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"When we act, we wear a very fragile, easily broken, glass-like mask. No matter how well we perform the role, no matter how excellent our acting is, if our mask is broken... our real face is exposed.
—Rei Aoki

Maya Kitajima is an Ordinary High School Student who sees herself as plain-looking, boring, clumsy and good for nothing. After getting a small part in a school play, she discovers a love for acting, largely because it allows to become someone else. In the face of opposition from her widowed mother Haru, she runs away from home to take up a scholarship offer to an acting school in order to follow her dream.

Maya's potential for acting is noticed by former actress Chigusa Tsukikage. Before an accident on stage that left her heavily scarred and with ongoing health problems, she was considered the top theatrical actress in Japan, if not the world. She owns the right to a legendary masterpiece play, "Kurenai Tenyou" (The Crimson Goddess). The playwright considered the title role so difficult that Chigusa Tsukikage was the only actress capable of performing it, and gave her full rights to the play.

Since her injury over 20 years ago, Tsukikage has been teaching acting while searching for an actress to take up the role and resurrect the play. The play hasn't been performed during that time, since Tsukikage is such a perfectionist that no-one has been able to live up to her standards. She sees potential in Maya, and thinks the time to resurrect the play may come soon. Especially since she's finally found a girl just as obsessed (one character describes it, justifiably, as "pathologically" so) with acting as she is...

However, Maya is not the only young actress Chigusa has her eye on: there's also Ayumi Himekawa, daughter of a famous director and a top actress. Ayumi is beautiful, graceful, and has been acting professionally since she was 5. She's got everything Maya doesn't have, but they share a love of acting. Not to mention, Ayumi also wants to succeed on her own, refusing her parents' help, to prove everyone that she's not a Daddy's Girl...

During the play's original run, it played to over 300 packed houses. The major theatrical companies aren't about to sit back and let that kind of profit potential go to another company. Some of them will stop at nothing to get their hands on the rights, but Tsukikage isn't about to hand it over.

This series started as a manga in 1976, and is considered one of the classics of the Shoujo genre. It's been turned in to three anime series (two for TV and an OAV series), a theatrical play, a dorama, and even a Noh play. The ending of the series is still open, with the mangaka, Suzue Miuchi, only recently returning to begin wrapping up the series.

The 2005 TV series was licensed by Section 23 Films, but only the first half of the series was released, with the company admitting they were not releasing the rest of the series due to extremely poor sales.

Being an older shojo series, it is extremely tropalicious, even without considering the contents of the various plays that happen throughout the story.

Tropes used in Glass Mask include:

  • Always Someone Better: Deconstructed. Ayumi considers Maya her superior in all but technique as far as acting goes, while Maya thinks Ayumi outclasses her in everything. Drives much of their competition.
  • Anime Accent Absence: Averted. The American photographer Peter Hamil requires a translator.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Subverted, in that Maya and Tsukikage both find ways to refuse. Also played straight in that several other characters don't.
  • Arranged Marriage (Hayami and Shiori)
  • Awful Truth (Being an actress isn't like lying in a bed of roses, dear Maya)
  • Baddie Flattery: Hayami to Maya. He usually means it, and she's usually surprised because she thinks he does, too.
  • Bastard Understudy (how Masumi got his start)
  • Beach Episode: Averted, as no swimsuits are involved. Two characters simply go on a date by the seaside.
  • Beam of Enlightenment
  • Beautiful All Along: Justified. Sometimes applies to Maya on stage, thanks to a combination of makeup artists and attitude.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: Haru Kitajima. It may run in the family, as Maya does a variant of this not much later.
  • Bifauxnen: Possibly deconstructed. Rei Aoki is initially frequently mistaken for and typecast as a handsome male, to her disgust, but she eventually adjusts and starts taking advantage of it.
  • Big Fancy House Ayumi's house, and Hayami's too.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Shiori. Oh god, Shiori.
    • Suzuko aka Norie is even worse.
  • Biting the Handkerchief: Maya does this in a play competition. The judges love it.
  • Blackmail
  • Blank White Eyes: Played straight and inverted; characters get this look when they're surprised, but also in moments of intense concentration.
  • Book Dumb: Maya can memorize not just the lines, but the actor's gestures and poses from a 3½-hour play in one sitting, but can't remember a math formula to save her life. Lampshaded in one internal monologue where she states she just isn't interested in things like math.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Hayami, to Maya.
  • Captain Obvious: Many of the people watching Ayumi or Maya act feel compelled to state out loud what the actresses are doing for some reason.
  • Catch Phrase: "She's like a different person!" Also many variations on "What a scary girl." Said about Maya by many people who know her both on and off stage.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: Deconstructed. Maya loves acting, but isn't in it for the fame. In fact, she's completely unprepared for it, being naturally somewhat shy, at least when she isn't on stage. She never actually gives up fame, but is partially protected by the simple fact that most people think she looks — and certainly behaves — completely different in person than she does when she's in character.
  • Class Trip: Inverted, in a way. Ayumi specifically comments on regretting being too busy with her career to go on it.
  • Classically-Trained Extra
  • Clear My Name: Averted. After Maya is framed for a scandal by Suzuko aka Norie, she's blackballed from the entertainment industry. Rather than attempt to reveal the frame, Maya simply presses forward and finds a way to start back in theater. The one who actually reveals the frame is Ayumi.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Shiori.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive
  • Crack Defeat
  • Crash Into Hello
  • David Versus Goliath (Ayumi and Maya)
  • Doing It for the Art: Kuronuma gets stuck without work for a while because of this, and almost loses The Forgotten Wilderness for the same reason. Maya's in the same boat, although in her case it's the ridiculous lengths she goes to in practice.
  • Dramatic Wind: Maya, while playing Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, fakes this so well the audience is fooled.
  • Driven to Suicide
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma
  • Dysfunction Junction: Maya and Masumi to some degree. Tsukikage has a tragic past. Ayumi, who has had a wonderful life but is cast as an imprisoned, vengeful princess who witnessed her mother's execution for treason, goes out of her way to live horribly to get in to the role.
  • Empathic Environment: Maya and Ayumi eventually reach levels of acting ability that allow them to essentially generate this in the audience.
  • Enforced Method Acting: Tsukikage uses this on Maya constantly,and so does Maya.
  • Expy: Masumi's friend Kyoichiro Jin. Originally from Sukeban Deka.
  • Eyepatch of Power: No literal eyepatch, but Tsukikage wears her hair so that it constantly covers half her face, due to the scars, yet is clearly a Badass Actress.
  • Fainting: Shiori claims to have anaemia, which is a common ailment for Japanese women of the time period, but the timing of her fainting is suspicious.
  • False Crucible: Averted. Tsukikage takes advantage of events to push Maya into a real crucible.
  • Fan Girl: Some of the big-name actors and actresses have whole troupes of these. They sometimes cross the line when defending the object of their obsession, generally to that person's disgust.
  • Festival Episode
  • Freeze Sneeze
  • The Game Never Stopped: A variation of this is done in one of the auditions. The actresses, including Maya and Ayumi, are auditioning for the role of Helen Keller. For the last stage of the audition, they're left in a room and told to "wait as Helen". After a while, the fire alarm goes off, and all the girls react to it, except for Maya and Ayumi, who thereby "pass" the audition. A moment of Truth in Television, as a similar trick was pulled on actress Patty Duke when she auditioned for the same role.
  • Genius Ditz (Maya is Book Dumb but still memorizes her lines. )
  • Girl Posse: The president of the high school acting club has one, and they tend to look down on Maya until she manages to show them up without really trying.
  • Kick the Dog: Director Onodera does this on a regular basis. Ayumi does this literally at one point when trying to get in to an evil role. A puppy, no less.
  • Hit Me Dammit
  • Hot for Teacher: Tsukikage to Ozaki.
  • Hot Mom (Ayumi's beautiful and elegant mother, Utako)
  • Idol Singer (Emi Tabuchi)
  • Important Haircut (Ayumi is typecast as the Princess early on. When she finally dedicates herself to training for the Crimson Goddess, she takes a double role as both The Prince And The Pauper, she cuts her hair for the roles. Also, played with in the designs for the new series: compare Ayumi's original Princess Curls hairstyle with the more simple wavy hair she's given for the 2005 TV series)
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Haru. It *is* actual tuberculosis, and she likely could have been healed if only she had the money to afford *real* treatment (instead of just being locked away in a country house by Hayami), and didn't go hitchhiking in the rain searching for Maya. Somewhat subverted, since in the end the main cause of death was being hit by a car. Also, played straight by Tsukikage.
    • In the manga she was in an actual hospital, not locked away in a country house. Hayami just paid the doctors there to keep them from leaking information about Haru's whereabouts to the press or them saying anything about Maya to Haru. Whatever her sickness was, it can be assumed she did receive treatment for it in her time at the hospital.
  • Indirect Kiss
  • Instant Expert: Averted. Sakurakoji decides to learn how to carve hotoke [Buddhist statues] for a role. He finds a master to study under, but is still only a novice by the time they start rehearsing the play.
  • Insult Backfire
  • Intimate Healing (Masumi has to give this to Maya)
  • Instant Fanclub (most of the big-name actors and actresses, including Ayumi and Maya)
  • In with the In Crowd: After Maya ends up working with Daito Entertainment, against her will, her new manager cuts off her contact with her old friends in a way that is designed to make them think this has happened.
  • It's All My Fault
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Tsukikage Chigusa.
  • The Jeeves
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Hayami
  • Joshikousei: The company Maya is working for at the time tries to play up the high school actress angle to generate more publicity for the movies and TV series she's currently appearing in. Maya responds to this rather poorly and ends up scaring the reporters during the interview.
  • Jumped At the Call (Maya, who has to run away from home to follow the call)
  • Kabuki Sounds
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Suzuko Tashiro
  • Laying On a Hillside
  • Les Yay / Foe Yay Maya and Ayumi have so much of this, mostly out of The Only One Allowed to Defeat You territory. The second ending song to the newest anime does not help.
  • Limited Social Circle: Justified, in that they really don't have time for much besides their acting, so they always end up hanging around the same groups of people.
  • Limited Wardrobe: While most of the cast have quite reasonably sized wardrobes, Tsukikage always wears the same black dress.
  • Live Action Adaptation. A live-action drama, a play, and a Noh play.
  • Locked in a Freezer: Slightly different, in that they're not locked in to understand each other, but rather their characters since it's a part of Ayumi and Maya's Training From Hell.
  • Loony Fan: Emi's fanclub
  • Love Hurts: It wouldn't be Shojo without this one.
  • Luminescent Blush
  • Manipulative Bastard: Hayami, Suzuko aka Norie, etc.
  • Married to the Job
  • Montage
  • Masako Katsuki: She played Maya in the original TV series and Ayumi's Hot Mom Utako in the new one.
  • Megumi Ogata: Playing Against Type as Maya in the 90's OAV.
  • Mysterious Past: Averted. All the major characters get their pasts explored.
  • Mysterious Protector: Maya's anonymous fan, "Murasaki no bara no hito" or the "Purple Rose Person", sends Maya encouraging notes and bouquets of purple roses, along with an escalating scale of other helpful gifts.
  • Nakama: Maya and her acting friends (Rei, Mina, Sayaka, etc.)
  • Narrator
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Maya finds out that her mother died after being separated from her for several years. Their last meeting involved Haru disowning Maya for preferring to accept the scholarship to Tskukiage's school instead of staying at home and help her.
  • No Ending: Since the manga still isn't finished. Unusually for anime, the writers didn't just slap their own ending on the story.
  • Noblewoman's Laugh: Ayumi does a bone-chilling laugh in her role as Princess Origeld.
  • No Export for You: The second half of the TV series in North America, due to apparently having some really bad sales figures.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Inverted, in that the two main candidates for the Crimson Goddess role are flat out described as too young for it at the start of the series, but aren't by the end.
  • Not So Different
  • Oba-san: Tsukikage, until Maya finds out who she is, when she becomes Sensei.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Norie Otobe does this to get close to Maya, complete with Speech Impediment in the form of a Kansai Regional Accent.
  • The Obstructive Love Interest: Shiori
  • The Obi-Wan (Tsukikage, who also fits as Old Master and Zen Survivor)
  • Offstage Villainy
  • Ojou: Ayumi. Deconstructed in the way this affects both her (lots of people think Ayumi is using her parents' fame and wealth to further her career, but Ayumi will have nothing of it) and Maya (one of the reasons Maya thinks Ayumi is superior to her).
    • Shiori is a more traditional one.
  • The Only Way They Will Learn
  • Parental Abandonment: Maya's father died when she was young, and her mother effectively disowns her when she leaves to become an actress. When Haru was willing to meet up with Maya and ask her for forgiveness, she died. Tsukikage also got this one.
  • Perfect Health: Lampshade hanging. Maya gets cast as Beth in Little Women, but has difficulty with the final scene since she's never been sick. She then goes out of her way to get sick so she can play it right. Her timing on this isn't that great, leaving her playing the role with a 40℃ temperature.
  • Perpetual Poverty: Averted. A significant portion of the series involves many of the main characters living in extremely cheap apartments and working part time jobs while trying to keep enough time available for acting practice. This changes with their current level of success.
  • Police Are Useless
  • Plucky Girl: Maya, who NEVER EVER gives up.
  • Race Against the Clock: Tsukikage gives Maya two years to win an award as prestigious as one Ayumi has just won, or else Ayumi gets the Crimson Goddess role without further contest.
  • Repeat What You Just Said
  • The Rival: Ayumi and Maya. Ayumi actually is better than Maya in many areas, having more experience. Especially in the area of dance, giving her a grace that Maya simply cannot match. She's also determined to win fair and square, and respected Maya from their first meeting.
  • Sacred First Kiss: Hayami feeding medicine to an unconscious Maya in a Dude, She's Like, in a Coma event combined with an Intimate Healing event. Shojo series like to overload the tropes from time to time.
  • Sadist Teacher: Both Tsukikage and Kuronuma fit this role, for most of the people who fall under their tutelage. Maya and Ayumi are unusual in being just as crazy as these two, so they like it and only consider them to be Stern Teacher.
  • Sassy Secretary: Saeko Mizuki is this for Hayami
  • School Festival
  • School Play
  • Secret Keeper
  • Selective Obliviousness: Maya doesn't recognize her own love for Shigeru until another character points it out to her.
  • Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream and a solo adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Hamlet is mentioned more than once.
  • Shojo
  • Shout-Out: Although some of the plays are made up, most of them are real. For example, you know that play competition that happened early in the series? Guess what play got second place?
  • Show Within a Show: Lots of them. That's the point...
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Tsukikage often goes this route.
  • Snow Means Love
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Maya and Hayami.
    • There's nothing star-crossed about them compared to Tsukikage and the author of Crimson Goddess, Ozaki Ichiren.
  • Take Our Word for It: Averted, in that the "Crimson Goddess" is merely talked about during most of the series, but near the end is fully detailed. Tsukikage even puts on a performance, with Genzo as narrator and the male lead.
  • There Is Another
  • Thirty Second Blackout: Averted. A blackout that happens during a play lasts until after the play is over, using a collection of flashlights to light the stage.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Ayumi, when she finds out Norie's trap. Maya, when she learns why Haru died.
  • To Be a Master: Arguably; playing the 'Crimson Goddess' is not a world-wide obsession, but certainly is within the acting world.
  • Together Umbrella
  • Tournament Arc: Arguably, the acting competitions early in the series, and the auditions throughout the series.
  • Training From Hell: Just about every role for which Ayumi and Maya prepare. Lampshaded, in that just about any character other than Maya, Ayumi and Tsukikage think it's insane, and occasionally say so. Often to the three in question.
  • Transformation Sequence: Anime only. Apparently the director thought mere acting wasn't exciting enough, and had to come up with a fancy "putting on a mask" sequence to visualize it.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: Endemic. Acting is Serious Business, after all.
  • Whip It Good: The Ikkakuju Troupe is known for their unconventional approach to plays. When performing A Midsummer Night's Dream, they outfit Helena with a whip.
  • White Dwarf Starlet: Averted in Tsukikage, who left the stage at least partly for health reasons and is still both known and popular, and some of the current top actresses have been her students. She proves more than once in the series that her acting is just as good as it used to be.
  • Yakuza
  • You Are a Tree Charlie Brown: Maya gets cast as a doll in one play. Tsukikage does this in an attempt to teach Maya how not to steal the spotlight, something Maya does without meaning to.