Welcome to the world of Shoujo☆Kageki Revue Starlight! I’m happy to have you guys with me on a series I’ve been excited to watch for roughly a year now, since the first PV appeared. Coming to us from animation studio Kinema Circus, Starlight is a mixed-media project courtesy of Bushiroad, the folks behind Cardfight Vanguard and New Japan Pro Wrestling. You can’t say they’re not varied in the properties they take on.
Starlight focuses on a form of Takarazuka, an all-women musical theater troupe in Japan. Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m a life-long Takarazuka fan—I’d never heard of it, this show just scratched a unique itch and I had to check it out. For more on the subject however, there’s a fascinating Twitter thread that informs a lot of the stuff this series is making commentary on.
In any case, the primary director for Kageki Starlight is Tomohiro Furukawa. Furukawa has been involved as a Key Animator and Assistant Director for a lot of projects, but what I want to focus on here is Senki Zesshou Symphogear. Symphogear is basically Nanoha if you cranked up the drama and added musical performances to the action scenes. And Nanoha is basically Sailor Moon if you placed the girls in armor outfits and made the fight scenes more shonen-esque. Along those lines, Starlight appears to be Symphogear if the drama remained the same, the action sequences were less ridiculous (but even more beautifully and animated) and the song performances became a centerpiece of the show. So with a love in my heart for intense, action-focused fights between hot-blooded women characters, as well as a love for song and musical theater, I couldn’t help jumping in. Speaking of, let’s get started!
1. I’ve seen a lot of people claim that the opening half of Starlight is a bit of a drag, but I disagree. While it could have been sped up a little, I feel like the majority of the first half sets up the dynamic As It Was before we reach the point where Everything Changes. Karen Aijo is a girl who became captivated by the musical “Starlight” as a child, and vowed to become a star who was able to stand on that stage alongside her childhood friend, Hikari Kagura.
Time’s passed and Karen’s now a teenager, and while she’s continued on her path to be a star, she’s also allowed herself to drift. She’s talented, but she’s allowed herself to become “satisfied” with her direction in life, and we see that in the first half of this episode—there’s a kind of relaxed laziness that comes with being comfortable, that comes with patterns, and the show presents us with those patterns so that we can get comfortable as well before things get…weird.
But even at the start of this episode we’re already pulling her from her usual pattern, as she’s forced to “lead” the class, opening the dance practice hall which makes her get up and start practicing earlier than everyone else in the class.
2. To be completely clear—it’s not that Karen isn’t skilled. Seisho Music Academy is described as a place which grooms the next level of theatrical talent, where young women learn singing, drama, multiple styles of dancing and formal speaking on top of their usual school work. This is a place where you couldn’t even exist if you weren’t already talented…but what this show is focusing on is the difference between wanting something and “needing” it.
That’s why when they start prepping for the next year’s festival, she’s just fine with assuming the top two girls of the class—Tendou Maya and Claudine Saijo—will take the lead roles. She’s even surprised they’re practicing a year before the festival starts, and has just accepted not being on the same level as the top girls despite her promise to Hikari. Speaking of…
3. As of right now, Hikari’s something of a “be careful what you wish for” scenario. Though Karen’s gotten a little complacent, she’s never forgotten the promise she made with her old friend—she’s even daydreaming about it when her teacher suddenly introduces Hikari to the class as a transfer student!
Though you’d expect a bit of weirdness between the two, in the years since they last saw one another Hikari’s become quiet and distant. She barely speaks, and seems to prefer being alone more than anything—when Karen’s current roommate Mahiru objects to Hikari staying with them, Hikari’s all too happy to ignore the both of them and take a room of her own, alone. The only thing we know is that she’s spent a lot of time training at top schools outside of the country, and we’re not really sure what’s made her so distant, at least…not at first.
4. Here’s where things get off the rails. Because Karen’s turned into a stalker now that she has her friend back, she happens to see Hikari running off towards the school. She follows her, only to find the school now has a…secret elevator that absolutely did not exist before, and when she takes it, she finds something completely unexpected: Hikari and her classmate Junna on a massive stage…while a strange…talking giraffe overlooks them both, talking about how this is the first day of auditions for the Revue, and an attempt to find out who will become the Top Star.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the very obvious references to Revolutionary Girl Utena here, and that tracks since director Furukawa worked with Utena creator Ikuhara Kunihiko on another of Kunihiko’s projects, Penguindrum.
Though they claim this part is the audition, it’s no coincidence that the first half of the episode featured training in order to prepare for the performance. Everything the girls have been doing up to this point comes together—their ability to sing, the drama, their…battle skills? At the same time, the giraffe talks in no uncertain terms about what it is to seek the position of Top Star: “They are desperate, aren’t they? That’s why they are “Stage Girls”. The normal happiness, the pleasures of a young girl, all burned away to aim for a distant twinkling…That is a Stage Girl!”
This show is very much about what these girls have to give up in heart, soul, and body in order to reach the goal they’ve been aiming for. And on that note…
5. This week’s performance is the Revue of Passion. So let’s talk about what’s happening in this song/fight scene—despite Hikari’s obvious display of talent during all the practice sessions, she gets absolutely stomped by Junna here. It doesn’t help that Junna’s using a long-range bow and arrow while Hikari’s stuck with pocket knife, but don’t get hung up on that.
Instead, it’s worth nothing something that Tendou Maya says about Hikari earlier in the episode, just before the fight: “That girl…I can’t see her heart.” Hikari’s “passion” for the stage is brought into question here. Now once again, there’s a difference between the passion any one of these girls has and the passion of say…a screenwriter who spends his day off at Starbucks without ever getting anything done. All of these girls are passionate—but there are levels to everything, and Hikari seems to lack the same exceeding passion Junna does.
That’s also why Karen pops up and blows Junna away. The giraffe over the Revue points out all her flaws–outright telling her (and the audience) that she isn’t capable of competing on this stage with them, but it doesn’t matter. None of it stops her from diving right off the head of the freaking giraffe what looks like at least a hundred feet down, right into the stage of battle…and immediately being transformed into a Stage Girl.
She pops down with ease, and takes Junna’s cloak, which ends the battle, in a matter of seconds. Because while Hikari seems to have kept her dream alive as a matter of duty, Karen has kept their dream because she wants to stand on the stage with Hikari that much. Her passion is dazzling in a way that she wins a battle she wasn’t even a part of. And in doing so she becomes the first girl of the 99th class to take Position Zero, that of the Top Star. But can she keep it up?
Let’s find out in the next episode!
Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight is available for streaming on HI-DIVE.