Once in a blue moon at the Shonen Jump offices, an idea for a manga that is completely outside their action-battle wheelhouse falls onto an executive's desk. The executive looks at it, shrugs their shoulders, says, “As Nike says, just do it,” and decides to publish it in their biggest magazine, Weekly Shonen Jump. Death Note, The Promised Neverland, Assassination Classroom, all outside-the-box ideas that lead to great success. For me, they also tend to be the best the magazine has to offer. So I was excited to hear about the success of Act-Age, and wanted to see what this drama about acting had to offer. While I enjoyed most of it, it’s slow pacing means I still don’t know what it wants to accomplish just yet.
Kei Yonagi is not just a good film actor, she could be one of the best. Using a process called method acting, she uses past experiences to portray different emotions. She also tends to get very deep into the roles, much like how Daniel Day-Lewis famously becomes his character for the duration of production. But unlike Day-Lewis, Kei doesn’t have an off-switch, and the reality of the film world and real world tend to blur for her. This captures the eye of director Sumiji Kuroyama, and sees great potential in Kei, hand-waving the psychological costs acting puts on her. Their relationship is the main focus of the story, and it is interesting to see how Kuroyama trains her to become an actor. Kei descendnce and the psychological tool was interesting, but I thought it needed to be more fleshed out. This clearly wants to be a psychological thriller, and I think in future volumes it can capitalize on that.
While Kei training is fast-paced, I can’t say the story is. This isn’t a criticism, I’m a fan of slow-paced series like 20th Century Boys. But that story had a clear plot hook about a giant monster-machine and has constant revelations, while Act-Age takes seven chapters before a clear plotline is established. What we get beforehand is Kei diving into the acting world, and Kuroyamam’s unorthodox attempts to train her. This can be both an interesting insight into the Japanese entertainment business and a dreamy-eye view of acting.
As someone who follows the entertainment business, my suspension of disbelief was constantly in flux. Kei auditions for a talent agency and the majority of the boardroom talk is spot on. But then the story turns around and becomes unbelievable. There’s an arc where Kei gets a job as extra. In the first take, she goes off-script and changes the entire scene, making them reshoot everything. The director doesn’t kick her off the set for three whole takes, and that’s only because she’s too good of an actor (I’m not kidding). In the real world, she would have been kicked off after one and potentially blacklisted. A manga about acting is going to be dramatic, but it doesn’t have to be melodramatic.
The art itself is so-so, which is to be expected for a first volume because the artist is still finding their groove. There were times the placements of speech bubbles had me guessing who was saying what, which made me reread chapters. The art also lacks detail, especially the backgrounds. I suppose this is to have the reader focus on the characters, but the character drawing isn’t much different from other Shonen Jump titles.
What we have is a manga with an interesting premise still finding itself. The final couple pages promises a turn towards the thriller, potentially horror route, and I hope it goes all in that direction. While not perfect, this is just the first chapter in a longer story, and having final judgement on a single volume for a series like this would be a disservice. Besides, this series has been going on for two years, it’s going to get even better.
Is there a method to Kei Yonagi’s madness when it comes to acting? The young actor has a family of siblings to feed, but she finds herself struggling with her psychological demons when playing a role. Her desperate acting catches the eye of a famous director, Sumiji Kuroyama, who’s looking for raw talent to mold. Can he help Yonagi navigate the cutthroat world of acting without losing her sanity?Add to CartLearn More