Our “Starlight” — more Takarazuka influences in Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight

“Starlight. It’s the story of goddesses drawn by the glow of the heavens. We can fight and argue and disagree but there are ties that bind us together.

Yet, we may just as easily be pulled apart, never to meet again. It is a sad story.

The tale of those eight women captivates us.

The song of those eight women draws us in and compels us.

Let’s go to that stage. To that shining star together!”

-opening narration between Karen Aijou and Hikari Kagura, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 1

The opening moments of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight blur the line between an in-universe theatrical performance and a conversation between lead duo Karen Aijou and Hikari Kagura. Karen takes the lines that highlight similarities between the women. Hikari reminds her that this is a sad story. These women are fated to be pulled apart. It’s an introduction that encapsulates the Takarazuka Revue tradition from every angle.

Young Karen and Hikari take the position of two girls inspired by the performance to eventually apply to Seisho Music Academy to become actresses themselves. Their older, adolescent versions fill the two lead roles onstage. The lines they speak are supposedly from the play Starlight, but also reflect their respective outlooks, breaking the fourth wall a bit. Karen recognizes that their desires for the stage and the spotlight bring them together while Hikari is afraid that those same desires will irrevocably separate them.

Starlight is a framing device for everything that happens, or will happen, in Revue Starlight. Like Maya Tendou’s dominion over position zero as the top star, Starlight is another reminder of the Takarazuka status quo at Seisho Music Academy, presenting the competitive cycle that Karen aims to break. It also offers a way forward that breaks the cycle, especially in context.

“But it was completely amateurish. Next year, our performance has to be more polished. That’s why, for our three years here, we’re doing ‘Starlight.'”

-Junna Hoshimi, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 1

Following the cold open of Revue Starlight‘s premiere, the next mention of the Starlight play occurs when Junna Hoshimi hands out scripts at lunch in Episode 1. This scene establishes more context. Starlight is what the 99th troupe will perform every year, meaning that it’s a very popular play in the tradition of Revue Starlight. Its place in the 99th troupe’s training likely puts it at a similar position to iconic Takarazuka stages like Elisabeth — ai to shi no rondo (Elisabeth — rondo of love and death) and Rose of Versailles.

At this point, Rose of Versailles is in many ways synonymous with Takarazuka itself. Based on the Riyoko Ikeda manga, it follows the life of Oscar François de Jarjayes, a woman who was raised as a man by her father so that she could take his place as head of the royal guard. Not only did it cause a renewed interest in the Takarazuka Revue in the 1970s but it also helped solidify the otokoyaku and musumeyaku roles first seen in the revue’s Mon Paris. Lady Oscar was the perfect otokoyaku role. More importantly, Rose of Versailles was influential in establishing the top star system.

By contrast, Elisabeth has no leading male for the otokoyaku to play opposite the tragic Empress of Austria, Elisabeth. Her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I is not attentive and defaults to his mother in all things, making him ill-suited for an otokoyaku hero. Instead, there is an anthropomorphized figure of Death that the Takarazuka version adapts to be a romantic hero in the Takarazuka otokoyaku tradition.

Revue Starlight doesn’t strictly adhere to otokoyaku and musumeyaku roles, but hints at them throughout the series, especially with lead pairings like Maya Tendou — who has been established as the 99th troupe’s top star — and Claudine Saijou. We see them opposite each other in Starlight playing the two lead goddesses that are torn apart in their pursuit of a star together. There can only be one top star in the troupe, and in Starlight, there can only be one who captures the star. Despite this, Starlight also has trappings of Elisabeth, with no true male lead.

The tagline of Starlight is “And it shall be bestowed upon you, the Star which you have longed for.” Yet when that star is claimed by one of the leads, the other is struck by beams of red light and disappears while the other watches helplessly. In Hikari and Karen’s fantasy version that opens Episode 4, Hikari watches as sand falls through her fingers while Karen disappears. Moving platforms and transforming stages, along with the staircase promenade that acts as a Takarazuka Revue performance finale, are often designed to showcase the top star, who transcends their onstage performance with continuous appeal to the audience. This goes against the two leads of Starlight who want to grasp the star together — echoing Karen’s promise to stand onstage with Hikari as equals. It’s yet another frame of friction between the nine leading women in the 99th troupe who are pitted against each other in surreal revue duels but also show genuine affection and concern for each other.

In lieu of a dueling stage, Episode 4 gives us reconciliation between Hikari and Karen. When the two stand together, the “stage” of the episode is in a park beneath Tokyo Tower. They stand side-by-side as equals. The tower resembles the tower in Starlight that the two goddesses reach out towards, but instead of a perspective that shows how far away the star is, Hikari and Karen are elevated alongside the tower as a united pair. Unlike the Starlight stage where one of the goddesses vanishes on a moving platform, this scene reiterates that Hikari and Karen are standing on the same platform on the same stage.

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