Suzue Miuchi, ever heard of her? If not I wouldn't be too surprised. She's a manga-ka whose works have solely been in Japan up until now. She's been active for quite some time and has had many successful works overseas, but for the first time anime lovers in Region 1 will get a chance to see what her stuff is all about. Glass Mask has been a manga in circulation for over 30 years and features a whopping 40+ volumes. It's no surprise that a show with such tenure was eventually turned into an animation. The most recent effort was released in 2005 and was produced with 51 episodes before wrapping up in 2006. Now, thanks to Sentai Filmworks, we're able to see just what Glass Mask is all about.
Miuchi's Glass Mask is really quite unique and in all honesty chances are good you've never seen a show quite like this one before. Don't believe me? Think about the last time you watched an anime about a young girl who aspires to be a stage actor. Yeah, I rattled my brain as well and came up empty handed.
The series follows the adventures of a 13 year old girl named Maya Katajima who works at a restaurant in Chinatown with her mother. To say the girl is used and abused would be an understatement. Everyone around her does whatever they can to crush her aspirations and desires by continuously telling her how lazy she is and how she'll never amount to anything. In all honesty it's very hard to take in at first. So what if Maya tends to get distracted by theater while she's abroad making a delivery. She loves acting and stops to check all forms of it out whenever possible, either on TV or on stage. Unfortunately she also does this when she's supposed to be working, so I suppose that's where the abuse comes into play. Yes, Maya's life is tough and when your own mother spends her time dashing your dreams I'm sure you'd be a little dejected as well. Still, Maya soldiers on and eventually catches the eye of an old disfigured woman named Tsukikage.
Back in her day Tsukikage was quite the actress until an accident left half of her face scarred. Now she has been searching high and low for a prospective talent who could one day play the role of the Scarlet Angel. On occasion she spots Maya and eventually determines that she'd be perfect for the role. Soon enough Maya is thrust into the spotlight and becomes part of Tsukikage's acting troupe.
In this new world Maya transforms. She goes from being a simple noodle shop delivery girl into a true-blue actress. This rags to riches tale sees many changes to Maya's life beyond simply becoming an actress. She eventually makes a rival out of Ayumi Himekawa, who is one of the most popular actresses around, and finds her way into relationships with some boys around the theater. Despite her world opening up and so many possibilities availing themselves to her, she also has to put up with her mother. It creates conflict in her life, but she eventually ignores the naysayers and continues to pursue her dream.
Glass Mask is a real coming of age tale that sees Maya growing quite a bit over the course of these 26 episodes. Her development is handled extremely well and in many ways her character becomes quite captivating. The concept also feels well-realized and it's easy to see how the manga has been so popular among Japanese audiences. It's unique, engaging, and you can't help but root for Maya all along.
With so many positives making this series stand out, there are some negative aspects as well. The series really has no concept of time and when combined with the slower pace you'll feel like it's dragging on. There's also the fact that secondary characters are brushed aside randomly and storylines have no real conclusion. For instance Maya will be dating some guy in one episode, only to have him fade into obscurity a couple episodes later. It gives the show a feeling that some of the ideas or plans that were in place were just dropped in favor of other concepts.
Despite these flaws, Glass Mask is a fascinating show that should appeal to anyone looking for something unique. It's not an action piece, there's no fanservice here, and nothing really explodes. However, if you're interesting in slow moving character dramas then this is a series that's right up your alley. I enjoyed the show and look forward to seeing where Maya's character is taken in the next installment.
Glass Mask is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. This boxed set comes with 26 episodes on four DVDs. As far as the design is concerned the show maintains an older look to it despite being produced in 2005. The art style, subdued colors, and sometimes awkward animations really take the series back in time. Though set in a modern era, there's a distinct 1970s look to the show that leaves you under the impression the producers were trying to get as close to Miuchi's original manga as possible. The technical quality of this transfer doesn't hold up quite as well. The show is colorful with clean lines, but some grain and compression artifacts can be spotted here and there. Overall it's not a bad looking show, but it's not quite as breathtaking as it could have been.
Like other Sentai Filmworks releases Glass Mask hits DVD with Japanese 2.0 stereo as its only source of audio. The dub quality is perfectly fine and in all fairness this show really didn't need an English language track. It's a rather niche series and not something mainstream anime fans will really buy into. As far as the technical aspects of this release the quality is decent enough, though I felt the 2.0 was a bit too flat for its own good. There's no diversification between channels and all around the voiceovers, effects, and music all come through at the same decibel.
Clean opening and closing animations are included here for bonus features. Some trailers are packed into this set as well.
Those looking for a unique show that runs at its own pace will find Glass Mask truly captivating. It's an engaging and fascinating series that stands out in many ways. It's not an outright hit, but it's interesting enough to be worth checking out. The 26 episodes are full of ups and down in terms of quality, though overall I found myself getting more and more into it as it progressed. I wonder what the second batch of episodes will hold for Maya. Until then consider this show recommended.