Japanese Title: Kasane
Genre: Psychological Drama
Length: 126 chapters (14 volumes)
- An actually ugly protagonist
- Compelling page-turner
- Makes good use of the art of acting
- Psychologically harrowing
- Scarce with the subplots
This is why I like to browse manga by random. Sure, I read a lot of crap, but it’s worth it for when I discover a gem that I’ve never heard of before. I love receiving great recommendations. However, there is a different sort of excitement when you realise an art piece is great as you are consuming it. With Kasane by Daruma Matsuura, the cover of the first volume caught my eye for how weird one of the women looked. I considered it was bad art, yet the other woman looked normal. Then I read the blurb and added it to the list.
Kasane is about an ugly girl who loves to act in theatre. When I say ugly, I don’t mean ugly in the film world sense, where a shower, a comb of the hair, and a little make up could turn a girl into a knockout. Kasane is the sort of ugly that no makeover can fix. Her skull misshapen, her mouth too broad and uneven, and her eyes oversized and in the wrong place, Kasane scares people with her appearance. This ugliness is at the heart of what shapes her character and if she could simply powder it away, this story wouldn’t work (more on that later). The first hint that I was in for a great manga was seeing the author’s commitment to the ugliness. How condescending is it when Hollywood tries to pass a gorgeous actress as “the ugly one”?
Kasane is the daughter of a celebrated late actress for both her acting talent and beauty. Her mother left behind a tube of lipstick with instructions that she should apply it and kiss that which she desires. Should Kasane wear the lipstick and kiss another person, they will swap faces and voices for some hours. After a few tastes of what it is to be beautiful, Kasane meets stage actress Nina, a woman with little talent, a lot of pressure to succeed, and stunning beauty (no one gave her the part because she could act). She also suffers from Sleeping Beauty syndrome (can randomly sleep for months on end). So, she makes a deal with Kasane.
“Swap with me when I need to perform and you will live out your dream of a being beautiful actress. In exchange, I get the credit.”
This seems a match made in heaven. However, pretence can never match the real thing, and both women simmer with dark thoughts about the other, especially where it concerns a man they love. The face swap doesn’t require both people to be awake either.
The destructive dependence between these two makes for gripping drama.
The story spirals and the drama rises. I couldn’t stop turning the pages well into the AMs. Kasane starts strong with a brilliant premise that I thought could last a few volumes, so I grew concerned when I saw that it was in fact 14 volumes. You know me, I hate padding and stories that drag. Just when Kasane seems to have run its course, the author adds another layer, and then another. Her mother’s past comes to the fore. Twisted actions perpetuate more twisted behaviour, continuing the cycle of pain, desperation, and loneliness. Other characters become embroiled in this twisted secret and I had to force myself to stop each night.
The best writing has to be Kasane herself. She is both villain and tragic heroine of this tale. I feel both sorry for her and disgusted by her actions. Matsuura presents this deep character with a complex psychology and leaves it to us to agree or disagree with her.
The one area for improvement is in subplots. Kasane’s subplots bar one are quite bare. More subplots wouldn’t have gone amiss either, such as involving law enforcement and the wider world of acting. The story is a little too insular. That said, the main thread is excellent.
One other positive I want to touch on is the use of acting to reinforce the theme of one’s outward appearance contrasted with the inner self. The story wouldn’t have worked near as well to the theme if this centred on something other than acting. They could have had much the same story with an office job, but then you weaken the theme. Matsuura certainly knows a thing a two about acting, incorporating it neatly into Kasane’s plight (whenever an anime/manga involves acting, I fear another Glass Mask).
In the afterword of later volumes, there is mention of a Japanese film adaptation, so once done reading the series, I gave it a gander with one question in mind, “How will they pull off Kasane herself?” The film builds up to the face reveal (Kasane has lank black hair over her face all the time like in the manga) and I nearly died of disappointment. They went full “movie ugly”. The actress has pretty eyes, a perfect jawline, delicate cheekbones, and sculpted lips. A Joker-like scar from the corner of her mouth and up her cheek is all the ugliness she possesses. How are we to believe that Kasane could have such mental damage over her appearance (remember, she repulses everyone) when a bit of theatre makeup could cover a single scar? It undermines the essence that makes this a story. They should have hired the makeup artist from The Elephant Man. An anime adaptation with exaggerated art – preferably directed by Masaaki Yuasa – could do Kasane justice.
Art – High
Story – High
Recommendation: Read it. This tragic page-turner of a psychological drama is a hidden gem I recommend to all (except children).
(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)