Here's some thoughts on a Jump Start title that may or may not have a shot in WSJ.

When growing up, you love, you laugh, you cry, you suffer, and you learn about the world around you. For some kids those experiences are different from others. The paths can be the same, but as we discover what we enjoy and dislike, we change completely.

Kei Yonaga, for example, grew up having to take care of her younger siblings as a teen.

With no relatives to turn to after their mother died and their dad abandoning them, Kei has had to compartmentalize. You know, like cooking for her siblings. Taking them to school. Maintaining the house. She’s had to do that while being unable to grow up like every other girl her age. She’s had to be almost perfect while showing that everything is all right.

Which means the role of acting is almost perfect for her.

ACT-AGE is a new Weekly Shonen Jump title being worked on by Tatsuya Matsuki and Shiro Usazaki (who has a neat art profile if you want to check it out). Shonen Jump added it to their Jump Start line, and this is a manga that’s all about acting. From displaying the egos of actors to business people making choices based on looks instead of talent, ACT-AGE can go in many different ways. For now it seems like the manga is looking to explain how acting works, since it’s given us a main character who can act but doesn’t seem to know what acting’s all about.

… Huh?

For someone like Kei, who has to protect her family and help them grow up without them realizing things are bad, she’s had to give up making friends or going to clubs. However, her parents left behind a ton of old films and she watched them all while growing up. Watching those has made her think acting involves being detached from who you are. As in, you’re not Kei Yonaga, you’re someone far removed from that life when acting. That’s her idea of real acting. And she loves it.

But this doesn’t seem to be how this industry operates. What makes a real actor? The girls who look pretty or who are laser focused? Or Kei who’s never been taught formally or affiliated with an agency? My guess is ACT-AGE will show us if it’s able to stay serialized. For now, it’s content on teaching her (and also us) the basics of acting and giving Kei a few challenges.

The first is Kei making it INTO the industry. Despite showcasing her talent, she was rejected twice by the audition host, Arisa Hoshi. It’s clear Arisa’s not going by performance — she’s going by how she was as an actress since Kei reminds her of herself. And seeing Kei use Method acting makes Arisa believe her slipping between fantasy and reality could destroy her, and she wants no part of finding out if Kei will shine or flame out.

Is this gatekeeping or genuine concern since Arisa’s experienced this personally? I think it’s gatekeeping, since she did try everything to make Kei fail, but the fact that we don’t know how Arisa grew into the industry leaves some doubt. It doesn’t change the fact that she is the clear antagonist in ACT-AGE, so it’ll be interesting to see if this manga will last long enough to explain her backstory.

The second challenge for Kei is… well… she can ACT. But her acting is totally unrefined. You can develop a passion for acting by watching movies. You can also learn acting by watching actors do what they do. But in the end, you do have to know the basics of acting, just like everyone else. And it seems really simple, but not knowing what an extra is suggests she has a lot to learn not just about acting, but much of the terminology. That’s why Chapter 3’s ending is a key test for Kei — it ends with her trying to do something that’s completely not what an extra does. She’s definitely looking to shine, and the director felt something great when she did that.

But the fact remains Kei well overstepped her role, and now she has to learn to stay within it. This is something that seems easy to do. But for her, it’s not something she’s dealt with before. So yes, this actually will be a challenge for her.

So, that leads to the big question: how is Sumiji Kuroyama going to help get the best out of her and show everyone what real acting is all about?

ACT-AGE

Sumiji Kuroyama is the other protagonist in ACT-AGE, and his story, at this moment, is odd. He’s a talented director who’s won accolades at Cannes, Berlin, and Venice, yet apparently has never sought fame? You mean he didn’t want to become someone like a Guillermo del Toro or a Hayao Miyazaki? What’s up with that? From what’s been established so far however, he’s apparently struggling as a director. He’s seen talent perform that he believes isn’t real acting.

But now he’s found the diamond that he wants to polish. But how far will he go to help Kei improve? What does he want to make that can prove his vision? And what does he want to show Arisa that she’s forgotten, according to him? At least for now, it’s not necessary to know that. This will certainly be explored at some point if this story can last long enough.

Not a lot, but a bit of the politics when it comes to being in the acting industry.

Anyways, ACT-AGE has potential. The art style is a bit odd at times, but it does look great in certain scenes (the pantomime section was terrific). The manga is a bit funny (when you realize Kei gave the middle finger to Sumiji, that’s the classic hallmark of a great Shonen Jump protagonist in the making), and there’s a lot it can talk about with this premise. It doesn’t mean it’s flawless — it devotes a section to fellow classmates talking about how amazing she is, which seems unnecessary as the series emphasizes Kei’s upbringing whenever it can, and as the manga keeps mentioning what method acting is, the more it could become annoying if it’s continually touched upon. I also wonder if the premise of discussing acting in a weekly format will be a hit with Jump audiences.

But it’s rare for a manga simply about acting to be serialized. You may get an arc in a manga where you’ll have young characters play a role in their school play, but nothing like this in a shounen magazine. If ACT-AGE gets a chance to breathe and the creators can continue to create interesting stories, it could be a strong series. For now, I do hope it can survive its initial trial period.