Shojo manga is a much more interesting little field than you'd first think. Along with all the romance works and reverse harems, there are some really creative premises you would never truly see in any other demographic. P.A (or Private Actress) is a great example of this, an older series from the still working Michiyo Akaishi that trades out the usual tropes for drama based around a main character that acts out various different roles for different people. It works much better than you'd first expect.

The series follows Shiho Kobayakawa, a high school student and the product of an affair between two famous actors, which has caused her life and existence to be a bit secretive. Instead of being a real actress at the cost of her mother's reputation, she instead works as a private actress, a special actress that performs roles in real life for a fee. They can range from simply being arm candy for someone trying to prove something, or pretending to be a deceased person for the sake of the employer. Needless to say, it's a dangerous profession at times, but Shiho keeps doing it for the experiences her work brings her.

P.A is a very episodic work, but that's when it works best. Each job carries a different theme or message to it, but they're all memorable in some way. They also get surprisingly creative, including a fake wedding and pretending to be the dead wife for a man who's imagining that he's seeing said woman's ghost everywhere he goes. There's also a common occurrence of a story swerving in a new direction and keeping things gripping. Each story is divided into three categories; thriller, drama, and plot. Thriller chapters have a mystery to them and put Shiho's life in danger. Drama chapters deal more with relationships and Shiho learning something new from the people around her. Plot chapters move along the main plot with Shiho's family issues and dream to be an actress, and these are usually the weaker parts of the series.

Shiho's family drama is interesting, but the resolution of it is rather dull. The final few chapters begin to fall a tad flat as everything is tied up a little too neatly, and the story keeps things centered around Shiho, resulting in very little development for the people around her. They are all likable characters, but their arcs are handled completely off page. The final chapters spice things up with a main villain brought back from an earlier chapter, which I like, but the conclusion is a bit farfetched, even for some of the overly dramatic moments used in previous stories. It seems too contrived a solution to reach the happy ending, and said happy ending wasn't built up quite enough. It feels like a few more chapters were necessary for this series to come together.

Despite those issues, the episodic stories are all strong. Each conflict has an emotional core to it that's somewhat relatable, not afraid to cast certain characters in unlikable light, realizing just how much hate and selfishness is apart of human nature and using it fully. While some characters are outright villains, others are more complex. There's a solid balance, and the series keeps a very optimistic tone to it the whole way. Shiho's real strength is her empathy, allowing her to understand others and figure out the answers to their problems, and she always comes out learning something new in some way. The first chapter gets things on the right foot with a job to give a dying man peace of mind by pretending to be his dead daughter, and every following non-plot chapter works with similarly powerful premises. The art style fits these emotional stories, with simple borders, lots of soft shading, and some striking expressions. There's a bit of shojo eye going on, where closed eyes look like some sort of weird alien eye, but it doesn't come up too much. Also, everyone looks ridiculously pretty, as to be expected from the style. I was surprised by how many characters look distinct, but there is the occasional sameface for smaller characters (especially on guys).

Shiho is really what makes the series work so well. The series is entirely from her mind and perspective for most every chapter, so we always have an idea of what she's thinking. It helps to inform to the audience of what emotional drama is occurring in a scene, as to what her own thoughts are. This really shows how human Shiho is; she's strong and caring, but she also has limits on her patience and doesn't take things lying down. She even has complex feelings when she gets in a relationship, along with conflicting feelings about the situation with her parents. It helps make her come off as a person of depth and someone you can identify with somewhat, and it really sells her acting talent. The art helps as well, giving her a lot of powerful stares and warm smiles at different moments that almost sell her as a completely different character.

P.A isn't perfect, but it's lovely while it lasts. The lovely art and stories make up for the later chapters rushing to wrap up loose ends and losing some of the emotional core that made the series so enjoyable in the first place. Shiho is easily one of my favorite heroines now, and it really got me interested in reading the rest of Akaishi's work. If you want something with some warmth and excitement, this is a great series to check out.


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