*Warning this review contains spoilers*
Glass Mask is a classic shoujo manga that started in 1976 about a young girl named Maya Kitajima who dreams of becoming an actress and goes through plenty of hardships in order for her dream to come true. Thanks to the anime adaptations that came out in 1984 and 2005, Glass Mask has gained immense international popularity and continues to be Suzue Miuchi’s best work.
The series is well-known for its over the top theatrics that were popular in the 1970’s and 1980’s and while the melodramatic tropes are dated, it’s still fun to watch. Even though, Glass Mask is Maya’s story, the series also explores characters like Ayumi Himekawa and how she too is a strong contender for the role of the Crimson Goddess. The most compelling aspect of Glass Mask is the relationship between Maya and Ayumi and it is a shame their dynamic is not often seen in shoujo anime/manga.
Granted there are plenty of fantastic shoujo anime/manga series that have well-written complex relationships, but Maya and Ayumi’s rivalry is often associated with archetypes seen in shounen anime/manga. There are countless of stories about two young boys whom become rivals and indirectly support each other in their respective journeys (nevermind the problematic portrayals of womxn/girls in the genre). That same level of camaraderie is not seen enough in shoujo anime/manga and it is frustrating the most common depictions of rivalry is either for the attention of boys or the complete sabotage of each other’s personal success for the sake of obtaining control and power (this gets more complicated when power dynamics specifically excludes womxn of color, but I digress).
That is why Maya and Ayumi’s relationship is such a treat to watch because despite their class differences, they have enormous respect for each other. When Maya was a child she had to work alongside her single mom in order to support themselves so it was difficult for her to pay for acting classes, meanwhile Ayumi was born into a wealthy family and were already famous in the entertainment industry so she was able to dedicate herself completely in perfecting her acting. It would have been easy to write Ayumi as a spoiled brat, but she is never conceited and she constantly works hard to improve her acting skills. Ayumi knows that everyone will judge her based on who her parents are so she pushes herself to be the best because she wants everyone to judge her based on her own capabilities.
Aside from Chigusa Tsukikage, Ayumi is one of the few people that quickly noticed Maya’s natural acting abilities and does not hesitant to call out everyone’s shallow criticisms about Maya’s talent. Ayumi admires Maya’s perseverance because she knows of the difficult socio-economic realities that Maya has to go through in order to achieve her dream to become a great actress. Unfortunately, when Maya’s mother died she became extremely depressed and lost her motivation which left her vulnerable to low-level actresses like Norie Otobe (her real name is Suzuko Tashiro) whom tried to take advantage of Maya’s situation by stealing her roles and opportunities.
When Ayumi found out that Norie was trying sabotage Maya’s career, Ayumi utilized her family connections in order to perform in the same stage production as Norie so that she could show Norie that talentless people like her will not survive in the entertainment industry and that Norie can never hope to be a genuine rival for Ayumi. Despite all the odds against Maya, Ayumi believes in her and wants to win the role of the Crimson Goddess fair and square. That faith is not lost on Maya and because she does not want to lose Ayumi’s respect, Maya motivates herself to act again.
Maya and Ayumi bring out the best in each other and they are determined to prove to everyone that they are the best actresses in Japan. However, that does not mean sinister thoughts have not entered their minds, for example, during their time in the Plum Valley, for a split second Ayumi entertained the thought of not warning Maya about the deteriorating wooden bridge since it would mean Ayumi would win the Crimson Goddess by default. Ayumi immediately felt guilty that she was capable of entertaining that thought and resolved to work even harder to win the role as the Crimson Goddess without malice intent. While Maya never wished Ayumi any harm, she always felt envious of Ayumi’s wealth, acting and beauty and often wished she could be like her since Maya was always told that she is ugly and useless.
Since the manga is ongoing, we still do not have a decisive winner for the role of the Crimson Goddess. Regardless of the outcome, these two have been competing for over five decades for the role of a lifetime and to be honest it’s been a fun ride. Maya and Ayumi’s rivalry/friendship has been a joy to watch and while the competition for the Crimson Goddess has been fierce it’s clear they are each other’s biggest fan and will become the best of friends once the series is over.