Hikari Kagura’s purported Episode 10 betrayal of childhood friend Karen Aijou is shown in Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight‘s first episode. Not foreshadowed, straight up shown, albeit in a dream. From the opening moments of the first episode — when various members of the class introduce themselves around position zero — to the revue duet and Hikari’s rumored heel turn, Karen and Hikari’s relationship is laid out for us visually via cinematography and staging. Hikari’s actions in Episode 10 aren’t shocking, especially with the road she (and Karen) traveled to that final dueling stage.
Once again, it has a lot to do with the series’ incisive look at the Takarazuka Revue.
(The following post will quickly review but also assume knowledge of the sacrifices a musumeyaku is expected to make for their otokoyaku partner in Takarazuka, which was covered in part one of this week’s Revue Starlight coverage.)
Revue Starlight doesn’t strictly separate the Seisho Music Academy trainees into otokoyaku and musumeyaku like they would at the Takarazuka school, but the major players are naturally sorted into pairs and partnerships and the series plays with these expectations and relationships from there. Maya Tendou and Claudine Saijou are the default, and strictest representation of an otokoyaku top star and her musumeyaku partner. Both have been shown to think within the top star system rather than reaching outside of it, which eventually leads to their defeat at the hands of Hikari and Karen.
Other pairs, like Kaoruko Hanayagi and Futaba Isurugi, showcase a different partnership where they swap expected roles — the feminine-looking Kaoruko takes the lead emotionally with Futaba as the more supportive partner despite her otokoyaku look.
Karen has been shown as an otokoyaku or a musumeyaku depending on her partner of the moment. This is a purposeful distinction by Revue Starlight that begins with specific visual choices in Episode 1 that are revisited or bookended in later episodes.
When Karen and her roommate Mahiru Tsuyuzaki arrive at the studio first, they joke around as other classmates trickle in. Karen establishes herself as someone who wants to share position zero — thereby eschewing the set hierarchy of the entire top star system — from these opening moments, once she invites Mahiru to join her on position zero to stretch together. As other classmates trickle into the studio and tease Karen for prior tardiness, Karen says that she’s turned over a new leaf towards becoming a stage girl and automatically leads Mahiru into a pose. Mahiru immediately steps into position with Karen despite laughing a bit awkwardly. She’s more than willing to follow Karen’s lead, automatically placing Karen in the visible leadership role of an otokoyaku while Mahiru supports her and makes her look good, like a true musumeyaku should.
By contrast, Nana “Banana” Daiba takes charge of Mahiru moments later, commending Mahiru for putting up with Karen’s foibles while executing a few simple dance moves. Banana similarly poses with Mahiru, but Mahiru looks relieved, unlike her discomfort with Karen in charge. Visually it appears as if Karen was a poor leader and Mahiru is immediately more relaxed and comfortable with Banana as her partner, with Karen off-balance to the left (despite the fact that the dialogue is actually silly admonishing of Karen’s inability to wake up in the morning and praise of Mahiru’s patience).
Karen in the role of Mahiru’s otokoyaku — with Mahiru indulging in her seemingly natural tendencies to be a caretaker — is again showcased visually in Mahiru’s spotlight episode, “Where Radiance Resides.” In Mahiru’s mind, and during her hilarious dueling stage, Karen is the cool, otokoyaku-type who guides Mahiru — a portrayal that confuses Karen herself when she sees it.
All of these visual cues tell us that Karen is not a great leader. She’s not meant for the otokoyaku role and it looks particularly hilarious when she’s paired with Mahiru, who is taller than she is with a more naturally elegant presence.
With Hikari, Karen acquiesces to more of a musumeyaku style role (although even here, she frequently has her wires crossed, not fitting into either role, which is also important). Even in Mahiru’s daydreams, when Karen is with Hikari, Hikari takes the part reserved for the otokoyaku top star, and Karen takes the role of her partner.
Revue Starlight reiterates Hikari and Karen’s roles within their partnership though visual comparisons to Maya and Claudine. From her arrival, Hikari is shown as someone who is visually similar to Maya: Hikari positions herself at center stage, mirroring Maya’s stance earlier in the episode, Hikari wears a dark-colored dance leotard for practice, they land on position zero similarly, and Hikari was shown to be a top star contender, with frequent visual callbacks to Maya, during her time at the Royal Academy.
Meanwhile, Karen is visually compared to Claudine (or, arguably, in the framing above, Claudine is shown as Karen, since Karen’s frame is shown to us in the first episode). This begins in the premiere with some of the framing taking until the crucial Episode 10 to reappear. Episode 10, “The Show Must Go On,” juxtaposes the Maya and Claudine pair with the Hikari and Karen pair in everyday life and later, in a revue duet. Maya and Claudine are the ideal otokoyaku/musumeyaku partnership and presumably a goal for Hikari and Karen to surpass. They even have their own unspoken promise and important memory, revealed when the two are practicing together in Episode 10. Yet, Karen also occasionally is shown in Maya’s position during side-by-side comparisons. Again, Karen doesn’t fit the mold. Showing Hikari and Karen in relief reveals a lot of the flaws in Karen and Hikari’s relationship and onstage partnership — namely, Hikari isn’t honest about her motivation and beliefs with Karen.
Banana’s narrative not only sets up the true villain of Revue Starlight — the toxic top star system that encourages them to battle and steal from each other, in the words of the revue arbiter giraffe — but also serves as a reminder that Hikari may not be on the same page as Karen. Despite the renewal of their childhood promise to stand onstage as one, Banana’s duel with Hikari casts doubt on Hikari’s belief that she and Karen can truly break the cycle. The top star system is toxic but alluring and it’s all Hikari knows. We previously saw her run rampant through the London duels until she came up against Judy Knightley and lost. This loss scarred Hikari, who is unable to fully respond when Banana reminds her that Starlight, the play that frames every action in the series, is a tragedy. According to Banana, Hikari won’t be able to stand onstage with Karen regardless.
Karen is fully bought in to the idea that she can break the system. She wants to stand onstage with everyone, but especially Hikari. This makes her a poor top star candidate by the rules of the system — as shown through her partnership with Mahiru and her actions of inviting others to position zero — as the giraffe tells her in Episode 1. Still, Karen jumps into the duels to save Hikari and supports her without hesitation in the revue duet, believing that she and Hikari are unified in their goal. They are not. In a scene eerily reminiscent of Starlight, with red light behind Hikari as she strikes Karen down, Hikari kicks Karen off of the stage, betraying Karen’s trust.
Yet this isn’t done out of malice. Again, Hikari’s loss scarred her badly. She’s already been shown to take fairly drastic measures (without Karen’s consent or any communication) to keep Karen from participating in the revues. Not all of them make sense. As Karen points out to Hikari, tying her up in a shed and preventing her from fighting would lead to a loss regardless, something that Hikari didn’t consider while acting rashly. Hikari’s love of Karen, as it has been shown in the series, is genuine. Her actions, like Banana’s, are misguided, and driven by her fear and understanding of the system in place. This is the worst of the Takarazuka system, driving young women to drastic measures. Comparing Hikari’s actions to Banana’s also reminds the viewer that Banana warped time once she became top star. We have yet to see what Hikari’s fated stage will bring.
Revisiting Hikari’s first appearance in Karen’s dream, Hikari pushes Karen off of Tokyo Tower after Karen marvels, confused, at the view from the top. The life at the top for Karen within the system, by Hikari’s side, would likely mean a series of tough sacrifices in a musumeyaku-like role. Karen, for all that Revue Starlight has told us, is not suited to the system in place. She’s also the only person who truly believes that it can be broken.