A new Shonen Jump series has arrived in America and it’s another fan-favorite like Spy X Family. Tatsuya Matsuki and Shiro Usazaki’s Act-Age has made its official debut and brings a more serious, dramatic tone with it. Is it good?
According to the official description provided by Viz Media:
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?
Act-Age is probably one of the most unconventional titles to come out of Shonen Jump. In a magazine where most of the leads are men or boys, there’s a strong focus on action or comedy, and or there’s a fantastical element to it, this series stands out from the rest. It’s about a teenage girl entering the world of acting, putting her mental health and self on the line so she can raise her younger siblings. It’s a premise one would almost expect in a seinen or shojo title. As such, the series has a unique identity and hook that feels rather fresh for this genre.
But a fresh idea needs a good foundation and writing for it to succeed. In this first volume, the series starts off good, but not great. Its introduction is solid, establishing the main lead and her goals very well, painting her as very sympathetic and also worrisome. The story here is primarily leading her to have an epiphany about her acting before things really get going. The rest of the book otherwise is just establishing the movie world with its various concepts and ideas.
The book doesn’t pick up or get too exciting until the end. That’s when a rival character, or someone that Kei inspires to be, shows up, and new supporting characters with their motivations and ideas on how to be good actors appear. It’s also when the plot kicks off with the start of its first arc. Everything before then is good from a character standpoint, but it lacked the hook and punch that the story needed. As such, it feels like the second volume is when the series will truly take off.
Kei Yonagi is the main character, and she makes a great impression. She’s a teenage girl who is forced to look after her siblings after their mother died and their father skipped out. She is looking to become an actor, hoping to use it as a way to support her family. She deeply cares for her young brother and sister, to the point where she would put herself in harm’s way to protect them. She also does not take much garbage from others, easily getting into it with the director whenever he crosses the line.
As an actor, she is very good, having developed her own method acting. She is a bit of a perfectionist in it, wanting to keep learning how to get better and better. However, her acting is a little too good — she gets so sucked into her role that the line between fiction and reality becomes blurred. She views it as a chance to become another person, to forget her life and discover new, dark versions within herself. All of this can be very dangerous and psychologically damaging, but if it means discovering herself and supporting her family, she’s ready for it.
Then there is the director, Sumiji Kuroyama. Working with talent agency Stars, Sumiji is the first person to recognize Kei’s talent and wants to help her reach her true potential. Despite being told to let her go, he brings her on board his agency. While his intentions could be seen as noble, and he fully understands the risks that Kei could run into, he comes off as a jerk. He is very full of himself, belittles others, is far too impulsive, uses others for his own good, and refuses to ever apologize for his actions. It can be rather hard to like him, even if he has some positive traits.
The other supporting characters are fine enough, but need expanding. Yuki Hiiragi, the producer who works with Sumiji, is mostly just the straight man of the duo. Rei and Rui are Kei’s younger siblings, both of whom are anchors for her to keep her grounded. Rei is just a little more mature and able to pick up on things than Rui is. Arisa Hoshi is the CEO of Stars, who initially turns down Kei for any acting roles. A former actress herself who suffered a mental breakdown, her philosophy regarding actors is interesting, wanting to protect them but also seeing them as a business.
Then there is Chiyoko Momoshiro, the Angel of Stars. She is an incredible actress who’s a touch full of herself. Her introduction is her reading a script and seeing it as another horrible production she needs to save. She brags about never having to do reshoots and can draw the eye in any situation. Though, despite her talents, Kei sees something in her that others aren’t able to. Chiyoko is probably the standout of the supporting cast due to how big her personality is, whereas everyone else needs some more work done.
While Matsuki’s writing is decent, Usazaki’s artwork is a strange beast. It feels at times refined and clean, with strong depictions of the characters, capturing their emotional range, and bringing scenes to life. The final four acting challenge in the first chapter and Momoshiro’s entrance are all especially well-drawn. There are times when the art feels off, however. The linework is crude, foreshortening is off, there’s a weird lack of detail, characters look off-model, and so on. It’s distinctly distracting and very noticeable throughout the book. I’m not exactly sure if this is on purpose or part of the style itself, but it lessens the quality of the art more than it should.
Act-Age Vol. 1 is a diamond in the rough, much like how Sumiji describes Kei. It has a strong hook and plenty of good ideas in it, and its main character and their evolution as an actress are fascinating. But it takes a while to get going, the supporting cast doesn’t jump out initially, and the artwork struggles at times. While enjoyable, hopefully the next volume makes the series truly shine.