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Private Actress is a Josei manga by Michiyo Akaishi, author of Towa Kamo Shirenai, among other titles. It was published from 1991 to 1996; then it was made into a J-Drama (Private Actress, aka The Stand-In) in 1998, with Kanako Enomoto playing the main character.
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 they don't know, however, is that Shiho has a very uncommon part-time job: a private actress, meaning an actor and stand-in who is hired for personal purposes rather than fame. (Which can be done in Japan, as Conan O'Brian found out in his trip there). 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 girl for some time, which she will do for as long as it's needed and the requester can pay up.
The manga itself dwells on Shiho's life and work, showing us the reasons why people would hire an actor for such purposes. It also slowly shows Shiho's real life, hee backstory, 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. . .
- Alpha Bitch: The antagonist of the Boarding School two-parter, Kana Juumonji.
- Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Shiho.
- Subverted by Mariko, who has the looks but is an awkward Shrinking Violet.
- Arranged Marriage: Shiho's classmate Mayumi hires Shiho's boyfriend and fellow PA Tomoomi (not knowing that they're dating, of course) to ruin her parents' plan to make her go through an omiai or arranged date. In reality Mayumi was a Yandere obsessed with Tomoomi after meeting him by chance, and the arranged date was a plan of her mother destined to try shaking her off her obsession with him-
- In the Boarding School arc, when Kana asks Shiho about her life, Shiho quickly makes up a story about being an orphan raised by her rich grandparents who will surely make her go through an omiai after she graduates from school.
- A case has Shiho hired by a young man named Ryuutarou, who's supposed to go through one to push his doctor career further and wants Shiho to help him fend off any girls interested in him.
- The Beard: As long as someone pays Shiho enough, she'll play any role in his/her surroundings that is required. At least once she was an actual "beard" to a guy who wanted a divorce from his wife, so he pretended that he had Shiho as a lover in order to make himself look like a jerk and have an excuse to do so. And he lied to Shiho about it too - he said it was because he was very ill, but in reality he's Straight Gay and has a male lover. Shiho isn't happy about it - she doesn't really care about him being gay, but is very angry because he is an actual cheater AND he lied even to her about his motivations..
- Becoming the Mask: Several of Shiho's works involve her all but believing she's truly the person she pretends to be.
- Berserk Button: No one should EVER lie to Shiho. Or use as an Unwitting Pawn. Or hurt someone she's friends with.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: A certain actress who works with Shiho at some point, Ruriko Daichi, who is famed for being sweet on stage and a total bitch to her co-workers, especially her personal attendants. With a bit more digging, it's revealed that she's more of a very bitter and troubled Tsundere than this.
- Chastity Couple: Averted: Shiho and Tomoomi have a one-night stand before they actually date (and when she still thought he was her mom's fling!), and when they get together they have sex more or less regularly. And Shiho already wasn't a virgin, having slept with her late boyfriend Naoya few before he died of illness.
- Creepy Child: Shiho meets one during her work in a Boarding School. She is the local Alpha Bitch, Kana Juumonji, who is actually a Serial Killer who has either murdered or harmed anyone in her way ever since kindergarten.
- Later, one of Shiho's acting rivals is a beautiful and talented but VERY creepy younger girl named Satoka Ryuudou. She is Kana Juumonji under a Secret Identity.
- Dead Little Sister: In the first chapter, Shiho has to impersonate a missing girl named Miyuu in front of her father, an ill businessman named Sendou, whose secretary hires her behind his back to make sure his last days of life are happy. Sendou does realize she isn't Miyuu, but plays along anyway until he kicks the bucket because he also realizes that, even if she has been hired to be by his side, Shiho does care for his well-being.
- A young lady named Kozue Sugiyama hires Shiho to pretend that she's the Reincarnation of her dead older sister Miyuki, who was bloodily killed 16 years ago.
- Even the Girls Want Her: Many of Shiho's classmates are seriously wet for her.
- Girl Posse: Kana has two flunkies, Mai Housaka and Maki Kouno. Mai is the most vicious of the two.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Sayuri gets badly scarred later in the story, when she barely survives a serious accident.
- Haunted House: The magician Takanori Mikumo and his mother live in one, which is apparently haunted by the ghost of his late wife Youko. Subverted: Mikumo is a psychic, and his powers are the ones causing mishaps because he feels horribly guilty over the Ill Girl Youko's death years ago.
- Heroic Bastard: Shiho's mother Sayuri Nagasawa is The Mistress of her father, the acting legend Masakazu Ogata - who is a married man practically unable to get a divorce since his legal wife's a mix of Ill Girl and The Ophelia. Even more, Masakazu doesn't know that Shiho even exists.
- Shiho also has to play the role of one when she's hired to pretend that she's the illegitimate daughter of a corrupt politician by the child's mother, her Cool Big Sis Makiko Mori, who was deeply hurt by her lover's rejection.
- Her boyfriend Tomoomi and her close friend Mariko are these, too. In Tomoomi's case his dad was a very old CEO who later recognized him as his son, causing a huge mess in their clan; in Mariko's she is actually a half-Filipina girl who wants to be an actress in Japan so she can meet her father, another CEO who supports her economically but doesn't contact her.
- Identical Stranger: Shiho once meets a girl who looks just like her, the very sweet but also VERY sheltered rich girl Rurika.
- Ill Girl: Subverted: Shiho is not sickly, but pretends to be so people won't suspect her when she takes time off school to work. There ARE other ill girls and ill boys in the story, however: the most important ones are Shiho's First Love and then The Lost Lenore, Naoya Koshiba and the official wife of Shiho's dad Masakazu.
- It's Personal: Shiho tends to work for people who have been badly hurt by others, and when this happens she makes sure that the ones who caused such pain to her clients will either change their ways for the better or suffer the consequences.
- Lady Drunk: Ruriko Daichi
- Locked Out of the Loop: Shiho's Hot Dad does NOT know that he has an illegitimate daughter. Neither do his legal wife and his legitimate son Kyousuke, which makes things AWKWARD for Shiho when her half-brother, unaware of her identity, hires her for a work... Masakazu does find out later, though: he agrees to both meet up with Shiho in secret and keep the secret of her heritage, trying to be as much of a good dad as their really difficult situation allows.
- The Lost Lenore: The Stage Magician Takanori's late wife, Youko, is this for him.
- The Masquerade: In a sense. Shiho's work is to help people keep some of these in their real lives.
- Mama Bear: When Shiho takes someone under her wing, no one should hurt them. This is especially seen when she bonds with troubled girls like the Child Prodigy Konomi, the Naive Everygirl Rurika or the Shrinking Violet Mariko.
- Interestingly played with in the first case. Shiho, who's supposed to be a Phony Psychic, at some point gives a VERY passionate performance to protect Konomi from her potential Stage Stepmom, acting as if she's possessed by the spirit of Konomi's late mother Masami... But a talk at the very end strongly implies that she ACTUALLY was body-jacked by Masami's soul, who wanted to protect Konomi too...
- Parents as People: Sayuri loves Shiho lots, but has to keep her as a "hidden daughter" because Japanese society heavily discriminates single mothers so her career would be in serious risk. Shiho more or less accepts it and believes that she has to forge her own path as an actress anyway.
- As said above, Masakazu is this when he does find out that Shiho is his daughter.
- Parent with New Paramour: The Child Prodigy Konomi, whose mother died when she was small, cannot accept that her dad is marrying her manager because she still misses her late mama. So he hires Shiho to be a Phony Psychic and conduct a fake séance to placate the girl. Shiho realizes that the lady is a potential Stage Mom, so she decides to protect Konomi instead.
- Ordinary High School Student: Shiho.
- Outliving One's Offspring: The first chapter, as already mentioned, has Shiho pretending to be a girl named Miyuu who's supposed to have died with her mother in terrible circumstances AND whose corpse was never found; her father, Sendou, is about to die of illness and his biggest wish is to see Miyuu one last time.
- Another case plays with it and Reincarnation: an artisan's daughter was the victim of a Serial Killer 16 years ago and he pretty much went mad as a result (plus he's implied to have suffered brain damage from another incident), so the man's now-adult remaining daughter hires Shiho to pretend that she is the reincarnation of her sister and help the mentally-shattered father to deal with the cruel loss. Not only the plan is successful, but they find the killer and capture him.
- The Boarding School case involves the very weird death of the junior high-aged Cute Bookworm Fuyuka, whose parents suspect that she was literally bullied to death. So they hire Shiho to infiltrate the school and see if they're right. They are. And the culprit is the aforementioned Kana Juumonji.
- Stage Magician: A Christmas-themed chapter has Shiho hired by the mother of a magician named Takanori Mikumo. He's suffered of severe mental and emotional problems after the death of his wife Youko, so his worried mom hires Shiho to pose as a maid so she can help him deal through the pain. And then it turns out Mikumo actually has Psychic Powers...
- Stock Shoujo Bullying Tactics: As mentioned already, Fuyuka Sakuragi was a victim of this: she had her sketchbooks ripped and stepped on, she was spied on, etc. This escalates until Kana and her Girl Posse killed Fuyuka via this - via causing her to fatally go down a flight of stairs with help of one of the girls' pet crows.
- Strong Family Resemblance: Shiho and her mom, Sayuri, before Sayuri's scarring. Lampshaded when Ruriko sees Shiho's face clearly while drunk:
Ruriko: SAYURI?! Did you turn young again?!
- Sympathetic Adulterer: Shiho's parents are this. Her mother, the famous actress Sayuri, is the long-time lover of Shiho's dad Masakazu Ogata, a senior actor known for his womanizing; they're deeply and genuinely in love, but Masakazu's legal wife is a mix of Ill Girl and The Ophelia and people are aware of it, so if he divorces the lady there'll be a gigantic scandal. Even more, Masakazu doesn't know about Shiho at all, and Shiho herself later gets to meet Mrs. Ogata and sees how tragic her situation is...
- Tragic Keepsake: A poetry book that Sendou left for Shiho, with a small note in which he reveals that he knew who she was... but thanks her for helping him in his last days.
- Understanding Boyfriend: Shiho's love interest Tomoomi is a fellow private actor, so he does his best to aid her.
- White Dwarf Starlet: Shiho's mother Sayuri is in serious risk of becoming one. She actually relied more on her acting talent than her looks, but once she was scarred, it still was very hard for her to keep up. (The ending implies that she'll focus on stage acting rather than TV and will do well onwards). At the same time her old rival, Ruriko Daichi, is absolutely terrified of becoming one, which is what makes her become a Lady Drunk.
- Your Cheating Heart:
- Shiho's father Masakazu is known for three things: his acting skills, his good looks, and his affairs. Sayuri is the better known of his lovers and eventually his One True Love, and this not only brings complications to Shiho but to his actual family - people believe (and not without reason) that a good part of the already frail Mrs. Ogata's mental unstability comes from this, and if Masakazu divorced her to be with Sayuri, the scandal would destroy their lives and reputations.
- One case is centered on this, since Shiho is hired by a guy named Kuwabara to go into dates with him. He also is the brother-in-law of Shiho's classmate Chie, who gets very angry at Shiho because she thinks she is his lover. And then it turns out that Chiho's beloved big sister was also cheating on Kuwabara too, angry and disappointed over him neglecting her... Kuwabara then tells Shiho that he's severely ill and he wants to give his wife a "reason" to divorce him that will not be related to his health. And THEN it turns out he is cheating for real — with another dude. Shiho is very unhappy over being tricked into becoming a Red Herring, so she calls Kuwabara and his boyfriend out on their lies and washes her hands off all of this mess.
- Subverted: when Shiho and her soon-to-be Love Interest Tomoomi meet, they pretty much have sizzling chemistry and end up having what's supposed to be a one-night stand... even when Shiho has seen him kissing Sayuri and believes that she's their "other woman"... She's not. Tomoomi is also a Private Actor and Sayuri had hired him to pose as her lover so people wouldn't find out she's with Masakazu.