Story by Tatsuya Matsuki
Art by Shiro Usazaki
Translated by Camellia Nieh
Lettering by Eve Grandt
A lot has happened since we last visited Act-Age and it’s been an exciting journey. The Cinema Club arc quickly reached its conclusion in chapters 60 and 61, with Yonagi and her newfound friends showcasing their film. While the story arc was a detour from the usual structure of the series, it served as a critical experience for Yonagi as an actor. Yonagi’s life had been consumed by acting since she was a child, warping her outlook on life itself. By spending time away from the acting world and forming new connections, it allowed Yonagi to experience a sense of normalcy that she lacked. Yonagi’s life is no longer bound to being an actor, and she has learned to define herself beyond her acting persona. With Yonagi’s new resolve, she and Kuroyama finally decide to make her name known to the public by filming a viral music video.
With Yonagi’s surge in popularity, the story enters its next story arc, and it is easily the most ambitious one to date. Shinichi Amachi returns and has devised a new project that make waves in the acting world: a double casted stage production of Princess Iron Fan. To make matters more interesting, Yonagi is placed on a team pitted against Araya, Chiyoko, and Kuroyama. Until now, Yonagi has honed her acting by being exposed to the talent around her. Now, the talent that had once nurtured her is the obstacle that she must overcome. If Yonagi wishes to thrive in the acting world, she needs stand above even her peers and mentors, and the results of this production will put her skills to the test. Of course, Yonagi isn’t the only one that has stakes in the play’s outcome. With the passing of Iwao, Araya must keep his former mentor’s theater company alive, and becoming a more renowned actor will help ensure that. Meanwhile, Chiyoko has come to terms with her fleeting lifespan as the “Angel” of Stars, and wishes to strip her current public identity in order to push her career to new heights. Each of these actors has a lot to gain from this production, and tensions continue to grow as they see who will shine the brightest on the stage.
Yonagi isn’t fighting this battle alone though, as she paired with Riku Ogami, a former Stars actor who has gained immense popularity overseas. While many of the actors that we’ve seen so far in the series have shown the ability to immerse themselves in their characters, Ogami has a much different talent. Ogami acts as his genuine self in every role that he plays, exuding unmatched charisma in his performances. Part of what makes Ogami so fascinating is that the talent that has made him famous is the same skill that ostracized him from the Japanese film industry. When film producers feared that he would overshadow his co-stars, Ogami lost his motivation to act in the Japanese film industry and cut ties with it. Yonagi is the first person who has been able to truly match his presence on the stage, and it has reinvigorated his passion to act in Japan. Ogami is a solid edition to the series’ cast of actors, and his abilities as an actor serve as the perfect differentiator for the present competition.
The present story arc has also introduced Hanako Yamanoue, author of Princess Iron Fan and the director for Yonagi’s team in the stage production. While Hanako lacks directorial experience, her intimate knowledge of Princess Iron Fan and its characters makes her the perfect opponent for Kuroyama. Hanako also has a fascination for the supernatural, which helps her teach Yonagi to immerse herself in the fantastical elements of her role. Matsuki presents Hanako’s direction in a way that feels distinct from Kuroyama’s but equally effective in nurturing her actors’ talents.
Due to the nature of the double casted play, each team’s approaches to its lead characters is critical to their success. Araya has opted to take advantage of his abilities as the “Chameleon Actor” in the role of the Monkey King, while Ogami is relying on the presence of his natural self for the role. While Ogami may have the advantage in a singular role, what makes the Monkey King so tricky is that they also disguise themselves as the Ox King at one point in the story. This requires a multi-layered approach to the role, which is more suited towards Araya’s strengths. This creates a tough predicament for Ogami as he must either break from his natural acting method or discover a new way to approach the role that fits his persona. Either actor could gain the upper hand through their handling of the Ox King scene, which makes it all the more critical that Ogami finds the best course of action.
Chiyoko and Yonagi face an even tougher task as they both play the lead role Princess Iron Fan. Princess Iron Fan’s core motivation in the play is traced back to her anger towards her husband the Ox King. In order to immerse themselves in the role, Chiyoko and Yonagi both opt to channel their own personal anger. In Chiyoko’s case, she decides to use her own jealousy of Yonagi’s talents as the source for her rage. Not only does this serve as a severe blow to her friendship with Yonagi, but it displays her resolve to continue to Yonagi as an actor. Chiyoko is willing to put everything on the line to win this competition in order to further her career. To compete with Chiyoko’s unrivaled drive, Yonagi has decided to dive into a deeper source of rage: her anger towards her father. Yonagi’s father has been an ambiguous figure in the series up until now. Hanako has hinted at him being someone notable in the entertainment world, but little information has been said beyond that. Still, Yonagi’s father’s choice to abandon his children is what caused Yonagi to use acting as a coping mechanism for her emotions. Now, she must evoke her repressed memories to further evolve her performance. Both Chiyoko and Yonagi’s choice to immerse themselves in their roles comes with a lot of risk, as they may lose their sense of reality in the process. While Yonagi has found ways to ground herself through her friends and family, Chiyoko has chosen a different route. Chiyoko believes that she has not found her place in reality, and therefore she has no need to “return” from her role. Chiyoko’s lack of connections to the real world serve as a double-edged sword, as she has nothing that prevents her from becoming the character of Princess Iron Fan but she also risks losing her entire identity to the role itself. Only time will tell how these actors will be affected by the production, but it’s clear that the two actresses are playing a dangerous game.
Usazaki’s artwork has thrived in the current arc, and it is a highlight of every chapter. The visual depictions of each character’s performance immerses you further into the story and the talent of each actor exudes off the page. Seeing the visual transition of the characters behavior has also been fascinating to see. As Chiyoko and Yonagi have gotten further immersed into their roles, you can see the aura of animosity build in their mannerisms. The sword fight practice scenes have done the best job of displaying the intensity that these actors are capable of, and it makes their development all the more chilling. Less than a week remains in the story until the premiere of Princess Iron Fan, and the tension is at an all time high. At the end of chapter 81, Hanako notes that she has a trick to further fuel Yonagi’s rage, and depending on what it is, it could be the final touch needed for Yonagi to surpass Chiyoko. This arc has exceeded all my expectations, and as it enters its final act, I am anxiously awaiting to see how each team performs on the main stage.