“I’ve been there before so I understand what you’re going through Hanayagi-san. For those who pursue us and those who support us, we have the duty to become the very best versions of ourselves.”
-Maya Tendou to Kaoruko Hanayagi, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 6
Or, in defense of Kaoruko Hanayagi’s duel victory.
Kaoruko isn’t an easy person to like. She’s not supposed to be. Instead, she’s obviously spoiled, lazy, and manipulative. Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight ensures that, leading up to and throughout her focus episode, we as a viewing audience are just as frustrated with Kaoruko’s antics as her lifelong partner, Futaba Isurugi. Perhaps the series did too thorough of a job here, because I’ve seen a lot of pushback that Futaba, not Kaoruko, should have won Episode 6’s Revue of Promises in order to concretely put Kaoruko in her place. However, this would have taken a large amount of the nuance portrayed when it comes to Kaoruko and Futaba’s relationship. It’s fitting that Kaoruko won, even if she’s still as insufferable as ever to some.
“Kaoruko doesn’t seem to understand. This school isn’t the kind of place that let’s you waltz in as someone’s hanger-on.”
-Claudine Saijou to Futaba Isurugi, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 6
Futaba’s rise to one of the better students in the 99th troupe isn’t a shock. Her dedication and effort have been shown throughout previous episodes, most noticeably Episode 3, where she befriends Claudine Saijou. Claudine is in a similar situation as Futaba — trailing after someone who is naturally talented and has a stage pedigree in Maya Tendou. “This is Tendou Maya,” now a catchphrase for how Maya represents the Takarazuka status quo, is first uttered following Maya’s dominion of Claudine in the underground revue duels. Maya never lets up, and is always both a role model and an inspiration, not only for Claudine, but for everyone in the 99th troupe. She takes this role very seriously, going as far as to say that dreams aren’t something to have, but something to be exemplified. Maya is the dream and Claudine does her best to try to beat Maya. Both are shown working hard, long past class time, always going above and beyond what is required of them.
This effort extends to Futaba when Futaba realizes that the top star position is something that she wants to challenge Kaoruko for as a stage girl herself. Thus begins Futaba’s secret training with Claudine, including after-hours practices. By Episode 5, Mahiru Tsuyuzaki sees sparkles around Futaba, an indication that she is shining brightly with her own radiance.
Then we have Kaoruko. Kaoruko is a bit like Mahiru in that she’s the toast of her town growing up, although Kaoruko also inherits a dance style passed down through generations of her wealthy family. She’s used to being adored, especially by Futaba. The episode opens with their childhood promise. After Kaoruko threatens to leave because she’s tired of putting effort into her lessons and simply wants to be showered with praise, Futaba walks away, lamenting that she won’t be able to see Kaoruko’s dancing anymore. Kaoruko follows Futaba and makes her promise: Futaba will continue to be her number one fan, and in return, Kaoruko will show Futaba her true radiance first. There’s a bit to unpack here outside of a childish promise, but the main crux of this scene is that Futaba’s opinion matters more to Kaoruko than anyone else.
This includes Kaoruko’s family, who are presumably teaching her their dance style and preparing her to become the family heir, and the crowd of tourists taking pictures of Kaoruko’s dancing. When Kaoruko wants to further her education at Seisho Music Academy, it’s Futaba who she tells, and Futaba who she insists follow her. The entire world could dote on her, but Kaoruko would trade this for Futaba’s devotion.
“To think the day might come when my dear Futaba-han and I should be forced to cross swords! Well, if that does happen, do kindly let me win, won’t you?”
Kaoruko Hanayagi to Futaba Isurugi, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 4
Naturally, this should place Futaba in the role of “hanger-on.” We learn in Episode 6 that of all applicants, Futaba barely made the cutoff at 30. Futaba has had to work hard just to keep pace, and even harder to get ahead.
Yet, alongside Futaba’s improvement and development as a star in her own right, Kaoruko has stagnated. The “hanger-on” that Claudine references is none other than Kaoruko. In Episode 4, Kaoruko is confused as to why Futaba would enter the giraffe’s revue auditions, especially without telling her, underestimating Futaba’s dedication. This same episode, we see Hikari Kagura and Karen Aijou talk about their own relationship and childhood promise while Kaoruko threatens to rat them out in order to further her own standing. Kaoruko had already been painted as manipulative, but this firmly roots it in her own ambition, showcasing that she’ll figuratively dirty her hands to get ahead. It is, as they say, not a good look when paired with her general laziness.
A few further factors complicate matters more for both Kaoruko and Futaba. Revue Starlight‘s Starlight, which is used as a framing device on multiple occasions, only has eight roles. With the addition of Hikari to the group, there are nine stage girls vying for these positions and the inclusion of Nana Daiba in the auditions during Episode 6 indicates that she’ll still be competing for a spot, despite working on production as well (although there are many things about Banana that are still a mystery, and will likely be explored in Episode 7, which has her name as the title of the episode). This means that one of them will inevitably be left out of the production. Kaoruko’s dedication waxes so much that her audition is uninspired and she fails her first attempt.
Instead of seeing this as a problem of her own laziness, she looks outward, coyly asking Futaba to pick up the pieces for her before throwing a tantrum and threatening to leave, similar to the flashback shown at the beginning of the episode. Back then, Kaoruko immediately renewed her promise to dedicate herself to becoming a star, drawing on Futaba’s love as inspiration and motivation. Here, Kaoruko stubbornly sticks to her decision in an attempt to manipulate Futaba without recognizing Futaba’s own inspiration is Kaoruko herself, even after Maya spells it out for her.
Futaba and Kaoruko’s relationship is irrevocably tied to their respective ambition and desires. Kaoruko repeatedly makes the mistake of conflating Futaba’s desire to best her as a desire for Futaba to abandon their relationship — especially when Futaba relies on Claudine to help improve, drawing out Kaoruko’s jealousy — when the opposite is true. Futaba values their relationship so strongly in part because of Kaoruko’s initial dedication to becoming a star for Futaba.
This inevitably leads to the duel in question, where Futaba beats some sense into Kaoruko as they sing their feelings at each other. Kaoruko being Kaoruko relies on some underhanded tactics — threatening to remove her own button — but in her victory reaffirms her promise. Because of Futaba’s love for her, Kaoruko will continue to work towards becoming her best self, much like Maya does for Claudine. This is why Kaoruko had to win. It’s also why she could only win after finding herself again, in a direct attack dancing sequence with her naginata that reminds Futaba of her childhood dance performances.