First things first, the seven-episode series Mask Girl is rather slow-paced. This is a difficult thing to say since the storyline itself is so intriguing. The compartmentalization of the characters into different episodes makes creative sense, but it would have been far more gripping had the episodes been somewhat shorter, and this holds especially true for the first two of them. The third and sixth episodes are easily the most interesting ones, and the slower ones are worth sitting through.
Now that we have discussed the pacing at length, let us focus on what the series says. While it starts by discussing the politics of looks, it soon reveals that the person who wrote the script had no love or empathy for those who fail to meet the “standard of good looks” set by society. Each person in the series, be it the protagonist, the villain, her friends, or even the supporting characters, had to suffer in some form or another because of how they looked. But it is surprising to us that tragedy became the focal point of their lives. We understand if it was one person’s story, but bringing all of them under the same umbrella seems to convey the wrong intention. We would absolutely lose our minds if we came to know that after stigmatizing the business of looks this way, someone had said during the promotions that “beauty is more than skin deep”. The message, intention, or even imagination of the writer seems especially concerning since Mask Girl is indeed an entertaining series.
Now that this is out of the way, it is a good time to mention the few things that the show gets right about lookism (not the manga). The way their invisibility, the needless unkindness, and even the assumption of their personality are portrayed is rather skillful. There is a particular scene where a man takes the girl to a hotel, and he is angry with her when she doesn’t want to be with him. In his words, she should not have preferences since her “looks place her at the bottom of the ladder anyway”. His anger and disappointment are not due to the rejection by a girl but due to the rejection by someone he considers beneath him, and that is a startling reality of society and a very insidious facet of dating in general that was discussed here. We also appreciate how the series brought out that the struggles of men and women do not become the same despite the cause of their problems being similar.
While one objectifies herself for the validation, the other objectifies someone else for his sense of confidence and companionship. For a while there, we had really considered whether Joo Oh Nam and Kim Mo Mi might make a good pair, but when we saw his perverse entitlement over the woman he claimed to love, a quality very unique to men and the exact thing that makes them ignore the concept of consent, we couldn’t help but root for whatever Mo Mi chose to do next. We suppose that the writers used each character to represent individual problems that arise when one doesn’t match up to society’s standards of good looks. For example, Mo Mi could not have the attention of the person she wanted; Yu Chan was lonely; Kyung Ja had to lead an especially tough life; and Oh Nam suffered from a lack of confidence and, hence, any possible education of boundaries.
We don’t disagree with any of these, but we wish that tragedy hadn’t been so coded into these characters. It became as if none of them ever learned to live and enjoy the world beyond the limitations imposed by their looks. But if seen from a different perspective, maybe the point of the stories of Mask Girl was to make people question things. Take the discussion of plastic surgery, for example, that the series brings up fairly often. Society has a way of ridiculing plastic surgery, as if it is the recipient’s fault for not being confident in their looks, even though it is the others, the very people turning their noses up at them, who made them feel bad about themselves. Spoiler alert: Mo Mi was called a “plastic surgery addict” a few times in the series, but no one called the rest of the world a “beauty bullying addict”. Who should really be blamed here?
But once Mask Girl raises these questions and makes us think about them, it moves to the thrilling part of the narrative, which certainly makes our hair stand on end in anticipation of what is happening and what will come next. We are talking about the last two episodes in particular, which is when we realize the actual limits of the characters. But despite the very relevant stories that Mask Girl tells us, its pacing continues to be a thorn in our side. We cannot think of a single moment that should be excluded from the series, yet its slow pace is insufferable at times and takes away from the creeping effect of the plot. We don’t know how it can be fixed, but if a second season were to be released, maybe the creative minds behind the show could come up with a solution.
Mask Girl is based on a manga that ran for three years between 2015 and 2018. We have not read that, so our opinions are based solely on what we have seen on the screen. This is not white noise or a light-hearted kind of show. It is one where you must seek out discussions regarding the events after you are done watching it. It is written in a way that makes you think, despite its avoidance of preachy behavior. Maybe the extremes, as depicted in Mask Girl, were necessary to be portrayed the way they were because otherwise, we may have ignored it as yet another tokenistic moral piece of content that doesn’t ask the hard questions. Mask Girl should be watched by everyone, even though it would require you to bring all your patience to the couch before you start it.