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Manga / Private Actress

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"I am a Private Actress. As long as someone is willing to pay for it, I can play any role."

Private Actress is a manga by Michiyo Akaishi, author of Towa Kamo Shirenai, among other titles. The manga was serialized from 1991 to 1996 in Petit Comic, and compiled into eight volumes. There's also Private Actress Tokubetsu-hen, a one-volume sequel.

Shiho Kobayakawa is the most popular girl at her school. She's pretty, polite, softspoken, booksmart... almost the spitting image of the Yamato Nadeshiko aka ideal Japanese woman. What her classmates don't know, however, is that Shiho has two part-time jobs to pay for her expenses and education. The first is as a simple movie extra... but the second is one as a private actress, meaning an actor and stand-in who is hired for personal purposes rather than fame. For example, if a young man needs someone to pretend to be his girlfriend so their family will stop nagging him about lack of commitment to relationships, he can go to Shiho's agency and hire her to pose as his girlfriend for some time, which she will do for as long as it's needed and the requester can pay her.

The manga itself dwells on Shiho's life and work, showing us some of the reasons and circumstances that would lead people to hire an actor. It also slowly shows us Shiho's real life, and the reasons why a girl like her would rather pose as a PA than going into stardom despite having both looks and talent to do so...

Private Actress has the following tropes

  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: The "image" that Shiho projects while at school.
  • Alpha Bitch: Kana Juumonji from the Boarding School two-parter. Followed by Beta Bitch Mai and a Girl Posse.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: From Ojou Mayumi, to Tomoomi, albeit in a delusional If I Can't Have You… way.
  • Attack Animal: A pair of Creepy Crows commanded by a middle schooler named Mai. She is the Beta Bitch to Alpha Bitch Kanna from the Boarding School two-parter, and she uses them to attack Shiho and a girl from Kanna's Girl Posse who was on the verge of a Heel–Face Turn. (And in the past, to cause the death of another girl...)
  • Bath Suicide: How Misaki killed herself.
  • The Beard: What Chie's sister actually was to Kouichi.
  • Becoming the Mask: Several of Shiho's jobs involve her all but believing she's truly the person she pretends to be. For example, she develops some degree of real affection towards Sendou, the guy whose long-lost daughter she impersonates, to the point that her manager mistakenly believes she's falling in love with him and calls her out.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Tomoomi and Shiho start as this.
  • Bifauxnen: The other School Idol, Chie Hirokawa. She's tall, tomboyish, and plays boys's roles in school productions.
  • Big Fancy House: Several of these are shown.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The Hanamura clan, which Shiho's boyfriend, Tomoomi, is a member of. In his own words, he is the child of his mother and grandfather; as a result, Tomoomi has nieces and nephews older than himself, one of them being the Fortune Teller Masaomi/"Johannes" — who resents Tomoomi for reasons of his own...
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: A certain actress who works with Shiho at some point, Ruriko Daichi, is known for being sweet on stage and a total bitch to her co-workers, especially her personal attendants. Ruriko turns out to be more of a very bitter Tsundere than this.
  • Body Double: Some of Shiho's assignments, like the one coming from Kyouko Itou. Tomoomi also does those as well, like when he covers for his relative and the local Fortune Teller, Masaomi/"Johannes", and ends up kidnapped in his place...
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Shiho and Naoya, before he died.
  • The Bus Came Back: At a film festival in chapter 29, Matsumae, the reporter, and Konomi, the child star, return. Later on, Konomi appears again along with Tanabe, the model.
  • Butt-Monkey: A tabloid reporter named Hiroki Matsumae suffers several... funny inconveniences in the episode he appears in. That leads him to cross paths with Shiho and find out who she is. He doesn't tell, though. His butt-monkey status does not persist beyond the larger part of his introduction and vanishes afterwards.
  • Chastity Couple: Averted! Shiho and Tomoomi actually sleep together few days after meeting, and later we learn that Shiho had her first time with her First Love Naoya... few weeks before he died of illness.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: You really thought that Kana Juumonji would disappear so easily from the story?
  • Clark Kenting: Sort of. All Shiho has to do to disguise herself as an older woman and pose as Ruriko's new assistant is putting on a pair of glasses and leave the rest to her acting skills.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Thankfully downplayed. Shiho does feel jealousy when Tomoomi's work as a P.A involves going out with another girl, but most of the time she does her best to keep herself on check.
  • Coming Out to Spouse: In one chapter, a man hires Shiho to act as his mistress so his wife can file for a divorce on the grounds of him having an affair. Eventually, it turns out that he is actually gay and didn't have the courage to come out even to his own wife, instead choosing the convoluted roundabout way.
  • Creepy Crosses: Crosses are the motif of the main villainess, Kana.
  • Destination Defenestration: In the last chapter, the vengeful Yuuichirou tries to kill Kana, now known as Satoka, when she's standing near a window. She tricks him into falling off said window, however, and he dies of the injuries he sustains — but not before entrusting Shiho with what she considers her "last P.A job:" Satoka's definitive punishment.
  • Disappeared Dad: Shiho's father, as said below, was a famous actor named Masakazu Ogata, who's known for three things: his brilliant career, his good looks, and his womanizing. Shiho, raised only by her mom and then by her nanny Makiko, understandably has MANY issues related to him; for his part, Ogata is completely unaware of Shiho's existence until VERY late in the story. To be fair, when he does learn about Shiho's heritage, he tries to help her as much as he can -- even if it doesn't always work.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Shiho finally earns her own place under the spotlight, and her parents are able to get married. And then, Tomoomi returns to her side.
  • Enfante Terrible: Kana/Satoka had been killing people ever since she was a little girl.
  • Even the Girls Want Her: Many of Shiho's classmates seem to have this for her by the end.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Actors in the story do this a lot.
    • Shiho often changes hairstyles when the role requires it.
    • As a part of her complete re-invention, the light-haired Kana Juumonji cut her hair shorter, straightened and dyed it black to reappear as Satoka Ryoudo, only hers was coupled with cosmetic surgery (not that the art shows it).
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Shiho once unbuttons her shirt... to show a HUGE ASS SCAR on her torso. (Which thankfully is a false one.)
    • In chapter 24, a very pretty woman shows up wearing a night gown that has quite the cleavage. Too bad the poor girl is Misaki, who's having a mighty mental breakdown that includes her popping pills, having a Rage Against the Reflection moment, drawing a cross on the wall in her own blood, and then committing a Bath Suicide.
  • Foil: Kana/Satoka, to Shiho.
    Kana/Satoka: She's an angel, and I am a demon.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Makiko's child Hiromi is actually a boy. But since Hiromi is a unisex name in Japan, Shiho easily used it to make herself pass as the nanny's former lover's long-lost daughter.
  • Genre Savvy: Tomoomi, who deduces how much of Shiho's attitude is purely acting and how much is true almost at first sight. The discovery almost sends poor Shiho into a panic.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: The reason why Shiho's mother stops acting. Additionally, towards the end we meet aspirant actors Mariko Soriarno and Yuuichiro Minamoto; the first acquires a big scar on her face when she gets acid thrown on it, and the latter has one on his wrist, coming from him trying to commit suicide to join his dead girlfriend Misaki.
  • Guile Hero: Shiho often acts like one. As examples we have the first episode, where she immediately comes up with a more or less believable scenario to convince Sendou that she is his long-lost daughter, the time when she accepts to pretend being the long-lost child of a corrupt politician with the intention of destroying his career instead, and how towards the end she manipulates Satoka and everyone in the set of the movie they're filming so she can punish Satoka for her past deeds.
  • Held Back in School: Eventually, Shiho has to repeat a school year due to her absences - specifically, after the Boarding School case which took her weeks to solve. She's TOTALLY and comically pissed at Kana for this.
  • Heroic Bastard:
    • Shiho was born from an affair between Sayuri and an already married veteran actor, Masakazu Ogata. Shiho is very aware of it, and this is one of the reasons why she didn't go into stardom from the very start: she doesn't want anyone to learn about her origins. This makes things super awkward when, in the second story, she is hired by none other than her half-brother Kyousuke, who is Locked Out of the Loop note , to pass as his girlfriend.
    • Tomoomi is another example, as part of his Big, Screwed-Up Family, considering the fact that his biological father is his legal grandfather. (The specifics are never delved into.)
    • Shiho pretty much takes Mariko Soriarno under her wing after they meet, but gets even more involved in her cause when she learns Mariko is the illegitimate kid of the rich entrepreneur that her Filipina mother was The Mistress to, and has come to Japan to attend a specific audition and have him watch her perform.
  • Honey Trap: Kana/Satoka and her manager brewed a plan against Shiho's father via trying to make everyone believe they were involved. With some indy ploying from Ogata and Shiho, this failed. (Although at the cost of Satoka properly recognizing Shiho as the girl who ruined her plans at the Boarding School.)
  • Identical Stranger: Shiho and Ojou Rurika are exactly alike, the only real difference being Shiho's Tsurime Eyes and Rurika's Tareme Eyes.
  • It's Personal: Several of Shiho's works have her getting emotionally involved with her clients and their motivations, specially if they have suffered painful losses in the past. Especially obvious in the cases related to her nanny Makiko, Mariko Soriarno, and Yuuichirou Minamoto — all of these people were deeply hurt and asked her to take up their cases, so Shiho works hard to do so.
  • I Will Wait for You: Tomoomi must take over his family's company, which will require him to be away from Shiho for years. Shiho promises not just to wait for him, but to become the best actress in Japan just like he will become the best executive.
  • Josei
  • Lady Drunk: The beautiful Ruriko Daichi puts away enough to be called a "beer barrel," despite lacking a hard head.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Sayuri Nagasawa is the Light, Ruriko Daichi is the Dark. Shiho and Kana/Satoka have a darker form of this dynamic, with the one who tends to play heroic roles, Kana/Satoka, actually being a Serial Killer in the actual plot.
  • The Lost Lenore: Naoya Koshiba, for Shiho. Lampshaded when she tells Tomoomi about him and finished by saying that even when she does sincerely love Tomoomi, she'll never forget Naoya.
  • Mama Bear: Shiho bonds with a girl named Konomi and becomes this to her. Since her manager/her dad's girlfriend is more interested in dominating the girl's career rather than her well-being, Shiho decides to protect Konomi — which includes dealing a passionate performance to calm down a Konomi who's in an Heroic BSoD state, and then pulling a Diving Save to save her from being run over by a train.
  • The Masquerade: In a sense. Shiho's work is to help people keep some of these in their real lives.
  • Missing Mom: The young actress Konomi's mother, Masami, died some time ago, and Konomi misses her terribly. Not only she rejects her father's girlfriend, but she also feels drawn to a certain copy of a Renoir painting because it reminds her of her mom. Subverted when Shiho finds out Masami might be alive and living abroads. Then it's Double Subverted when it turns out Masami did die while in New York... three years ago.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Happens in the third chapter. A guy named Kouichi Kuwabara hires Shiho to pose as his lover to speed-up his divorce, therefore invoking the trope. Then Kouichi's sister-in-law Chie turns out to be one of Shiho's school mates and follows them - unaware that her sister is the one who actually has a lover. And then things get more and more convoluted.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: When Shiho was a little girl, she was initially raised by her maternal grandmother. At some point they had a fight and Shiho threw a tantrum and ran from home to an arcade. That same day her granny had a heart attack, collapsed and ultimately died in the hospital.
  • Official Couple: Shiho and Tomoomi, who hook up rather early in the story.
  • Ojou: Mayumi from chapter 15, who hires Tomoomi to pretend he's her boyfriend to avert an unwanted arranged date. She's got some touches of Yandere.
  • One-Steve Limit: There's Kana Juumonji and another Kana who appears in the "Two Minamoto-kun's" story.
  • The Ophelia:
    • Masakazu Ogata's actual wife, who is shown as a quiet and sad lady who is often alone at her Big Fancy House. Her son Kyousuke tells Shiho that she is "a little mentally unstable", implied to be a consequence of Ogata's constant womanizing. This is confirmed when, after seeing Shiho, Mrs. Ogata tries to kill herself; for worse, when Shiho and Kyosuke try to aid her, she mistakes her for Sayuri again and begins to insult and threaten her. (Though she later comes to her senses, realises the mistake and asks Shiho who she actually is.)
    • Later, in the Boarding School two-parter, Ophelia, the character in Literature/Hamlet, becomes vital to the confrontation between Shiho and the murderous Alpha Bitch Kana Juumonji, who recite lines from the play to each other with Kana playing Ophelia so perfectly that she's still reciting her lines as she's taken away by the police, her deceit uncovered. Kana/Satoka actually becomes this towards the end, after Shiho successfully scares her into Trauma-Induced Amnesia as specific punishment for having caused the deaths of Misaki and later Yuuichiro's, aside of the people whose deaths she provoked before.
  • Ordinary High-School Student: Chie and Shiho's other classmates. Shiho herself, not so much. Tomoomi also subverts this.
  • Otaku: During the meeting with the boys of a nearby school, Shiho has a kinda... odd run-in with a Tall, Dark, and Handsome boy who's a huge anime fanboy. That boy turns out to be Tomoomi Hanamura, whom she starts dating some time later.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: At least two cases involve Shiho posing as girls whose deaths deeply traumatized their parents: Miyu Sendoh was supposedly killed in London alongside her mother but the police Never Found the Body, so her terminally ill father Sendoh's biggest desire is to see her one last time, whereas Miyuki Sugiyama's father Shigehide went pretty much mad after she was murdered by a Serial Killer.
  • Panty Thief: One chapter has this as a culprit where the person in question had been stealing women's underwear and sailor uniforms from the neighborhood and was also crushing on Shiho, and as such came up with elaborate ways to expose her private life to the neighbors so he could steal one of her underwear.
  • Papa Wolf:
    • At some point, Shiho-as-Miyu is attacked and beaten up by a thief who tries to steal Sendou's luggage. In comes a very angry Sendou, who knocks out the guy with a single punch despite being seriously ill and not expected to live for too long. It's later discussed by Shiho and her agent, with the latter telling Shiho "For his daughter, any father would do the same."
    • Similarly, when Mr. Sugiyama realises that "Miyuki" (Shiho acting as his dead daughter's reincarnation) might be at the mercy of the man he believes to be Miyuki's killer, he goes searching for her. And right on time — Mizuhara the Serial Killer has Shiho-as-Miyuki as his target, and Sugiyama's Big Damn Heroes is vital to both save her and catch him.
  • Parent with New Paramour:
    • Shiho is once hired to pretend being a Phony Psychic to undo one of these situations — the client wants to convince his very young, naive and somewhat spoiled daughter Konomi that, if her beloved Missing Mom's spirit "approves" of him marrying Konomi's manager, she will approve of their marriage.
    • Subverted later, however: Shiho believes that Tomoomi is her mother's boyfriend but it turns out Sayuri is dating someone else, and she hired Tomoomi to pose as her boyfriend to keep her actual lover's identity hidden.
  • Parental Substitute: Since Sayuri cannot always take care of Shiho due to her work and the need to hide that she's an unmarried mother, the nanny Makiko Mori does it instead. Shiho even takes a very hard job to help her when she learns about Makiko's issues.
  • Perpetual Smiler: One of the most creepy traits of Kana Juumonji/Satoka Ryoudo is that she almost never loses her serene smile.
  • Psychic Powers: In an otherwise Slice of Life manga, some people that Shiho met turn out to have such abilities. They are the stage magician Takanori Mikumo (telekinesis) and "Johannes" aka Masaomi Hanamura (precognition, mind reading). At another point, Shiho appears to channel the spirit of a decides mother, and whether it's a case of Method Acting run amok or not is left unclear.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: There ARE actual Private Acting companies in Japan.
  • Reincarnation: One of Shiho's jobs is centered on this concept. A woman named Kozue Sugiyama hires her to pretend she's the reincarnation of her older sister Miyuki, who was murdered at age 7 and would be around the same age Shiho is, had she been reincarnated immediately after death. This very unusual request comes from how Kozue and Miyuki's father was traumatised by Miyuki's murder that he's been trapped in his pain for 16 years; Kozue believes that if, he thinks Miyuki has been reincarnated and has a happy second life, he'll start properly living again.
  • Rescue Romance: Shiho and Tomoomi clash at first, but start to warm-up to each other after she rescues him from the punks that beat him up, takes him to her apartment and then tends to his bruises. And then One Thing Led to Another...
  • The Rival: Kana Juumonji/Satoka Ryoudo, to Shiho. Ruriko Daichi, to Sayuri Nagasawa.
  • Sailor Fuku: Shiho's all-girls school has the fuku as its uniform, and sometimes Shiho goes out with her clients while wearing it. In another work, she wears a different one to impersonate the dead Miyuki Sugiyama. It's averted in the Boarding School case however, since the girls wear blazer uniforms instead.
  • Secret-Keeper: An asymmetric one — Sendou did realise that Shiho wasn't the real Miyu (Miyu had a birthmark on her hand and Shiho lacked it), but didn't say anything since he appreciated how she kept him company in his last days. Shiho doesn't realise this until his secretary Egawa tells him his last words: "Miyu is with me... now." Shiho's work involves to be one of these too, helping her clients keep afloat lies for different reasons.
  • Serial Killer: Kana Juumonji, before turning 16, had already caused several deaths. Also Miyuki Sugiyama's killer, Dr. Mizuhara, a man with heterochromia who killed people (and specially girls) with similar characteristics; when he targets Shiho-as-Miyuki, she and Mr. Sugiyama manage to catch him.
  • Shared Unusual Trait: When impersonating Miyuki Sugiyama, Shiho must wear special contact lenses since the girl she's acting as had differently colored eyes. It turns out these pretty eyes are what caused her death, as her killer (with similar eyes) targeted her for them.
  • Shout-Out: The story contains many references to theater plays, actors and actresses over the course of history from Shakespeare, Ann and the Great Gables, and so on.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Shuuto Tanabe is a Pretty Boy Mr. Fanservice. His younger twin brother Yuuto is just as good-looking, but extremely awkward and insecure. Shuuto wants to help Yuuto with his love life, so he hires Shiho for this... It actually turns out to be a case of Split Personality — see below.
  • Slice of Life
  • Spell My Name With An S: Shiho's boyfriend's first name is translated as Tomoomi or Chiomi, depending on the translator's treatment of the first character in it.
  • Split Personality: As a child, Yuuto Tanabe was sexually abused by his uncle and Parental Substitute. As a result, he created a personality named "Shuuto" that dealed with extreme anger issues coming from the abuse, and under his influence he burned his uncle's house. From then on, "Shuuto" and the original Yuuto co-existed more or less in peace as he grew into a Mr. Fanservice — until Yuuto took control back and fell in love with Girl Next Door Kana, causing "Shuuto" to snap, fully take over and try hiring Shiho to get Yuuto's girlfriend away. And then it turns out there's a third personality, "Satoru," who has been lying dormant underneath the two, but wants to get this mess resolved...
  • Stock Shoujo Bullying Tactics: In her super prestigious Elaborate University High's middle school section, Fuyuka Sakuragi was subjected to this. (According to her friend Miyako she had her stuff stolen, garbage was dumped on her desk, her sketchbook was ripped and stepped on, etc.). Then she died in strange circumstances, and soon Shiho is hired to pose as a middle schooler and find out the truth... She was tormented and murdered by Alpha Bitch Kana Juumonji and her Girl Posse for seeing what she should have not, who then try to do the same to Shiho.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Shiho and her mother Sayuri, before Sayuri's scarring. Lampshaded when Ruriko sees Shiho's face clearly while drunk:
    Ruriko: SAYURI?! Did you turn young again?!
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Shiho once plays one of these in the movie she and Kana/Satoka star in. The trope is also lampshaded when the director comments on how Shiho makes the killer look so sad and woobie-ish that one wants to hug her despite her crimes.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Tomoomi Hanamura, Shiho's boyfriend.
  • Teen Genius:
    • Shiho is considered as one, in regards to acting.
    • Kana/Satoka is this too.
    • While he already has this a little regarding acting, Tomoomi turns out to be this when it comes to business.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: The Bifauxnen Chie and the Aloof Dark-Haired Girl Shiho.
  • Tragic Keepsake: A poetry book that the businessman Sendou left for Shiho, with a small note in which he reveals that he knew she was just an actress hired by his assistant to pose as his long-lost daughter to keep him company in his last days of life... but thanks her for staying by his side anyway.
  • Tsundere: Shiho is a Type B to Tomoomi.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Shiho's mother almost turns into this. She actually relies more on her acting talent than her gorgeous looks, but once she gets heavy scars on one side of her face after surviving a terrible incident, it's very hard for her to keep up. (It's hinted at the end, however, that she might be able to recover her career by switching to stage acting). At the same time, her old rival Ruriko Daichi is absolutely terrified by the prospect of becoming one of these, which is what makes her become a Lady Drunk.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Chapter 17, in which Shiho tells Tomoomi about how she started doing P.A jobs, and then about her dead First Love Naoya Koshiba, the first person she had a P.A work with.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Shiho is this through and through. Tomoomi, too, for similar reasons.
  • Yandere: Mayumi from chapter 15, who stabs Tomoomi when he confronts her.
  • Yoko Oh No: Tomoomi is hired by Sayuri to pose as her lover, and a bunch of jealous Sayuri fanboys attack him. Shiho walks into this and quickly pulls a Big Damn Heroes by pretending she is her own mother to calm them down.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Several chapters of the manga involve people whose lives are almost finished, and someone close to such persons hires Shiho to deal with them.
    • In the first chapter, Ichima Sendou is a very rich businessman whose ex-wife and daughter were murdered in very strange circumstances years ago, and now he is fatally ill and still clings to the small hope that his daughter Miyu (whose body never was found) may be alive. His secretary Egawa hires Shiho to pretend that she is the returned Miyu, who looked almost exactly like a younger Shiho, so he will be happier in his last days...
    • Also happens in the third chapter, where Kouichi Kuwabara would rather have everyone believe he's a cheating asshole than let them know he's dying of illness. Or so it would seem.
    • And in chapter four, a young man named Matsumura hires Shiho to hold a fake wedding and make his aging and not too far from death mother happy. The catch is, Mrs. Matsumura is an actress too and a very famous one... Then things go From Bad to Worse.