Success at home and abroad
Act-Age (アクタージュ act-age Akutāju) is a riveting manga series about Kei Yonagi 夜凪景, a high school girl with a prodigious natural talent for Method Acting, and her development as an actress. Written by Tatsuya Matsuki, illustrated by Shiro Usazaki and serialized in Weekly Shōnen Jump since January 22, 2018, the manga has gained attention both at home and abroad for its novel subject matter, its compelling character development, its insightful depiction of the sometimes cut-throat world of Japanese film, television and stage acting, and the brilliant artwork expressing the subtle and sometimes conflicting emotions the characters go through both on stage and off.
A little over half a year after it began, in August 2018, the manga was ranked 5th in the Tsugi ni Kuru Manga Awards 次に来る漫画大賞 the result of over 300,000 nominations of over 3,711 titles. By February 2019, it had sold 500,000 copies of its tankōbon volumes (published by Shueisha), and by September 2019, 2 million copies had been sold. It was nominated for Best Shōnen Manga at the 43nd annual Kodansha Manga Awards.
Act-Age’s popularity outside of Japan has been supported by simulpublications from Viz since December 2018 and Shueisha through “Manga Plus” since January 2019. In October 2019, Viz Media announced the print release of the manga in summer 2020.
Kei Yonagi is a 16-year-old high school girl from a poor family who is trying to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. After her father abandoned the family and her mother died, she was left to support her two younger siblings by herself. At an audition, she catches the eye of the highly-acclaimed director Sumiji Kuroyama who recognizes her innate talent and promises to make her a star. Although it seems Kei finally has something to look forward to, there’s still a cloud on the horizon. At the audition, many speculated that Kei’s acting style, in which she draws raw emotions from her own personal experiences and becomes immersed in her role to the point of losing track of reality, could potentially become self-destructive.
Without giving too much away, the story follows Kei as she gains experience working with other talented actors, writers and directors, whose different approaches and styles push her to grow as an actress who can not only respond to the very different demands of television, film and theater, but also as a team-player able to adapt and work with other actors effectively.
Kei Yonagi Actor Project
Publisher Shueisha has taken a unique promotional approach with Act-Age within the domestic market. Just as Kei Yonagi’s Method Acting blurs the line between fiction and reality, Shueisha is promoting Kei Yonagi in a way that blurs the line between the real world and the narrative world of the manga. Under the banner of the “Kei Yonagi Actor Project” 夜凪景女優化計画, Shueisha is treating Kei as if she were a real-world actor, affiliated with the acting agency Daikokuten, which, as you’ll realize if you visit their website, is headed by Sumiji Kuroyama, and shows off the different projects Kei has been involved thus far.
Readers following the manga outside of Japan will recognize the web commercial in which Kei played a girl making a stew for her father on Father’s Day…
…Kei’s role as an extra in a TV samurai drama…
…her film debut as Keiko in “Death Island”…
…her theatrical debut as Campanella in a stage adaptation of Kenji Miyazawa’s “Night of the Galactic Railroad”…
…and her second play “The Fan Princess,” a partial theatrical adaptation of Journey to the East, in which she is double-cast with Chiyoko Momoshiro in the title role.
However, along with these images, the portfolio also includes appearances which are not a part of the narrative space of the manga:
For example, in November, 2018, Kei collaborated with the Tsutaya bookstore chain, cast in the role of the Shibuya store manager. A life-size cardboard panel of Kei appeared in the store, along with her portfolio introducing the works she had performed in. The Daikokuten website describes her presence as if she had actually assumed that role, saying: “Kei handled her duties in the store with such natural ease it was hard to believe she was an actress, and she also found time to sign autographs for visitors.”
Kei was also cast as a model for a poster in the Fire Defense Agency’s fire prevention campaign, and in signage for Nihon University College of Art’s entrance exam:
Perhaps the most surprising move came in February 2019 when Kei graced the cover of Weekly Playboy, a first for a manga character in the popular magazine. The issue featured “gravure” style photos of Kei in which she is superimposed on actual photographic backgrounds. Beginning with a swimsuit shot for the cover in which she is seen at the beach in a bikini, the issue also shows Kei sleeping on a futon, presumably at home in a tatami-matted room, and relaxing in the back seat of a car at night, gazing pensively outside at the streets of Shibuya.
Kei continues to make real-world appearances. For example, on December 2nd, it was announced that Kei has been chosen to be brand ambassador for JVC, and she is now appearing in ads for their products such as these HA-XC50T wireless earphones:
On JVC’s brand ambassador page, she is listed as “actress,” and while it is obvious from the main image and the manga frames included on the page, there is no introductory text explaining that she’s a fictional character. Her profile only lists her performances within the developing narrative of the manga.
Commenting on her new role for JVC in the 2020 Issue 1 of Weekly Jump, Kei says she’s been listening to music more and practicing her singing in karaoke, so she’ll be ready for a role in a musical. Could this be a hint about a future story arc?
In any case, fans can look forward to more appearances by Kei Yonagi in the future. It will be interesting to see how far Shueisha will stretch the envelope in exploring such real-world possibilities for their aspiring young actress.
Although there have been precedents for game characters or mascot characters making the jump to 2.5 dimensions in the form of Virtual Youtubers (Super Sonico and Hello Kitty come to mind), to our knowledge, a manga character has never directly made the jump into the real world in this way. Of course, in this case, “real world” is a relative term requiring a bit of imagination, but if a manga character can be a store manager, a poster model and even dive into a world as rooted in physical presence as “gravure” photography, one wonders what else is in store. Will Kei Yonagi be invited on a variety show as a guest? Will she answer interviews? Will she show up on the red carpet in a foreign film festival? With each new phase of the “Kei Yonagi Actor Project,” these questions surely come to fans’ minds.
You can read Act-Age on Shueisha, on Viz, and if you can read Japanese, the tankōbon are available on Amazon.co.jp. You can also keep up to date with Kei’s latest projects by checking her page at acting agency Daikokuten.