Throughout all of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, we never see Claudine Saijou’s dueling stage. There are glimpses of it when Mahiru Tsuyuzaki’s performance crashes through several other revues, but Claudine doesn’t introduce her stage. She doesn’t receive a standalone episode — for all of the talk that the show does Mahiru dirty, at least she receives her own spotlight episode and somewhat cathartic revue — and is all too often shown in relief to Maya Tendou. Even when Claudine is separate from Maya, her dedication to becoming a stage girl is irrevocably tied to Maya or she is put in a position to support someone else (namely Futaba Isurugi after Futaba fights with Kaoruko Hanayagi).
None of this is a coincidence and it all revolves around critiquing the Takarazuka Revue.
Although the young women of Seisho Music Academy are not separated into otokoyaku (Takarasiennes who only play male characters) and musumeyaku (Takarasiennes who only play female characters) roles, Revue Starlight plays with these strict Takarazuka norms, pairing off most of the stage girls with one taking more of an otokoyaku role and the other as their musumeyaku. Maya and Claudine are the pair to beat with Maya taking the top star position in the 99th troupe and Claudine supporting her in a musumeyaku-like role. The series reiterates this visually several times, especially when Maya establishes herself as the troupe’s default leading lady in the Episode 3, aptly titled “Top Star.”
Thus far, Revue Starlight has been highly critical of the top star system, and it uses various pairings to point out flaws in the strict societal expectations of the young women who embody these roles. Whether it’s Futaba’s inability to become an otokoyaku due to her height — in the end, she returns to a support role beside Kaoruko — despite her natural boyish look, or Nana “Banana” Daiba rejecting the entire system despite every physical advantage, the series aims to highlight some of the major problems inherent with the top star system.
Futaba and Kaoruko are particularly interesting cases, firstly because they’re in a committed relationship, which would be strictly taboo were they true Takarazuka trainees. There’s also the aforementioned problem that Kaoruko, by all accounts, would be the more dreamy, feminine musumeyaku, but takes the lead on nearly everything while Futaba acquiesces. When Futaba tries to break out and take the lead, she ends up returning to her normal role at Kaoruko’s side following their revue duel, where Kaoruko eventually emerges victorious despite Futaba’s best effort. That is the system, returning everything to the status quo via these underground duels. Regardless of the trainees’ best efforts to break the cycle, the Takarazuka norms inevitably return everything to . This is particularly true in Episode 10, “Nevertheless, the Show Must Go On,” where Hikari turns on Karen to presumably claim the top star position for herself (more on this in a later post).
The separation of roles into otokoyaku and musumeyaku was part of why the Takarazuka Revue’s success skyrocketed. A more defined line between the two coincided with a new, significantly larger theatre and the progression of modern technology like portable microphones. All of this led to larger audiences who saw this new otokoyaku which portrayed an idealized type of man that bordered both sexes and had infinite appeal for young women attending Takarazuka performances.
Before this, it was the musumeyaku who was more of a headlining presence. Musumeyaku were also held to stricter singing standards, and those standards did not change even with the evolution of the otokoyaku and the top star system, which left musumeyaku completely out of the picture. Every musumeyaku was partnered with an otokoyaku and their performance tailored to support their otokoyaku at all costs.
More importantly, in order for the otokoyaku to effectively become a man, the feminine performance of the musumeyaku had to support this idea, not only covering for their partner’s mistakes when necessary, but being the perfect feminine foil so the otokoyaku’s masculine performance would stand out more in relief. The musumeyaku has to embody this, all while taking care not to skew too much into a romantic interest, so that young women in the audience can still imagine themselves in the arms of their favorite otokoyaku top star. Furthermore, they cannot achieve top star themselves, and must ensure that their talents do not outshine those of their otokoyaku partner. If their otokoyaku partner does become top star, the otokoyaku will have a few years in the spotlight before retirement. Top stars shine for a limited amount of time. Musumeyaku paired with a top star will sometimes retire at the same time, so the two exit the stage as a pair.
It’s easy to see how, especially for a talented musumeyaku whose natural aptitude might outpace that of their otokoyaku in singing, this would become extremely frustrating for a young woman even in a top musumeyaku position. Top star is still out of her reach, regardless of talent, and her performances are in service of the otokoyaku ideal. Musumeyakus that don’t adhere to these principles still may find roles, but aren’t likely to be paired with the top star, and will also earn a reputation for being egotistical or difficult.
With that in mind, let’s take another look at Revue Starlight‘s Claudine Saijou and Maya Tendou.
Maya and Claudine appear the perfect otokoyaku and musumeyaku pair. There’s been a lot of talk as to why Maya, the default top star of the 99th troupe, was not made a focal point like Banana, who received what was effectively a three-episode narrative arc about how she tried to eschew the top star system, freezing time with her revue stage success.
While Maya is a force, a thoroughbred and prodigious stage girl, as Claudine calls her, Maya also leans heavily into the system itself. She doesn’t fight it, she conquers it, using traditional avenues to sit at the top. Unlike Karen or even Banana, Maya doesn’t seem to want to destroy the system. She follows the rules, and her natural ability, physique, and hard work propel her to the top. This is why Maya’s defining revue stage — her Episode 3 victory over Karen — uses the traditional Takarazuka staircase, typically a finishing stage that features a promenade specifically designed to showcase the top star. It’s also why mirror ball lighting (another Takarazuka finale staple) appears above her and Claudine in their revue duet — these two are the de facto otokoyaku and musumeyaku partnership.
In Episode 10, we learn that it was Claudine who first reached out to Maya, inadvertently announcing her candidacy as Maya’s musumeyaku partner. While helping Maya stretch, Claudine vows to take the top star position for herself, despite Revue Starlight reiterating that, as Maya’s musumeyaku, she cannot.
Yet, this is the episode where we learn that Claudine, like Maya, is another trainee who leans into the system, rather than truly aiming to break it.
The final revue duel turns out to be a duet, with both otokoyaku candidates in Maya and Hikari asked to choose their partners. Although the giraffe asks Maya who she’ll choose, she throws her button towards a waiting Claudine without hesitation or question. Maya doesn’t ask Claudine. She states, “I’m sure you’re ready.” To which Claudine replies “Yes.” in her native French. They are a pair and a partnership and affirm as much while fighting.
When Claudine and Maya are overpowered by Karen and Hikari, it’s Claudine who immediately steps forward to take the fall for Maya. Ripping her button off of her cape, Claudine exclaims that it was her fault, that Maya hasn’t lost to anyone. This makes her the perfect musumeyaku, covering for the failures of either the otokoyaku or their partnership. Claudine is affecting and emotional, insisting that Maya remains undefeated. Her defense is impassioned and also genuine — she truly believes that Maya cannot lose.
Maya, who for the most part has shown her affection in small gestures, steps forward with her own commanding speech that both reaffirms and reinforces their roles. With Claudine, Maya says, she can go even higher. Most importantly, she says this all in Claudine’s native French and calls her my Claudine, returning Claudine’s feelings and cementing their commitment to each other moving forward.