again, relevant to your interests, Vrai, her most recent project was character designer for Yu-Gi-Oh.
MEGAN: Both the Toei season, and the Duel Monsters, the post-card-game show.
VRAI: Eyyy! [Softly] I mean, they’re very appealing designs.
MARION: I just remember… I think Megan caught a screenshot of a dude wearing a jacket that says “Footloose” in the show.
MEGAN: Yes! Yes!
MARION: So they definitely had that in mind.
MEGAN: [Crosstalk] Footloose, 1984, USA!
MARION: They definitely had that in mind. [Laughs]
VRAI: Yes. Footloose is not a good movie, but it’s also an amazing movie, if you feel me?
MARION: Exactly. Like I said, I’m not exactly super into the stories of those movies, but the dancing. I love dancing.
MEGAN: Meanwhile, when it comes to this show, I am locked in. I am on this ride. I am willing to let it take me where it wants to, no matter what crazy direction it might go.
VRAI: [Laughs] Alright, well, looks like we’re all geared up for next time then, and I hope you are too, listeners.
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