Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight and the Mystery of Daiba Nana (Part 2, more Takarazuka criticism)

Nana “Banana” Daiba is tall.

She is talented.

The series makes a point to show her high up in the revue duel standings — third, behind Claudine Saijou and Maya Tendou. It’s a clear message that she should be one of the trainees to beat. Not only is she diligent, but she has natural advantages that other trainees don’t have. Only tall young women have a chance at becoming otokoyaku. In the strict Takarazka Revue tradition, only otokoyaku can become a top star.

Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight is concerned with challenging the Takarazuka system and pressures that come with it. Karen Aijou and Hikari Kagura’s promise to stand on the same stage together is the first step in this direction. Seisho Music Academy’s framing device of the play Starlight is another: it sets up the status quo to be challenged.

Two young women try to grasp a star at the same time. One of them is struck down while the other lives. Even if they want to share it, or claim it together, they cannot. “And it shall be bestowed upon you, the Star which you have longed for.” is Starlight‘s tagline, but the words are a poison. Once that star is bestowed, solitude follows. Only one person can claim position zero.

Only one stage girl can become top star.

There was always something a bit off about Banana.

Why was it that she was never shown participating in the duels (outside of the opening song and animation sequence) yet still earned third when the rankings were shown? Banana’s natural height advantage alone should make her direct competition for Maya, yet she joins the production crew for this latest iteration of Starlight. While on the production crew, she firmly insists on preserving last year’s iteration, balking at her peers’ suggestion to consider Karen and Hikari as the two leads. She also tries out for a position herself, as shown in Episode 6 when Kaoruko Hanayagi fails her first audition. With only eight roles in Starlight and nine total trainees, it seemed for a time that Banana might step back into production to allow Hikari to take her spot on the stage, especially given the more motherly facets of her personality — Banana seems like she just wants everyone to get along.

Maya asks her what we’ve been wondering all along. Why doesn’t she try harder to be at the top?

Episode 7, “Daiba Nana,” breaks that idea wide open.

This Episode 7 reveal and dreamy symbolism — on par with Himari Takakura’s dream journey in Mawaru Penguindrum Episode 9 “A World of Ice” — was foreshadowed throughout the rest of Revue Starlight. It’s likely not a coincidence that Revue Starlight director Tomohiro Furukawa, who worked on Penguindrum, chose a similar vehicle to show how Banana herself is frozen.

First, there is Banana’s aforementioned height which, it cannot be stressed enough, puts her at a natural advantage above all of her peers in Takarazuka tradition. We learn that she is towards the top of the standings despite never seeing her fight. Mahiru Tsuyuzaki’s episode further backs this up, as Banana is conspicuously absent in the duels that Mahiru crashes through and never receives the “radiance” filter denoted by sparkles that only Mahiru can see around her peers who are shining on their own. Banana seems happy. Why is she not shining? 

When with her classmates, Banana sees everything through the lens of her phone. She uses it to capture everything. Both candid and posed photos make up her extensive camera roll, which frame anything from dance class lessons to the Starlight afterparty.

Pictures are important to Banana. As early as the first episode, we see that her desk is crowded with photographs of last year’s Starlight production. She uses these to hold on the feelings she had while onstage during Starlight. She doesn’t want to let that go. One of the more poignant visual transitions was Banana lying on her back, looking up at her phone at this image of Starlight, which she also has on her desk. Her phone is her lens to the world and all she can see is her first iteration of Starlight. This is what she sees in front of her — a moment frozen in time from her first experience in the production. Then the giraffe calls for the revue.

Where Maya’s stage was used to establish the Takarazuka status quo, no one enforces the series status quo more than Banana. She fights to keep everything exactly the same, reliving Starlight over and over again so she can experience the exact same rush of joy that comes from being appreciated and loved by her peers. Banana cannot, even after countless iterations of the same Starlight stage, imagine a stage that shines more brightly than Starlight. Her initial banana muffins at the afterparty may have come from the goodness of her heart, but they also came with a desire to be depended on and loved. The giraffe secures her participation in the duels not because she wants the top star position — she rejects it outright — but because she wants to return to the same exact stage against the wills of her peers.

This too, was shown in previous episodes. Banana dotes on her classmates with food. She preens at Karen’s “Bananice!” exclamation in Episode 4. When she swaps to the production side of Starlight, she’s all too happy with the attention carting around her box of candy bribes with notes from her classmates. And, when Hikari is closed off to her food offerings, she continues to pursue Hikari in an effort to make Hikari love her as well.

Unlike Maya, Banana doesn’t want her peers to fear her as a top star or see her as a dream like a theater attendee or fan would. Instead, Banana wants them to love her, albeit in a toxic dependency. She convinces herself that she’s saving them from heartbreak, rejection, and the struggle that comes with moving forward — until Hikari arrives, throwing a wrench (or knife) in her plans.

Takarazuka training is a grueling, often heartbreaking, process that already involves reliving the same story onstage. Starlight‘s place as the play that the 99th troupe performs every year likely puts it in the same category as Takarazuka favorites like Rose of Versailles.

Throughout Banana’s titular episode, we see Starlight weighing on her visually. The posters that were once simple reminders of Starlight as a framing device become oppressive, appearing across multiple scenes in the school.

The scenery of Starlight, including a tower for the star that mirrors the giraffe’s underground revue tower that houses the top star tiara, falls behind her and casts shadows over her face. The top star belongs to Banana, and the tower has fallen behind her, almost visually crowning her as the top star, but Banana looks pained and unhappy. Earning the top star position makes her want to go back, not move forward. There is no struggle and strife when history simply repeats itself unchanging. When a Takarazuka otokoyaku becomes top star, there is nowhere else to go.

Banana’s actions are yet another criticism of the isolating position that a top star faces, especially after such a competitive training period. It’s also a bit of a critique on automatic physical preferences that exist. In Banana, we’re given someone who by all means should be a top star after she graduates from being a trainee through her visuals alone, but has forcibly paused her life in order to not face those challenges that come with graduation. Despite all of her natural advantages, Banana is not fit to be a top star in the Takarazuka tradition even when she wins the position, and this is the only way she knows to keep things as is with her friends and peers. While Karen searches for a solution outside of the system to allow her and Hikari to stand together, Banana uses the existing system to freeze time.

Unfortunately for Banana, her time is up. Hikari’s arrival — as Banana saw on the dreamlike revue stage — is a harbinger of change. Time moves forward. She upsets Banana’s status quo and the entire system. There are now nine young women vying for eight positions and unless Karen and Hikari truly break the system, one of them will be left out.

Scrambling, Banana joins the production crew, likely in an effort to maintain Starlight with the same actresses in the same roles of the previous year. Yet here too, she receives pushback from her peers. Everyone is now moving forward. The episodes leading up to this one were character episodes, but they also provide an excellent backdrop for how Banana’s peers — Futaba, Mahiru, Karen — are all moving forward and improving to find their own place on the stage.

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