Glass Mask Collection 1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Filled to the brim with instinct and natural talent, Maya Kitajima is the diamond in the rough that a tragic former actress has been waiting decades for.
What They Say
At 13 years old, Maya Kitajima seems destined to spend the rest of her life toiling in a crowded restaurant alongside her bitter and unstable mother. But when her incredible acting talent is discovered by the legendary diva Chigusa Tsukikage, Maya finds a new future filled with both golden opportunities and terrifying risks. For Ayumi Himekawa, success has always been assured, yet she longs to be recognized for her own talents and skills, not the family connections of her famous parents.
For both girls, the ultimate prize is the role of The Crimson Goddess in the play of the same name, a part created by Chigusa and now portrayed by Ayumi's mother. To achieve this goal, each must seek out and conquer every acting challenge, pushing the limits of their talent and endurance to the utmost, until they are worthy of the part... But for one to win, the other must fail!
Glass Mask is a bit tragic in that it's a monolingual release but we do get a very solid Japanese stereo track encoded at 224kbps. The show makes very good use of the forward soundstage with a fair amount of directionality and placement during it. There's a lot of acting going on in the show with multiple characters positioned across the stages throughout and the mix does a good job of capturing that and working with the internal dialogue that runs through various characters heads. The musical moments are solid as well, both in the show and with the opening and closing sequences, as they have a good full feeling to them. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout as it works at different levels and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2005 and 2006, the transfer for Glass Mask is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This collection contains twenty-six episodes spread across four discs in a six/six/seven/seven format. Glass Mask is an interesting show in that it has a very clean look to it but has a good bit of detail when it comes to the backgrounds. The characters are consistent throughout, often wearing the same outfits for a lot of them, but they're not terribly detailed themselves and they sometimes have that feeling of being too on top of the backgrounds instead of blending better. The transfer does a good job overall though as the only noticeably problems of any merit are some visible gradients in several scenes, usually the backgrounds, while cross coloration is blissfully absent. There's some line noise and stair stepping during some panning sequences but that's pretty standard in every show at different levels. With twenty-six episodes here, it feels pretty mild overall.
Glass Mask comes in an oversized keepcase with a spindle center that holds the four discs on top of each other while the opposite side has a good piece of foam to help keep it all secure and in place. I'm no fan of these kinds of cases – give me a standard size case with a hinge inside to hold all four discs – so I'm not wasting space on empty air. The front cover is nicely done with a classic look to it with its framing of the stage as there's a dark brown/maroon feel to it. Within the frame we get a slightly awkward pose for Maya but overall it's decently laid out with her in the center while the right has Tsukikage and the left has Masumi and Ayumi together. The logo is kept simple and I like that they included the creator's name above it. The back cover uses a similar framework for its layout but changes out a few pieces with either more artwork or with a lengthy summary done in the less than appealing circle. There are some good shots from the show used here and I liked the two interpretations of Helen Keller that they offer as well. Production information rounds out the rest of the cover along with a good clean accurate summary. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release, at least the main menus, is very week and doesn't sell the show in the slightest or set the mood for it. The layout is fairly well set as an elegant theater setting for the framework and the mild background but that's about all there is to it. Throughout the center is a block strip that has the episode numbers that you can select and a special features tab which just goes to the disc credits and trailers or the extras on the appropriate volume. There isn't a lot here but the few submenus there are spread across the four discs do have some character artwork, but it probably would have been better suited for the main menus to help set the mood better. Everything loads quickly and without issue and you can change the subtitles on the fly.
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences which are found on the second disc.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Glass Mask is a fifty-one episode series produced from 2005 and into 2006 based on the manga of the same name by Suzue Miuchi. The original manga series, which is still ongoing as of this writing but edging closer to completion, began in 1976 and has amassed over forty graphic novel compilations with sales well over fifty million. This property has some strong connections in Japan as it’s been adapted twice before in anime as well as a live action series. The story of a young girl who dreams of being an actress made quite the impact on people over time and it’s one of those rare franchises that continues to gain lots of new fans years later, which is clearly evidenced by the size and scope of the anime adaptation done thirty years after the manga began.
The story of Glass Mask is one that is alternately completely engaging and exciting as well as beyond the limits of believability. What frustrates a show like this is that the passage of time is never all that clear, though you know time does progress a fair bit. When you’re suddenly given the knowledge that two years have passed since the series start at the end of this set, it all fits well but it doesn’t feel like it in some ways either. The focus on a primary character that should be growing and changing more than she does physically makes this particular leap a little bit difficult to accept, especially when you have so many older men interested in her.
Glass Mask introduces us to thirteen year old Maya Kitajima, a young woman who lives with her single mother above the small restaurant where she works. Maya’s a fairly typical girl of her age in that she’s alright at school but has a decent head on her shoulders and gets by. She doesn’t have too many friends and there’s some tension at home because the restaurant owners daughter is a bit rude and crude, causing trouble where she can simply because she can. What Maya does to escape some of the doldrums of life is to lose herself in theater and TV dramas, so much so that she’s easily able to recite the shows she sees and acts them out with near perfect memory. This causes her some grief with others, especially since she can’t seem to remember her school work at times, but it all adds to the very slightly off nature of Maya.
When Maya gets thrust into the spotlight in a minor way, she catches the eye of a mysterious older woman named Chigusa Tsukikage. Tsukikage has one of those classic near-evil looks about her with the dark clothes, her hair covering half her face and the general demeanor she casts about. As it turns out, she’s a former superstar actress who hasn’t acted in some twenty years because of an accident that damaged half her face. Back then, she was the star of a play called the Scarlet Angel, which is a play that’s highlight sought after by the Daito Theater Group. There are some interesting ties to the past with that company and the play that are brought up as it goes along, but the gist of it is that Tsukikage gained the rights to the play after the writer died and she refuses to let it go to anyone else until she finds the perfect person to play the role of the inhuman scarlet angel.
Though her mother refuses to let her even think about it, since she has a hard time believing her daughter has any potential, Maya ends up taking Tsukikage up on her offer to become a student of hers and live in the dorm of her recently opened acting studio as she becomes a part of the troupe. Maya’s the youngest of them but she so completely throws herself into her roles that she becomes a storm of the stage. Throughout the series, as Maya faces numerous challenges to being an actress, she ends up dealing with numerous other troupes and actors where they almost become paralyzed by the intensity of her performances and the way she so completely becomes the role. When practicing for Helen Keller for example, she spends a lot of time blindfolded and trying to truly become that person. Even for bit roles she’ll go as far as she would for a leading role so she can understand the story of that particular character, no matter how small.
Maya’s rise as an actress over the two years of this set does seem accelerated at times, but her performances in the numerous plays really does work wonders for giving this a sense of reality. What happens along the way to make it even more real is those that she comes into competition with. While she manages to make a few friends within her own troupe, she makes enemies as well. And on the outside, her biggest competition (I’m loathe to call her an enemy) is Ayumi Himekawa. The same age as Maya, she’s the daughter of a very famous actress who has long coveted the role of the Scarlet Angel and a father who is a famous director. She has everything going for her with beauty, intelligence, grace, wealth and connections. Everything that Maya does not, so Maya looks up to her with the innocence that is a hallmark of her character. And that innocence and honesty makes it hard for everyone else because it frustrates them, often causing them to do mean things to her. Maya brings it on herself in a way, but she’s simply so focused on becoming an actress and going through the ordeals that Tsukikage designs for her that she doesn’t think of much else.
There are men that think of her though, which makes things much more complicated since she doesn’t view men in that way yet. She’s so focused on her craft, her passion and “marriage” to the stage, that she doesn’t see the intentions of others. She does have an interest in a young man from the Onodine troupe, which is backed by Daito, named Sakurakouji who is a very good young man for her. Honest, straightforward, passionate and without any real guile in trying to sway her to his troop. Less honest is the son of the Daito president, a young man in his twenties named Masumi who wants the Scarlet Angel play and will use various means to get it. He is underhanded in some ways – some of them positive – but he’s not outright cruel like some other men in the show. But being over ten years her senior, he can’t help but be drawn to her as he tries to wait until she’s old enough so he can really pursue her.
Over the first twenty-six episodes, there is an immense amount of ground covered as we get two years worth of stories as Maya grows into being an actress. There are some cruel moments, some incredibly moving moments and numerous areas of simple human drama that propel the story along. The down and dirty nature of the stage is often apparent as various young and older actors despise Maya for a variety of reasons, but in the end none can refute the raw talent that’s there that could change the stage forever. Maya’s one of the most honest characters I’ve seen in awhile where she’s actually layered yet incredibly simple. Watching her work through these challenges, failing here and there and overcoming others, it’s very moving and engaging. This first half of the series is one of the best lengthy things I’ve seen in some time and the next set can’t come fast enough.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: C+
Menus Rating: C
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Running time: 650
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Glass Mask