Act-Age, Vol. 1

By Tatsuya Matsuki and Shiro Usasaki. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Camellia Nieh.

In general, when you think of Weekly Shonen Jump, a certain type of series comes to mind. Lots of boys shouting at each other. Friendship/Training/Victory. Tons and tons of characters getting more and more powerful. Or you think of the goofy romantic comedies, usually involving a hapless guy and the bevy of girls who beat up/like him. But lately Jump has been going outside of its comfort areas quite a bit. And this new series (if you can call it new when it already has 112 chapters out in Japan) is certainly not the cliched Jump title. Indeed, the first thing a person might think, even after reading the first volume, is that someone put this on the wrong label and that it should be running in Betsuma instead. But no, this is pretty shonen. It’s just that instead of pirates, or volleyball, or superheroes, it’s acting that gets the Jump treatment. Best of all, the protagonist is a teenage girl, still a rarity in Jump titles.

The start of this series makes it seem like it’s going to be darker and more depressing than it is. Kei Yonagi is raising her twin sister and brother by herself, trying to hold down jobs, go to school, and still have time to go to acting auditions, where so far she’s had no luck. Her emotions sometimes flow out of her when she thinks of her life, so she “resets” by recalling times when she was happy and smiling. That said, her method acting has not gone as unnoticed as she expected – the main reason she wasn’t cast is that the head of the agency refuses to let her act as it would be bad for her mental health. She’s opposed in this by a young hotshot director, who feels that Kei would be strong enough to get over the issues that method acting can bring about. More importantly, he just really wants to work with her. So begins Kei’s life lessons in how to act.

As someone who got a drama degree in college, let me be honest: I hate method acting. I would not say that it leads to mental stress the way that this manga does, but I feel that it should be used as one of many kinds of choices, not a be-all-and-end-all. Still, the manga does a pretty good job of portraying Kei’s burgeoning talent, as well as showing why she hasn’t gotten anywhere so far – she’s far too raw and has trouble with directions. What’s more, she draws the camera to her even when she’s playing an extra – which is bad. Fortunately she has director Kuroyama, who does some questionable stuff here (please do not kidnap girls off the street), but knows that Kei’s abilities can further both their careers. She’s arresting when she really tries. It’s that sort of thing that makes me want to read more.

This series struggles at times to keep its audience – Usasaki’s art in particular is highly variable throughout – But I really liked Kei’s character, and also her “character type” – stoic airheads are one of my favorite things. If you enjoy acting, or just like unusual Jump titles, this is definitely worth your time.

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  1. Eduardo Campos says

    Is a shame this series was cancelled recently. In my opinion it was a fresh spin of the shonen genre and one of the few with a strong female protagonist.

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