Vrai, Megan, and Marion reach the finale of Glass Mask and talk about the history of disability drag in acting, the (still running) manga, and their feelings on the series overall.
Date Recorded: May 17th, 2020
Guests: Megan D, Marion Bea
0:01:06 The… end?
0:03:59 Creepy old dudes
0:10:46 Maya’s motivation
0:14:03 Nobody died?
0:16:23 Maya x Ayumi
0:21:19 The Miracle Worker
0:25:28 Maya’s mom
0:28:44 Theater vs movies vs TV
0:38:14 Other adaptations
0:43:50 Actors, acting, and stories about acting
VRAI: Hey there, listeners. Welcome back to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai Kaiser. They/them. I’m a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist. You can find me tweeting about my freelance work @WriterVrai, or you can find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod. And with me once again are Megan and Marion. Marion, would you like to introduce yourself first this time?
MARION: Hi, I’m Marion. I have a channel called Marion Bea where I upload videos on retro anime and related old stuff. And I also have a Twitter account. That’s @eccentricmarion.
MEGAN: I’m Megan. Pronouns are she and her. I do manga reviews on the regular at my blog The Manga Test Drive at mangatestdrive.blogspot.com. You can find me on Twitter @brainchild129.
VRAI: So we have finally reached the last set of episodes for Glass Mask, or rather we have reached the stop of Glass Mask, which I think is about as much as I can say. It stops.
VRAI: This time around we watched episodes 18 through 22, which is the end of the series. What did you think?
MEGAN: As always, it was a ride. It was thrilling. It was sometimes frustrating. But I was never bored.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, I would agree with that. In fairness to this series, I found myself thinking as it came to the end maybe that I was a little bit disappointed that not only is there no legal way to read the manga in English, there’s not even really any kind of comprehensive summaries that folks have put up, which I’ve kind of gotten to take for granted.
And it also left me wondering… You know, the only other series I’ve watched that are 22 episodes are series that have had legendary financial difficulties or been unceremoniously canceled, like Lupin the Third Part I and Samurai Flamenco. So I’m deeply curious about the production history of Glass Mask and wish we knew more about it.
MEGAN: Yeah, because it’s not like the production was falling apart. If anything, some of the direction and the animation on display in this section are some of the best in the entire series.
MARION: More than the anime, I wonder what was going on with the manga.
MARION: The manga is the one that has a lot of hiatus.
VRAI: That’s a good point. The Wikipedia lists a live-action film version of Glass Mask that in a single film adapts the first 38 volumes of the manga.
VRAI: So I feel like that paints a picture. As much as this manga almost exists in superhero time, it also seems like it would be very difficult to do filler for, paradoxically.
MARION: Yeah. And speaking of the ending, I have found forums that discuss later episodes that I think were never translated. And this ending, the anime ending, always makes me feel like I want more. But I want more in this anime format and not the manga, because I have read some stuff that has me like, “Eh, I’m good.”
VRAI: Oh, no. You should tell us these things because, let’s be real, we’re not getting an English translation of Glass Mask. It’s too long and old, and classic shoujo is a very hard sell in the English market.
MEGAN: Unfortunately true.
MARION: Well, I’m sure you remember that I compared this story to Daddy Long Legs. I mean, it’s basically a Daddy Long Legs story. The romance, right? In Daddy Long Legs, Judy Abbott falls for Jervis Pennington, who is a rich man who is much, much older than her, without knowing he’s also Daddy Long Legs. And then towards the end, there’s this big reveal that they are the same person.
And in the manga, Maya has already fallen for Masumi without knowing he is Mr. Purple Rose. And now I’m fairly sure that towards the end, there’s this plan to reveal that they are both. I suppose it makes sense: if you reveal this before the end, what’s the point? Where do you go from there, on the one hand? And on the other hand, well, I have seen this story play out many times before. I’m good.
VRAI: I just… I just… I’m so… There’s just no getting around the inherent power imbalance because, on the one hand, if we put the age difference in a little box and put it over here for a minute and assume that that’s not an issue, I can see why it wants to put off that reveal, because they’re getting to know each other theoretically, quote-unquote, “as equals,” where the scenes Maya has at the cabin are just disturbing, this almost godlike aura she puts around him.
MEGAN: Oh my God, that stretch of episodes feels like a freaking gothic novel. Like “Oh, little girl, go up to my dark, quiet vacation home, where you can practice your heart out.”
VRAI: “All alone, away from your friends and your family. Maybe I’ll come see you.”
MARION: Right away, that also happens in Daddy Long Legs. He has a farm where he sends Judy—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Of course he does.
MARION: —to spend her summer vacation. And there are even parts of the story where another boy invites her to have a vacation. And on her part, it’s innocent because she’s an orphan, she never had a family, and he’s the older brother of her best friend, and all this stuff. But you just know bitch was jealous, and that’s why he told her no and that’s why he sent her to their summer home. And, ah! [Chuckles]
VRAI: It’s creepy!
MARION: I suppose there are stories where you’re like, “Okay, if I turn off my brain, I suppose I can watch this fantasy and enjoy this fantasy and not think of the huge power imbalance.” But this type of story is not that story. It’s always right there.
VRAI: Yeah, and even without the fact that she’s (A) a child and (B) much, much younger than him, there are so many layers. There’s the worshipful element of how she sees Mr. Purple Rose. There’s the fact that he controls her career and continually uses that for leverage to protect his own emotional insecurity, and the fact that she’s in no position to understand or criticize him for his bullshit, except in a very childish, temper-tantrum-y way. It’s so upsetting to watch!
MEGAN: I know! There’s one moment of decency between them, when they have the conversation where he legitimately asked her, “Why did you get into acting in the first place?” And it would be a lovely scene if not for the fact that it came right after him basically manhandling her in the hallway, demanding that he [sic] respect his authority. And, of course, right afterwards, he goes back to his creepy double identity, “Oh, I have to be a jerk because I must hide my true feelings blah, blah, blah.”
MARION: Yeah. There was a point there, but he didn’t have to do it that way.
MEGAN: But… getting past—
VRAI: In a vacuum— Uh-huh.
MEGAN: I was gonna… We finally get about as close as Maya’s going to get to finally putting together the pieces between Hayami and Mr. Purple Rose, with him being extremely inappropriate in an awards ceremony. Do not dance with 16-year-olds. Do not!
VRAI: Do not do this thing! And I feel like the lobby scene, if this were about an intergenerational friendship or whatever between them, that scene in a vacuum is almost kind of nice, because he is actually showing interest in her as a person, not the figure of the freedom he can never attain or a pure, young, feminine soul. The pedestal he puts her on is upsetting.
MARION: Yeah. When I look at that scene, the dance scene, it fully hits me how much the age gap is part of the appeal, rather than something that’s there. That romance is not meant to be appealing in spite of the age gap; the age gap is very much meant to be part of the appeal. The fact that she is a child and he’s experienced and knows about the world and he can support her financially and solve all her life problems or whatever, that’s meant to be the appeal.
MEGAN: And she’s a child who can only dance with him on her tippy toes, which is an incredibly apt visual metaphor, but… [Inhales sharply] Ugh.
MARION: Yeah. And there’s even that scene with Sakurakoji that—I never noticed this before, but I noticed now—that he is like, “I can’t do anything for you, Maya!” when she is on the summer vacation or whatever the fuck she was.
And it hit me how much it was about money at that moment. He can’t solve her problems the way an adult can. And he’s not meant to, but that’s shown as a weakness. He admits that he’s not able to do that for her. I’m like, “You’re a kid!”
And then there’s also that scene with her secretary that’s like, “Why don’t you show her your affection as Masumi?” or whatever. And I was like, “I’m pretty sure that’s not even legal, but go off.”
VRAI: [Chuckles] In this last stretch of episodes, I kind of got some similar vibes to when Ikuhara was directing Sailor Moon and hated Mamoru.
VRAI: Grudgingly including this thing, but having things like Mayumi [sic] in the car being like, “This is ridiculous. I’m 10 years older than her!” and then really emphasizing the height difference in a not appealing way during the dance scene. I applauded, quietly, to myself.
MEGAN: Going back to putting people on pedestals, the only person who puts somebody on a pedestal even harder than Hayami puts Maya on a pedestal is Maya putting Mr. Purple Rose on a pedestal. And by this point in the show, it really started to bother me how much her confidence depends upon this concept of Mr. Purple Rose.
It’s not about her getting confident in her abilities. It’s not her believing in the trust put into her by Tsukikage or all her friends or Sakurakoji or her missing mother. No, it’s “This mysterious man told me I am valid; therefore, I can do anything!”
VRAI: Yeah, it really undermines so many of the good scenes from earlier on in the series, because, like you said, it’s not about this community she’s built up. She’s just so fragile except for the love and support of this mystery man. It makes hard to even appreciate “Ah, this is a wish-fulfillment fantasy where you’re doing your best and you have this benefactor who will bail you out of any trouble and you’ll never have to worry about money even though you’re also poor and noble,” which is, boy, sure a way to try to have your cake and eat it too.
But yeah, the fact that she doesn’t know who she is… If he were to, as he suggests, just completely stop supporting her in this way, her entire identity would collapse because he’s been grooming her for two whole years!
MARION: I always conveniently turn off my brain to that. I’m aware it’s there, but it’s not there! I don’t see it! I can ignore it! [Chuckles]
VRAI: [Chuckles] You are a stronger soul than I, because I thought I’d be able to do that during the last stretch because it’s annoying or whatever but it’s also a lot about all these other characters who care about her and her going toe-to-toe with Ayumi, but it just gets emphasized so much as though she has nothing else here that I feel like it starts to become an active weight on the plot.
MARION: Yeah. I mean, it helps that I can make fun of Masumi because of all of those dramatic closeups and dramatic gasps, the kind of thing that was a thing in anime back then but that kind of age hilariously. And I’m pretty sure that if this show was modern, I wouldn’t be able to do that, which is part of why I like the 2005 version less. It’s more serious about that. It forced me to confront that the thing is there.
VRAI: Yeah, I totally get what you mean, that whole “veil of history” thing where you hit something that’s made before, like, 1990 and you’re like, “Well, this is bad but it’s also old and I like all these other things about it.” So, I totally get what you mean.
MARION: Yeah, it’s the way they did shock back in the day or the way they emphasize certain emotions that for us is too over-the-top nowadays, and it just comes across as funny.
VRAI: They have a real problem differentiating Maya’s various emotions through facial expression because she can never look not waifish, so she has a lot of dull surprise going on.
One thing I did end up wondering as I was watching this last stretch of episodes is… I think the place where they chose to end the story makes a certain amount of sense. I’m very surprised nobody died. That’s certainly a choice.
MEGAN: I know! I figured her biological mother was a goner, but nope, she’s just far away, random hospital. Dramatically blind!
MARION: [crosstalk] It just ends too— I mean, I suppose you don’t mind spoilers, do you?
VRAI: No, no.
MARION: It just ends too soon. She dies eventually, and there’s a plot where Maya supposedly leaves Masumi for whatever reason, and there’s drama about it.
VRAI: Of course.
MARION: And that’s why he feels like he has to hide his feelings even more because “Now she hates me because she thinks I killed her mother” or something.
MEGAN: [crosstalk] Oh my God!
VRAI: If I didn’t hate that relationship for all the other reasons, I would hate how incredibly contrived it is at every turn. Every time they seem to make a little progress, “Nope, I must be an asshole.”
MARION: [Chuckles] I mean, I read it on a forum. I don’t know if that really happened, but it probably did.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I mean, it happens in the second episode, so I believe you.
MARION: It’s believable.
MEGAN: [crosstalk] But in fairness, what is more contrived than melodrama? And Glass Mask is nothing if not a melodrama. It’s just sometimes there’s bad melodrama that throws you out of the show at every moment, like every time Hayami is on screen.
And then there’s the good stuff, which is ridiculous, but you’re so invested into something about it that you’re along for the ride, whether it’s Maya’s mother and her dramatically convenient blindness, or, at last, the rivalry between Maya and Ayumi coming to, if not a head, at least a peak.
VRAI: I do—
VRAI: Go ahead. No, go ahead.
MARION: I just want to say that they really made Maya accept a TV job so her mother will see her. That bitch is blind! They really did that!
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh my God!
MEGAN: She doesn’t know that!
VRAI: The dramatic irony! I’m dying of irony poisoning. But speaking of Ayumi, my wife did wander through while I was finishing up the show, and I got to the scene where they’re in rehearsals for Miracle Worker, and Maya and Ayumi walk past each other, and it’s very crackling in tension. And she said, “So they never date, huh?”
MEGAN: [Laughs] I’m not gonna say there are points where I was just staring at the screen and like “And now they kiss!”
MARION: There’s such a big potential for the classic enemy-to-lovers. It’s right there, the tension. And the most notable thing is that they never actually interact. They never talk to each other like normal people. And still, their dynamic is so interesting, the way they communicate through acting. It’s the best relationship. I mean, it’s the best dynamic. I don’t know if they have an actual relationship. I don’t know if it counts, but it’s the best dynamic in the entire show.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah. On the one hand, I completely understand why it’s written this way to have the two parallel performances so that we can compare and contrast them as actors.
But I was also really disappointed that we never reached another height, like that moment when they were improvving the scene from my worst nightmares in the last batch of episodes. That was so absolutely crackling with energy. And the scene on the stage after Maya gets her award is good, but it’s not as incredibly potent. And this is the end of the series, and I wanted one more taste of that.
MEGAN: Well, there’s something close, like when they both have the revelation about how to portray Helen’s realization of water and objects having names.
VRAI: That scene was great.
MEGAN: All the parallels between that, between literally shocking yourself with a washer [washing machine] and getting blasted in the face with a water balloon!
MARION: I mean, of course someone almost died to get to that point.
VRAI: She got electrocuted and she’s fine.
MEGAN: She’s fine and is totally comfortable getting hit in the face with a water balloon.
MARION: I mean, to be fair, I remember when I was a kid that I got out of the pool and I went and touched the radio, and I did get an electric shock. I remember that feeling to this very day, so, I’m like, okay, I suppose it’s sort of realistic. I’m still alive.
VRAI: Fair enough. That is a really good scene, yeah. I’m glad you reminded me of that. This show has such a talent for those intercut moments of just dramatic comparison and the ratcheting-up of the music and the [gasps dramatically]. Those are the really tasty bits of melodrama.
MEGAN: Or the bit, episode 19, where Maya’s like, “I’m drawing energy from others,” and the intercut between Tsukikage and her friends and Sakurakoji is almost like in DBZ when Goku’s summoning his Spirit Bomb: “Everyone, give me your energy!”
MARION: Yeah! [Chuckles]
VRAI: It’s very good. And then they put Sakurakoji on a bus. A literal— It’s a plane, but they put him on a bus, for God’s sake!
MEGAN: Poor Yuu! Especially when he finally gets his shoujo manga romance moment with Maya in the park and she literally has that “Why is my heart beating so fast?” moment.
MARION: Yeah, it’s kind of upsetting that Maya is never there for him when it counts. It really drives home that this is not meant to be the romance you’re rooting for. And it sucks, because if the other option is Masumi… Well, I mean, the best option for me is still Ayumi, but eh…
VRAI: Uh-huh, uh-huh. I mean, if we were to talk about this as a structural romance, you have Hayami, who only sees her as an idol and not her real self, and Sakurakoji, who wants her to be a normal girl and doesn’t respect the pursuit of her career. But then you have Ayumi, who respects her as a professional. The only one who truly— Anyway. Give me my fanfiction world.
MARION: I mean, even with Sakurakoji, that’s a fixable problem. He’s an actor himself. They can work that out. But the other one? Eh.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, you can have him come back from America, where he went to get serious about his acting or whatever he’s doing.
MARION: Speaking of America, it’s very interesting for me that they use the Oscars as a way to elevate Helen Keller’s role. They use Patty Duke’s Oscar win when she was 16, and that’s also the age Maya and Ayumi at that stage of the show where they get to perform Helen Keller. And then there’s an award show towards the end, but it’s the Oscars that was the one that’s really meant to put this on a light of “Wow! This is their performance.”
VRAI: Yeah, I actually did want to… Because we touched on The Miracle Worker as a deeply problematic work that the show’s been going back and forth on, through the entire thing of this idea of disability as a challenge for able-bodied actors.
But I did a little bit of reading and so on. And kudos also to my wife, who knew a little bit more about the history of The Miracle Worker. But the scene in question that Duke got an Oscar for, the table scene that they reference so many times in the show, it got to the point where the actors were actually physically hurting each other on stage.
The scene in question is at the halfway point of the play. It’s supposed to be a turning point in their relationship, where Helen is basically smacked around until she learns how to sit at a table and fold a napkin, which to her doesn’t mean anything because she doesn’t have the concept of what manners mean or why she’s being asked to do any of this. And so it’s just a matter of being punished until she does a mechanical response that’s very difficult for her, to no meaning because she doesn’t regain language until the end of the play, but it’s supposed to be a big, inspiring breakthrough.
And I don’t think the show meant for it to be a metaphor for Maya’s journey, because it sees a lot of the physical abuse she undergoes as a positive means toward an end, but it kind of grimly ends up being an interesting sort of parallel, because there are so many things between Maya and Tsukikage where it’s just her being beaten and abused and subjecting herself to torment because, I don’t know, it’ll help your acting in some vague, nebulous way. That was grim!
MARION: They really take “No pain, no gain” to the next level. And in case someone is interested, that scene for the movie version, I think it’s on YouTube, if anyone wants to see it. It’s brutal. It’s brutal.
VRAI: And also, if anyone wants to read up on it, after she was seven years old and learned language for the first time, Helen Keller became a socialist and feminist activist, although she did support eugenics. So, you know, that sucks.
MARION: Yeah, it was conflicting. She also went to college.
VRAI: Uh-huh. It fits right into that theme of deeply mixed bags, which is perfect for Glass Mask.
MARION: Yeah. Yeah, it was like, I suppose those were other times, but eh… [Chuckles]
VRAI: [Hesitant sounds] Yeah. You know, putting aside the content and the context of the play, I did appreciate having this entire stretch being dedicated to one performance, so that we could see multiple aspects of it, as opposed to the one- or two-episode arcs that had been done up to now.
MARION: Yeah, and I really like that the final performance was a double casting. I thought it was pretty fitting.
VRAI: Although I am kind of sad that we didn’t actually get to see Ayumi act. We were reassured of her talent multiple times. But they gave a lot of the actual scenes over to Maya’s performance.
MARION: Yeah, but… I sort of call it the All About Eve Effect when someone is too much of a genius. You can’t show it too much, because you will spoil the effect. You can’t deliver every time. So I can understand that they don’t really show much of Ayumi’s performance. It’s more of showing the reaction others have to her, and you’re like, “Okay, I’ll take your word for it.”
For me, it’s a little more effective than showing something that might not be up to my expectations every single time. That’s more likely to break the effect for me.
MEGAN: The thing I found most interesting about Ayumi’s arc in this stretch is what ends up bothering her. It’s not necessarily competing with Maya. It’s not necessarily losing out on the award to Maya. It’s when her mother kisses Maya on the cheek, just this moment of affection, of this acknowledgement of greatness that her mother has never given her.
MARION: I was like, “Oh, no! You can’t do that to her!” [Chuckles] And she didn’t even see the play. She just conveniently walked in at that moment.
VRAI: Mm-hm. And it’s so deeply sad. The idea that they’re both acting as professionals seems to genuinely work for Ayumi most of the time, but it’s kind of this cracking back of the facade that also she wants that validation and support. And it’s a really great, small, little character note that I wish we had more time to dig into, honestly. But the show’s over.
MARION: Yeah, when she’s talking about that with the old lady at her home, I really felt for her, when she kinda looks very down a little bit, like, “My mom chose her.”
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, and in the great shounen legacy, she’s the technically perfect performer who can’t match up to that unpredictable, scrappy upcomer energy. I like that they went with a genuinely humanizing pain there.
I feel like Glass Mask kind of sneaks up on you very occasionally with these quite human moments in between, like, the melodrama of Maya’s mom being struck down by God with blindness for not believing in her daughter. What the fuck!
MARION: I mean, I suppose that level of drama was common in the ‘70s. I haven’t seen Candy Candy, but I have heard the plot. I remember when I was in elementary school and I had a friend who was watching it. And she told me the plot, and I was like, “Oh, fuck, no, I’m not watching that. That’s too much. I can’t take so much drama.” And nowadays, it seems like that’s all I watch. [Laughs]
I don’t even remember if it happened in the show, but I remember there was… I think I watched a scene that was like, “And then she lost her leg,” and I was, like, traumatized, like, “What!” I don’t even know if it actually happened, but I’m still like, “What!”
VRAI: She was born with glass bones and paper skin and…
VRAI: And every morning she breaks her legs.
MEGAN: But it’s also curious that the place they leave off, the place where they have to try to wrap things up… What’s the next door? What’s the next step for these two? Television acting!
VRAI: Yeah, I was left very curious about that, because not all stage actors translate well to television, because it’s a lot of times a question of big versus small performance. And to an extent, we know that Maya will do well because she had that bit part in the movie that did so well for her, but also, a lot of her performances play very large. So I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see some of the places that could go as a struggle for her.
MARION: Mm. For me, it’s very interesting that this is about theater acting, but it’s a TV show and it’s presented with TV show techniques; then the next step is TV show and they’re like, “Will the acting translate?” and we have been watching them in a TV format all the time, and their performances were adapted to the TV format, like all those closeups, to capture the smallest nuances of performances, the effects. It was all TV.
MEGAN: And it’s curious that they climax with TV because… I’m admittedly biased. I’ve not watched a ton of live-action Japanese television, but my understanding is it tends to be pretty slight.
VRAI: In terms of performance?
MEGAN: Yeah. It’s not exactly where you go for a challenge. It’s where you go if you’re an idol and you need to promote your brand or you need to be a judge on a variety show or…
MARION: I remember watching this scene. I don’t remember from which adaptation it was because, God, it has so fucking many. But it was a scene from an older Japanese adaptation of Glass Mask, and it was the scene with Tsukikage and Maya talking in the hospital. And I was shocked at how normal it seemed, like “Where’s the drama? Where’s the screams?” I don’t know. They were talking like two normal people. And it was like “What? What’s going on here?”
VRAI: “What is this nonsense?”
VRAI: I guess now that you say that, I do remember that fans of the live-action TV Sailor Moon, the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, had a lot of trouble because a lot of those episodes weren’t properly archived on any kind of tape or DVD, because they were assumed as kind of disposable, as live dramas. So I wonder if that would have been even more of a case back then.
Which, yeah, is pretty interesting that it’s this next dramatic step. But at the same time theater has prestige, but it doesn’t reach as many people. And neither one of them is really being archived at the time, so is there a level of equality there?
This show draws so much from American dramatics. There was that same kind of sentiment in the second half of the 20th century that TV is where you went if you couldn’t make it on the stage or in film.
I can’t believe Tsukikage didn’t die. I’m just so stuck on that!
MEGAN: I totally can. I mean, The Crimson Goddess is the ultimate goal. That is the end of Glass Mask. And you’re not gonna blow that in 22 episodes.
MARION: Yeah, she herself says that “I can’t die until I pass this role over. My work here isn’t done.” I wouldn’t be surprised if she actually drops dead the moment The Crimson Goddess lives again.
VRAI: [Chuckles] Okay, but her internal organs have to be like a soup at this point from the amount of times she left the hospital unadvisedly and then collapsed.
VRAI: It is absurd.
MARION: I mean, she’s only really, really sick when it’s convenient for the drama. Otherwise she’s totally fine.
VRAI: That’s true. That’s also true. She floats in and out of the plot as needed. I did think it was very sweet that she was there for Maya’s performance—though she’s still kind of the worst if we’re looking at it objectively.
MARION: I mean, as far as abusive mentors go, I don’t even hate her. At least she’s entertaining. I remember with the coaches in Attack No. 1 who were such huge bitches every time I saw them on the screen, I wanted to slap them. Augh! I hate them so much.
One of the coaches’ whole thing was that he was an animal. He was so rude with the girls, and the people were scandalized and the press came and it was a whole thing, but the girls were like, “We need to train, and this is making us better players, so who the fuck cares?” or whatever. And he just went on and… Augh!
VRAI: Ends, means, et cetera.
MARION: Yeah, and I have to say that there’s always something unsettling in seeing huge-ass men hitting little girls. And they have such big power over them. I mean, I suppose it’s the same with Tsukikage, but she always has like one leg at the doorstep—sorry, at the death… [Chuckles] Sorry, I got distract— She’s always about to die, so I’m like, okay, whatever. And she’s entertaining. She has, I don’t know, this drama about her that is entertaining to watch.
VRAI: There’s a shot from, I think it’s Sun and Moon, that’s Jessie doing a cute little visual cameo as Tsukikage, and that about sums up the energy there, I think.
MARION: I like how it doesn’t matter from what year the adaptation is: Tsukikage always looks exactly the same. The 2005 version supposedly modernizes all the character designs, and she looks exactly the same. It’s timeless goth drama.
MEGAN: Why would you change…? That’s a classic look. That is every goth girl’s dream right there.
VRAI: It’s true. She’s got a classic, terrible elegance to her.
MARION: Yeah, when she’s not abusive, it actually feels like she cares about Maya. I don’t know if I would go as far as to say that she loves her, but you can feel that she cares about her. So, it’s not acceptable, but it still makes it more watchable.
MEGAN: She cares and she takes pride in her.
MEGAN: But I wanted to say, going back to the discussion about television, it’s curious that they built this up to the goal because so much of this show has been about the conflict between art and commerce, and high art and low art. And I know, at least in American culture, theater is held up as a high art and TV is held as a low art.
So, Maya stepping down to this baser art, even if it’s simply to expand her skills as an actress, is interesting. I don’t want to quite call it a compromise, but it’s something in that direction.
VRAI: It is interesting that part of the implicit element of what makes theater high art is that highly regarded theater is exclusive and hard to get to, and there is a limited amount of this performance or space to see that performance, whereas television can reach the masses.
What we learn Maya’s going to do kind of straddles that line because she’s doing it explicitly so hopefully it will reach her mother, so that this art will transcend the space of the theater. But also, she’s doing a historical drama, which is, of course, very classy, and a high art form.
MEGAN: For TV.
MARION: And TV’s also more accessible because you have reruns. With theater, if you don’t catch it at the time, you’re probably never gonna catch it again, or at least not with the same performers.
VRAI: It’s true. God, I wish that this show had kept going, because you could do so much with that, the fact that TV is consistent and accessible but static. Once something is adapted to TV it’s, generally speaking, considered done for at least several decades, whereas theater is sort of infinitely malleable in terms of performance—although the way Tsukikage treats the Crimson Goddess does sort of function a bit more like you would think of a film remake, as this sort of indomitable singular performance that you will give over to one person for the one time it may ever be done again.
MARION: Yeah, I also wish it would keep going, but it happened two times now. Whenever I finish this show, I’m like, “I need more!” and then I try the 2005 version, and then I reach a point where I’m like, “Eh, I’m good.”
VRAI: How much more does the ‘05 version adapt? I know it’s about 50 episodes, but does it go much further in the story?
MARION: It has to, because at episode 22 it’s also at the Helen Keller arc.
VRAI: Oh. Not what I expected.
MARION: So it covers more plays, definitely. And it supposedly has its own ending. I have only reached until the Helen Keller part to have a more fair comparison to the 1980 version for video purposes, but I didn’t really want to keep going because it wasn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t really get into the 2005 version for a lot of reasons. But anyway… [Chuckles]
VRAI: Like you said, for comparison reasons it’s very interesting. You have the opportunity to do this legendary series again, so many choices appear to be— Anyway… We may end up having to talk about that, after all. Or listeners, if you out there have watched both versions and want to pitch us an article, you could always do that. Our doors are open. Then I don’t have to watch it.
MARION: The thing that probably surprises me the most is the 2005 version feels a little boring in comparison. It’s so tame.
VRAI: Right. When there’s not the aesthetic element, you are left with nothing to think about but the very upsetting plot beats.
MARION: Yeah, and the thing I told you all about Ayumi, that for me, it works better if you don’t show too much, the whole genius image? Well, in 2005 version, on the one hand, it has too much crying. You know that counsel where true acting is when you can act miserable? It has that. It really has that. It feels like that Wayne’s World scene when he starts crying.
MARION: [crosstalk] And he throws water.
MEGAN: “I never learned to read!”
MARION: Yeah! It feels exactly like that. And the acting goes on for too long. And then Ayumi’s… I don’t want to say she was miscast, but she sounds so awkward. She just sounds pretentious a lot of the time, and there are lines where she has such awkward pauses that it sounds like she’s reading her lines rather than acting, and it just breaks the image.
VRAI: Having not watched it and just kind of scoped some Google, I will say that Maya’s design is kind of classic no matter what you do, but Ayumi has suffered without the curls. It’s not particularly striking.
MARION: Yeah, you can’t take away her ojou-sama looks. She’s an ojou-sama. And perhaps most importantly, the romance with Masumi is really amplified in this version from the very beginning.
MEGAN: [Inhales] Ooh.
MARION: There’s a part where he’s like, “Grow up quickly, little girl,” and the alarm bells that goes in my head at that moment… [Chuckles]
VRAI: [deadpan] Don’t stand… so close to me. Young girl. Ohhh… [pained whisper] Yeah.
Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys. I love talking about multiple adaptations of classic works like this, what things change for various areas and various creative teams. That’s my shit. That’s honestly my shit.
MARION: Yes, same. I mean, there’s a reason why I watched all fucking adaptations of Daddy Long Legs. I was like, “I’m just gonna try the first episode of the anime.” And then I watched the whole thing. And then I was like, “Oh, Mary Pickford did a version. And Fred Astaire also did a version, and it’s a musical. But the 1930…” And I watch the Shirley Temple version.
VRAI: It’s called hyperfixation, bro. It’s cool.
MEGAN: It happens.
MARION: Yeah, I suppose it does.
VRAI: But yeah, on the whole, I’m really glad that we ended up doing this podcast. Glass Mask is a series that I’d sort of been aware of for a while, in terms that… I’m only really familiar with Moto Hagio. I should probably be expanding my knowledge of classic shoujo, and I guess this is technically available, but I always put off getting into it.
And even if I think it’s decidedly flawed and would be really a lot more difficult than many classic series I’m into to introduce to somebody who isn’t already predisposed to liking the era or who isn’t watching anime for a historical interest, I’m really glad that I watched it.
MARION: Yeah, it’s definitely one of the shows that I always like to recommend to anyone who wants to watch more shoujo. It’s one of the biggest classics and it’s also just so entertaining. It’s easy to get into it if you can ignore the creepy factors.
MEGAN: As I said, I’ve been consistently entertained. I’ve read just about as much classic shoujo as is out there in English, which is unfortunately not a lot. So it’s interesting to see that style brought into animation and, despite the fact that the studio and a lot of staff are not necessarily the most prestigious, how well they adapted it.
Also, I’m going to find a way to convince someone who’s big into sports anime to watch this. This is my goal. This is my dream. I’m convinced they would love it.
VRAI: I mean, you’re probably correct.
MARION: Yeah. I watched Attack No. 1 very recently and then I rewatched this, and I definitely share the feeling that it feels a lot like both battle shounen and a sports anime. The Crimson Goddess feels like a World Cup in a way.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s very Fist of the North Star: you will receive the title of this art form if you prove yourself worthy.
MARION: Yeah, you have to train to win. I mean, Ayumi and Maya even treat acting like a game to win in a way.
MEGAN: And maybe that’s why it’s appropriate the show ends on an award show, because unlike a lot of sports series, acting doesn’t have championships. It doesn’t have tournaments. It doesn’t have a really obvious stopping point where you can point at that and say you have succeeded. So, the best they can do is “You have physical proof that people think you are good at your art.”
MARION: Yeah, and with acting, you can really know the pinnacle of someone’s career until it’s over. We can look back at older actors, but we can’t do that with current actors. It’s too soon. We don’t know where they will go next.
VRAI: It’s true. A lot of people think of “Well, this actor peaked when they were young,” but some people’s most iconic performances are Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man.
MARION: Yeah, Gloria Swanson was a big silent film star, but then she did Sunset Boulevard in the ‘50s, and it’s the role for her.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Acting’s good. There should be more series about acting.
MARION: Yeah, right? As someone who’s really into classic Hollywood and also into all anime, Glass Mask is really my shit.
VRAI: I guess there’s Skip Beat, but… meh. I guess it’s just idol anime.
MARION: [crosstalk] It’s entirely different.
MEGAN: And there’s Rakugo. And Kabukibu!
MARION: I haven’t seen the show with Skip Beat. I have read the manga. I have read a lot of volumes, and it’s an entirely different vibe. It’s more about idols in a way, because it’s entertainment business and TV and movies. And acting feels sort of like… It has that method acting thing, but sometimes it feels like a superpower or something, the way they get into character. I definitely like the protagonist. She’s hilarious.
VRAI: It is odd how—I mean, surely some of it is just what’s accessible to us who don’t speak Japanese, but for how common the rising young ingenue plot is—how rare stories taking place just as in plain dramatic acting are. You’re more likely to get stories about idols or those sorts of art forms when you’re talking about rise-of-stardom stories.
MEGAN: Or it’s done through more inherently Japanese forms of theater, like I said, like rakugo or kabuki or like Revue Starlight with the whole Takarazuka thing.
VRAI: Revue Starlight is good. Should have been longer, but good. You know that there are 50 people typing on their keyboards right now about to recommend us series that we didn’t think about… which, you know, good. I like recommendations.
MARION: Thinking of idols, I’m just thinking now of Magical Angel Creamy Mami and how little fucks it gave about actually portraying idols.
MARION: That show had an actual idol who was a newcomer, and that show was promoting her as an idol as well as the actual show. And still, no fucks were given at any point!
MEGAN: I can verify this. I just recently started watching this. That show is nuts.
MARION: It’s all very fairy tale-like. Yu is fucking around and then she’s like, “Oh, I have to go do work.” And you have a musical number and then she goes back to her home and, I don’t know, suddenly an alien deer appears and, okay, we have adventures now, I suppose. It’s weird and I love it. But it is very notable how little fucks were given at all.
VRAI: I’d definitely like to talk about more classic shoujo and magical girl shows in future. I feel like that’s something our readers and listeners have asked for and something that I would like to educate myself more on.
MARION: And if—
VRAI: No, go ahead.
MARION: I just wanted to say that if you live in North America, Magical Angel Creamy Mami is available fucking everywhere right now legally for free.
VRAI: Yeah, RetroCrush has it.
MARION: Yeah. And a lot of other pages, you can watch that for free. It’s also on Tubi TV. And Tubi TV also has Fancy Lala, which is sort of a remake of Creamy Mami by the same studio, but in the late ‘90s.
All right, did you guys have any last things you wanted to add about Glass Mask before we bring it to a close?
MEGAN: No, all I just wanted to say is that podcasting, like acting, is a mask fragile as glass. We wear it to hide our true faces.
VRAI: Is it just me or did the subtitlers change during the last couple episodes here? Am I hallucinating? That’s neither here nor there.
MARION: [crosstalk] I don’t even remember anymore. I don’t even know that anymore.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I feel like it was different.
VRAI: Listeners at home, write in and tell me if I am imagining things. And in the meantime, thank you so much for joining us for this watchalong. As always, we welcome your thoughts. And particularly if you want to talk about other classic shoujo that’s available that you’d like us to maybe consider covering in the future, we’d love to hear about it down in the comments on this post.
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Thank you so much, Megan and Marion, for joining us for this adventure. And to all of you at home: keep on, run, run, run, someday.
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