Tomohiro Furukawa’s overarching direction of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight is an interesting cycle of influence. Furukawa worked alongside Kunihiko Ikuhara on Mawaru Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma Arashi. Ikuhara’s directorial flair has clearly inspired a lot in Revue Starlight, especially in the mechanical transformation sequence that transitions Karen Aijou from Seisho Music Academy to a surreal underground dueling stage
Yet, Ikuhara was influenced by the Takarazuka Revue itself: the main subject of Revue Starlight. He also drew inspiration from Takarazuka-influenced anime and directors like Rose of Versailles and Osamu Dezaki. Rose of Versailles in and of itself is often synonymous with the Takarazuka Revue, and helped cement its top star system — the same system that is under scrutiny and criticism in Revue Starlight. Furthermore, Revue Starlight isn’t just an anime project, it’s a multimedia project that includes a stage play directed by former Takarazuka actress and director Kodama Akiko.
No other episode showcases this cycle of influences better than Episode 5, “Where Radiance Resides.”
“Where Radiance Resides” is Mahiru Tsuyuzaki’s episode. In it, she continues in the tradition of Ikuhara’s Nanami Kiryuu (Revolutionary Girl Utena), Ringo Oginome (Mawaru Penguindrum), and Lulu Yurigasaki (Yuri Kuma Arashi) by expressing her extreme jealousy in comedic and repetitive ways that always backfire on her. These comedic theatrics too could be ascribed to the influence of Takarazuka stages on Ikuhara — certain Takarazuka performances are routinely fourth-wall breaking, especially in service of enhancing an emotional narrative or simply showcasing the top star to an eager audience — which he has turned into a more specific style of comedic anime episode that, at first glance, doesn’t fit with the rest of the series. Furukawa takes this blueprint and runs with it in Revue Starlight, bringing everything full circle to the original Takarazuka trappings.
The repetition starts with a pent-up Mahiru smelling Karen’s things and then being caught by her romantic rival, Hikari Kagura before throwing away the object in anger. In their dormitory room, it’s a pillow that Mahiru sniffs without realizing that Hikari is still in the room. She screams and throws the pillow at the door as Hikari walks out. In class, it’s a towel that Mahiru gives to Karen for her sweat. Mahiru stares at the towel in awe without knowing Hikari is behind her. As Hikari walks away, Mahiru screams and throws the towel on the ground. Later, Hikari catches Mahiru about to drink from Karen’s water bottle for an indirect kiss. Once Hikari makes her presence known Mahiru screams and drops it to the floor. Every time Mahiru tries in an indirect way to get closer to Karen, Hikari “interferes,” further highlighting Hikari as the only obstacle that Mahiru sees between her and Karen.
Another visual device that draws attention throughout the episode is a series of glittering sparkles that look like glass fragments. Unlike the purple spots of light found in every episode that represent the revue’s top star tiara, these are specific to Mahiru’s feelings, not only towards Karen but about herself. Like Lulu’s bee that follows her around in Yuri Kuma Arashi Episode 4, or the stars and mosquitoes that interact and break the fourth wall with Ringo in Penguindrum, the sparkles are tied to Mahiru’s jealousy and attraction. This too can be another trapping from Takarazuka, where part of the splendor of their performances relies on slight nods of acknowledgment from the top star to the audience.
They first radiate from Karen while the two are backstage at last year’s Starlight performance. Mahiru is struck by them when Karen smiles. Later, Mahiru wakes up only to find that Karen has already left with Hikari. When she sees Karen at the studio, she’s once again struck by the sparkles that radiate from Karen and surround her.
Sparkles appear not only around Karen, but around Hikari when the two are together. At one point, Mahiru imagines Karen in the position of the top star tiara atop Tokyo Tower, bestowing sparkles onto Hikari beneath her. Hikari catches almost all of them in a net, keeping them from Mahiru who is waiting for scraps below. She’s jealous that Karen is shining for Hikari.
The most telling scene is that Mahiru doesn’t just imagine the sparkles around Karen, she sees them while looking at classmates Futaba Isurugi and Claudine Saijou while they practice scenes. Mahiru’s sparkles don’t just represent her love for Karen, or her jealousy towards Hikari. Yes, she’s jealous of Hikari’s time with Karen, and wants Karen to recognize her feelings. Yet, Mahiru hasn’t actually voiced those feelings, nor has she been honest with herself about her own jealousy. Mahiru is also jealous of Karen, and her other classmates, for their talent. Karen’s talk with Hikari at Tokyo Tower renewed their promise and Karen’s purpose as a stage girl, which is why Karen is shining so much. By contrast, Mahiru has seemingly been trailing in Karen’s wake, unable to figure out what kind of stage girl she wants to be for herself, Mahiru Tsuyuzaki, lacking the same radiance.
We also see into Mahiru’s head via cardboard cutout puppetry during her dueling stage, the aptly titled “Revue of Jealousy.” Mahiru acts alongside the characters, changing demeanors when she’s acting as herself or Karen. Her representation of Karen as a cool, collected guide for Mahiru confuses Karen herself, who at one point asks, “That’s . . . me?” The puppets represent an idealized version of events that doesn’t accurately reflect reality, but what is going on inside Mahiru’s mind. Mahiru then chases Karen, continuously teeing off against her in a bizarre baseball setup.
The sparkles appear here too, but they’re false. They come from a basket and are meant to be used as a stage prop for Mahiru’s puppet performance. When she talks about herself finding radiance with Karen, she throws them at Karen but visibly isn’t giving them off herself since she hasn’t accepted her own feelings.
Mahiru’s dueling stage also breaks pre-established rules of the revue duels. Where other duels have been secluded from each other even as they occur simultaneously, Mahiru’s interrupts every other concurrent duel as she chases Karen alongside a cat laying lime lines for a baseball diamond. Her setup is also very silly and comedic, especially when compared to the bombast of Maya Tendou or the heartfelt personal touches of Junna Hoshimi’s ruins. Mahiru’s weapon is a wand, which she uses as a baseball bat or club, bludgeoning things directly in contrast to how she hides her own feelings. It suggests that Mahiru still doesn’t recognize what she wants, and her jealousy is further clouding her judgment.
Karen pulls her out of this by telling Mahiru that she’s already shining as a stage girl who is warm, kind, and enthusiastic.
As champion of her sleepy Hokkaido town, Mahiru was the center of attention and the star of the town before she was attended Seisho Music Academy. In this episode, we see a shy Mahiru in a local news segment about her acceptance to the prestigious academy, calling to mind just how difficult it is to get into the real-life Takarazuka Music School. Mahiru goes from being a big fish in a small pond, to a small fish in the ocean that is Seisho Music Academy, with top-tier talent like Maya Tendou. This causes Mahiru to lose her way a bit and forget what kind of stage girl she wanted to be for herself.
It’s no accident that Mahiru is framed by the news channel overlay and a boom microphone that encroaches on the shot. Normally that would be removed for television, but the shy, unsure Mahiru still isn’t prepared for this much attention. The scene is awkward and the microphone along with the interviewer and Mahiru’s classmates trap her on a makeshift stage in front of her school.
Returning to the sparkles, the first time Mahiru sparkles in this episode, it’s her past self when she is asked by the interviewer to describe what kind of stage girl she wants to be. Her answer, revealed after she loses to Karen in the revue duel, echoes Karen’s words about what kind of stage girl Mahiru is: someone who is kind.
This leads to Mahiru finally shining for herself. The sparkles envelop Mahiru as she’s surrounded by her friends, eating food from her hometown. As a final touch, one of the sparkles taps her baton on her bed as a reminder of Mahiru’s path to becoming a stage girl.
Excellent, excellent write up. This episode was fantastic in so many ways. The way it paid off what we’ve seen of Mahiru’s feelings, while not punishing her for those feelings.