Act-agenote is a 2018 manga written by Matsuki Tatsuya and drawn by Usazaki Shiro, published in Weekly Shonen Jump − despite what the cover and premise might make you think.
It follows Yonagi Kei, a high school girl who's all alone to raise her twin siblings, Rui and Rei, ever since their mother died and their father left home. To top it, she's also just been fired from her part-time job. But that doesn't stop her from trying to get by by using her greatest talent: acting. Problem is, her very immersive approach to acting, based on her own intimate memories, leads her to often get Lost in Character and blur the line between fiction and reality, which scares the producer during her first audition.
However, that doesn't scare Kuroyama Sumiji, an eccentric film director who sees her potential and is determined to polish this diamond in the rough. This is the start of a bumpy but fruitful collaboration, where Kei will dive more deeply into the world of acting.
The series has a pilot/prequel titled Asagaya Geijutsu Koukou Eizouka e Youkoso, published in the Jump the year before, about the meeting between Sumiji and his assistant Yuki. An official fanbook confirmed that it is canon to the series.
For an older (albeit still running) series about the world of acting, compare Skip Beat!; and for a much older series, Glass Mask. Also compare Runway de Waratte (Smile Down The Runway), another unconventional work of Shōnen Magazine centered on the world of fashion and modeling.
Tropes found in Act-age
- Art Evolution: As the artist was a newcomer to the professional manga industry at the time Act-age began serialization (being 19 years old in 2018), the first chapter has a distinct lack of backgrounds and the characters themselves aren't drawn really well. Later chapters (starting in the Death Island arc) started to include detailed backgrounds and the characters themselves are drawn with more care.
- Bifauxnen: Yonagi dons this getup when playing Campanella in Galactic Railroad.
- Bittersweet Ending:
- The Galactic Railroad Arc, while the first day of show have the actors completing the show to warm audience reception, their director Iwao passed away without even being able to watch.
- Bland-Name Product: Gheena chocolate is a stand-in for Ghana chocolate.
- Breather Episode: The rather long and heavy Galactic Railroad arc which ended with the death of director Iwao is followed by a brief arc where Kei has to go back to her ordinary high-school life and make non-actor friends, as a condition set by Sumiji before she can take on any other acting jobs. The arc's stakes are lower, but it also serves to develop Kei's character in a different way.
- Cast of Snowflakes: As far as weekly shonen series go at least, the faces and body types are quite diverse − especially for a non-fantasy series −, with characters often having distinctive traits like a beauty mark, freckles, Exhausted Eyebags or peculiar eye shapes, plus a wide variety of heights.
- Darkest Hour: So far, the only act that doesn't have one is the Breather Episode mentioned above.
- "Death Island": When the typhoon hits and sets production back, to the point of almost cancelling a climactic scene Yonagi was to take part in. Downplayed compared to the other examples due to the lack of any particular human anguish.
- "Galactic Railroad": When Iwao is hospitalized before the show's opening night. The Tenkyuu company almost tears itself apart at the seams, with Kametarou proposing that they cancel the show to visit him, Nanao starting to go through the stages of grief and Araya founds himself in grief at the climax.
- "Double Cast" : When Yonagi realizes she's gotten carried away by her emotions and decides to just go through the motions midway through the final scene.
- Dramatic Irony: All over the place in the Galactic Railroad arc.
- Iwao's impending retirement looms over and informs much of the arc: He plans to retire after the play ends because of his terminal cancer. The Tenkyuu players, however, want to put on a show so phenomenal that he will decide against retirement, since they don't know of said cancer. In the end, he doesn't even get to formally retire, dying before night one finishes.
- Akira, who is at that point considered the least-talented cast member, ends up giving Yonagi, one of the most-talented, a Eureka Moment on how to display her emotions through body language.
- Environmental Symbolism: In the Team A performance of Ratsesunyo arc, Hanako creates the set for their performance. The first is a painting of flames to describes the Princess Iron Fan's anger towards her husband. The second is a wood sculpture of flames to depict the the movement of flames after the Monkey King misuses the fan and describes the how the anger of Princess Iron Fan spirals out from her encounter with the Monkey King.
- Extremely Short Timespan: Averted with the Death Island's post production: even though it was the first major production Kei starred in and the filming is long over, Death Island only start filming during the later periods of the Double Cast arc. For the record, in that time period Yonagi has starred in two stage plays, a viral video & even had some time to focus on school. Incidentally, Amachi made a point of advertising both the Princess Iron Fan play and Death Island simultaneously to make Kei & Chiyoko more marketable; narratively it also serves to tie the two arcs together and make the former even more relevant.
- Famed in Story: In no particular order...
- Arisa is the CEO of the Stars agency, and before then used to be a highly-regarded actress.
- Akira, Arisa's son, is a member of Stars, and has a recurring role as the titular character in "Ultra Kamen."
- Chiyoko, also a Stars member, is an idol actress currently at the peak of her popularity.
- Sumiji is a well-respected documentary film-maker and movie director.
- Iwao is a highly-regarded playwright and theatre director.
- By extension, his company Tenkyuu is similarly highly-regarded due to their acting skill and versatility, Araya being the crown jewel of them.
- Riku, a former Stars actor (emphasis important) is a famous Hollywood actor.
- Even Yonagi herself starts to fit the bill after Galactic Railroad ends, due to her appearances in both "Railroad" and "Death Island," Amachi's advertising, and the "Shinjuku Girl" video going viral.
- Foreshadowing: During the Galactic Railroad Arc, Kei & Chiyoko went on a date in Shibuya and Chiyoko ended up commenting that Kei sucks at being a normal high school student. Come to the next arc, Kei is barred from acting for a while in order to train herself to become a normal high school student.
- Homoerotic Subtext: Between Kei and Chiyoko after the Death Island arc, especially on Chiyoko's part. She'll often refer to her time with Kei as "dates", tell Akira that they're in a "burning love" note and several chapter covers feature them in intimate poses. Chiyoko even carries a white lily (which symbolizes female romance) on one of them. Even Kei won't stop gushing on how "beautiful" Chiyoko is. Also, the chapter 38 cover shows Kei counting sheep in her dreams. Cute sheep with Chiyoko's face.◊
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: The stage play arc introduces Kame and Nanao, who hang around Kei during her training. Kame towers over everyone, while Nanao is a full head shorter − she's even much shorter than Kei despite being an adult. It both emphasizes the relationship between the two and gives her occasional sarcasm a little more edge.
- Master Actor: Several characters, but particularly...
- Kei herself is a self-trained method actor with raw talent, capable of completely immersing herself in whatever role she's given. The series' core focus (so far) is on her learning to refine her talent through training with various teachers, primarily Sumiji and Iwao.
- Hoshi Arisa is a retired one. Sumiji and Iwao both compare Kei to her pre-story career. Unfortunately, her time as an actress was cut short after being cast in one of Iwao's productions, and she actively defies this trope by discouraging other characters (including her own son) from being actors and running a Strictly Formula talent agency.
- Araya, like Kei, is of the method variety, and is shown several times to be a very vivid and powerful actor on Iwao's stage.
- Motherly Side Plait: Played with in the pilot oneshot, with Yuki's mother. She sports the typical haircut despite being quite neglectful of her daughter − she asks her to stay holed up in her room whenever she brings a man home, fearing that potential partners would be scared off if they learned she has a child. But when Yuki and her have a talk, it turns out that she genuinely cares about her daughter and apologizes for hurting her feelings, thus playing the trope more straight.
- Once Done, Never Forgotten: Ryuugo, a fellow actor on the Death Island set, keeps calling Kei "vomit girl" after the Vomit Discretion Shot incident, even way after everyone has gotten over it.
- The Power of Hate: Invoked in the "Double Cast" arc, where the main character Princess Iron Fan is driven by an unbridled rage toward her unfaithful husband. Both Kei and Chiyoko have to find a source of hatred strong enough to inhabit the role. Chiyoko uses her own rival Kei, whom she's desperate to not lose against while Kei uses the memory of her family-ditching father.
- Random Power Ranking: After Kei gets the instructions to improve her expression during the Stage Play Arc, Sumiji presents her (and the readers) an understandable guide between emotion and expression. According to him,
- Normal: Actors who usually only delve a short depth before expressing, which only show as much as how deep their emotions went.
- Emotive: Actors who delve really deep into their emotions, but lack the capability to express emotions outwardly. Sumiji also implies that they are the strongest when the script is all about bold, impulsive action. Kei is the prime example before she undergoes training from Iwao.
- Expressive: Actors who don't delve into their emotions at all, but knew how to use their inherent charms to make people think they are beautiful from all sides. Chiyoko is the prime example.
- All-rounder: Actors who are able to both delve deep into their emotions, but also able to express said emotions, enabling them to act a wide range of characters. Araya is the prime example.
- Reality Subtext: In universe, Night on the Galactic Railroad is featured as Iwao's final directorial effort— a more than fitting piece considering he has cancer and is on his last legs, and his troupe is well aware of this fact during the performance. Iwao is compared to Campanella too many times to count.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: At the second arc Kei was surprised that she simply becomes the main lead of Iwao's play just because of Sumiji personally recommending her to Iwao.
- She's Not My Girlfriend: At the start of the Galactic Railroad Arc, Akira and Kei have to fend off media rumors of them being a couple created by Kei clinging to Akira because of Araya's seemingly hitting on her. This leads to a Running Gag where people (including Kei) will casually talk about their "passionate love", or lack thereof, much to the more professional Akira's chargin.
- The Show Must Go On: In every arc, some aspect of production goes haywire, be it uncooperative weather (Death Island), shaky backstage drama (Galactic Railroad and Double Cast), or just plain amateur inexperience (the school arc). Every single time (so far), however, Yonagi and everyone she works with still manage to pull through.
- Slobs vs. Snobs: During the Death Island arc, despite acting as classmates there is a clear divide between the recruits and Stars, they eat separately and the recruits found themselves overshadowed & overwhelmed by Stars. When the filming ends some of the Stars have to quickly leave before the ending party for their next jobs.
- Something Completely Different: After the first 2 arcs dealing with nationally acclaimed productions, the next arc utterly drops down the scale by bringing Kei back to high school. This is justified in-universe by the need to have her live a normal high school life and make non-actor friends so her job doesn't completely eat her up.
- Surprise Difficulty: In-Universe for the Death Island production crew, used to filming shows that emphasize on practicality, is exasperated when they had to film the climax starring Yonagi & Chiyoko during a typhoon, which ended up putting Yonagi sick for days after they had finished filming the scene.
- Take That!: Kuroyama's got nothing good to say about YouTubers, finding their content lacking for the amount of cash a typical successful one rakes in and calling their equipment "toy cameras". He also shows a disdain for superhero movies, as he doesn't want to give in to public demand and sell out directing one.
- Tempting Fate: The Galactic Railroad arc starts with Kei & Akira briefly discussing about the differences between film & theater acting, with Kei concludes she would stick with film acting since there are no second chances if she messes up in theater, especially when she might puke. Come to Sumiji, next job for her, she has to do theater acting, as a lead.
- Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: On the opposite side of the Nanao/Kame example above, the high school arc has Kei make friends with a boy named Yoshioka. She's quite tall for a Japanese girl (168 cm) while Yoshioka has a very short stature, meaning she's a full head taller than him despite being a year younger. It highlights their relationship as a pro actress and an amateur cameraman.
- Underestimating Badassery:
- During the Death Island arc, the recruits realize the Stars actors aren't just pretty faces and can overshadow their skills. The reason why it didn't turn it into a full Slobs vs. Snobs scenario is because Kei herself is too occupied with her acting and Chiyoko to care about that aspect.
- The entertainment industry itself (the staff, the actors and the directors) are this towards Kei, before being amazed by Kei's talent, they see her as another aspiring artist that has a disruptive streak.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Kame and Nanao in the stage play arc, spend their time bickering and snarking at each other, but are pretty much always seen hanging out together.
- Wham Line: From the end of chapter 82, just before the first Team A performance of Princess Iron Fan:Hanako: I have a confession to make. I was seeing your father. I was with him on the night of your mother's funeral. I want you to show that emotion on stage.
- Wham Shot: After Hanako reveals that she was seeing Yonaga's father, we are treated to Yonagi slapping Hanako and giving her a look that's halfway between a Death Glare and a Nightmare Face.