If you are in to a more grounded yet funny show about a profession, you will probably enjoy Act-age: a manga centering around a genius method actor, Yonagi Kei, and her growth as an actor.
Yonagi Kei, is a 16 years old highschooler, who lives with two younger siblings after her father left them and her mother died. Due to her being left alone with multiple old films in her house, she self-learns how to method act. By “remembering” her emotions she has experienced in the past, she is able to completely get emerged into a character on and off the scene. With this unbelievable talent, she is able to get scouted by a director, Sumiji Kuroyama, who helps her grow both as a person and as an actor.
Act-age is a shounen jump manga. Yes, a shounen jump manga. That’s why it’s so surprising to see a more grounded and realistic manga come up on a magazine which action/fantasy manga seem to dominate in. Although this is a surprising premise for JUMP, it still manages to have that light heartedness of a shounen manga with witty dialogue frequently appearing. But it also manages to maintain the intensity of a Jump manga one would expect in its climax.
Most of the manga is structured around a certain project that Yonagi is working one, whether that is a play, movie, or an independent film. Within those projects, Yonagi meets people related to the industry which helps Yonagi grow as an actor. This setting really puts emphasis on the character dynamics. Because she is consistently meeting actors or directors, those characters need to be unique enough to be enjoyable to the readers. And succeeding, those characters are the best aspects of Act-age.
All of the characters really help Yonagi develop in new ways. In the start of the manga, the director who discovers Yonagi, Sumiji Kuroyama, is the one who helps refine her acting talent. The way he acts around Yonagi really makes them a good pair together. His relaxed personality along with Yonagi’s nervousness/inexperience make up a lot of the comedy in the beginning of the manga through their witty dialogue.
The actors on the other hand, help Yonagi develop her acting skills as she “steals” their techniques. The two big actors that she meets in the course of her journey are Chiyoko Momoshiro and Araya Myoujin, two actors who gained fame through completely different methods of acting. Chiyoko Momoshiro is the top actress of her generation, and she is there for a reason. Her agency, Star, works to portray her as the general public wants, and Chiyoko has the ability and competitiveness to keep her “mask” on at all times. Although she does come off at the start like an evil (?) rival, it is evident throughout the manga, that she is extremely dedicated and cares about her work. By being an “Angel” to the public, she is beloved by everyone. Araya on the other hand, is a play-actor, who is more like a refined version of Yonagi with the experience which Yonagi lacks. Like Yonagi, he is a method actor who dives deep into the character’s emotions and researches the characters to become the character. By meeting these two actors of completely different spectrums, Yonagi is able to develop her own set of skills.
And they all really help Yonagi grow as a person too. If you look at the first few chapters and compare them to the more recent chapters, it is visible to see how much more Yonagi is enjoying life. With her innocent, bright personality and her willingness to improve and learn from others in the industry makes her fit with almost anyone in the manga, making the interactions between characters really fun to read.
But out of these characters I found Chiyoko Momoshiro to be the most interesting. She’s a product of the current entertainment industry which favors big name companies and sales rather than quality. That’s not to say that Chiyoko is a bad actor nor that her method is bad. The “mask” that she put on works perfectly and there is no reason for her to transform her method of acting. She is considered the top actress of her generation for a reason. For her to reach the level that she has reached with her style of acting, she works harder than anyone, being more invested in to her craft than anyone to keep her “mask” on. As a person who is deeply interested in the entertainment industry, I was easily invested in to this character who solely acts for the public.
The best thing about this manga, is the fact that it is centered around acting as a career, not in a highschool nor a club. Even though Yonagi is a 16 years old, everyone treats her as an adult, competing with her to be the better actor. This allows readers to care more about what is happening as everything is more serious. I don’t know about everyone else but to me getting the inside perspective of a profession is so much more interesting than watching highschoolers doing club activities. So this, to me, gave the manga the ability to actually be effective emotionally.
Although not always perfect, the art of the manga is absolutely stunning when it has to be. This is especially important when portraying the character’s emotion as they act. At first, I thought it would be extremely hard for a manga about acting to portray emotions without voice- one of the most crucial parts to understanding the tone of a person. But this manga is able to do that with just visuals and dialogue. Every line and expression gives it the atmosphere that you expect a really good actor to give, whether it’s sadness or joy. In its best moment, it is able to give you chills running down your spine.
I also generally like the art style of the characters and I think all of the main actors are designed fantastically. I don’t know how common it is but Yonagi’s eyes, especially, which has the heavy eyelash with multiple lines is something I thought was pretty and unique. It does feel awkward when it is colored on the covers, but in black and white, it looks great. Another thing I need to mention is the background. Although the background doesn’t get to crazy with its visuals most of the time, when it needs to, it can be extremely beautiful. And when it does, it’s really breathtaking and impactful.
If this manga does get an anime adaptation, I will right away jump head first to watch it. There’s a lot of things that the animation studio can do when adopting this manga. Since Yonagi is method acting, there are probably a lot of ways that they can portray what does in her head. I’d be excited to see how this is directed as this can end up really bad or really good. With the voices added, a good voice actor would be able to push this to another level with the tone added to the emotion (providing that the visuals stay as good as the manga).
It does have its problems as it does get cheesy a lot of the times, and does as moments where it goes too similarly to how you would expect it to go. But each climax/ending to each arc makes up for that by having such a satisfying ending and, at times, be very touching. So you usually end up forgetting a lot of those negative bits by the end.
Act-age is one of my favorite manga and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an intense manga to read.