The Disappearance of Hikari Kagura

“Those who cannot wake up in the morning. Those who are content standing on the sidelines. Those people will never be called upon.”

-Giraffe to Karen Aijou, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 1

The next phrase out of the giraffe’s mouth is, “Well then, I must ask you to leave.” Yet as he says this, Karen has already climbed all the way up his neck. She uses it as a slide in order to crash the revue duels and save childhood friend Hikari Kagura. This is who Karen is. And it’s this personality that makes her the perfect person to break the cycle. She doesn’t fit the Takarazuka Revue mold.

Episode 10 of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight is all about showing us how Karen lacks a place in the traditional Takarazuka Revue star system. Using Maya Tendou and Claudine Saijou as the series’ default otokoyaku and musumeyaku pair, Revue Starlight paints a picture of two people who have generally acquiesced to the system. Although they have both benefitted from and been hurt by it in turn, they’re still the ideal pair, the closest the series has to a standard for other stage girls to follow. Claudine in particular is of interest since she takes on the traditional musumeyaku role both in and off the revue stage. It makes her breakdown after a loss that more affecting — not only is she covering for Maya, her otokoyaku, but she genuinely believes that Maya could never lose.

We’ve seen Karen in both the otokoyaku and musumeyaku roles throughout the series and she seems to fit the latter more than the former, but still waffles between the two, especially in situations where she feels the need to take action and “save” Hikari. Even then, she is always driven by a desire to stand onstage alongside Hikari, per their childhood promise. Again, this displays how ill-suited Karen is for the system. The star system inevitably pits everyone against one another in the pursuit of top star. Karen eschews this idea through her spoken ideology and her actions all support this: position zero is a goal only if she can stand there with Hikari. (As an aside, any romantic love she has for Hikari is certainly forbidden within the system as well, although the series does have one canon couple in Futaba Isurugi and Kaoruko Hanayagi who have remained together without consequence.) Furthermore, Karen doesn’t have the natural height of Daiba “Banana” Nana, she wasn’t the star of her town like Mahiru Tsuyuzaki, she doesn’t work after hours like Junna Hoshimi, she doesn’t have the physique or family history of Maya.

In fact, given Karen’s talent level and general look, it’s a bit of a surprise she was accepted to Seisho Music Academy at all (we already know that she wasn’t last in her class’ auditions, that was Futaba) although she doesn’t lack for passion. In fact, the revue that Karen crashes and wins in the first episode is the Revue of Passion. Revue Starlight hasn’t been subtle about painting Karen (not Hikari, despite her arrival as a transfer student) as an outsider.

Yet, the giraffe — and by extension, the Takarazuka top star system that he represents — is wrong about one important detail of Karen’s personality: she is not content standing on the sidelines if Hikari is in danger. This is where she takes the lead, so to speak, in a more dominant position than would traditionally be allowed of a musumeyaku, which the series visually defaults her as when she is paired with Hikari. When Hikari is involved, Karen will cross the line, as shown in previous episodes and several shots throughout Episode 11. Karen opens the series by climbing onto the giraffe, the embodiment of the star system, and forces her way in. She is actively defying the system from the start. 

Similarly in this episode, we see Karen chip away at the wall and pry open the hidden elevator doors with a crowbar to return to the revue dueling stage and find, or save, Hikari. Karen is not a passive person. The place she has forged for herself at Seisho and in the revues is through sheer willpower and her promise to Hikari.

Because of this, it’s also not a surprise that Karen loses her luster despite Hikari’s best efforts. Hikari takes the title of top star and then fades away completely due to her insistence that the giraffe take no power from any other defeated stage girl. This is the only way Hikari knows to change anything, by sacrificing herself. It’s not a good way and it doesn’t truly break the cycle, but her choice allows Karen and company to move on with the 100th Seisho Festival’s performance of Starlight for the first time ever, presumably without losing anything. Yet, we see Karen come to the same conclusion that dawned on Hikari after the latter’s loss to Judy Knightley in the London duels: the loss of a love for the stage. She even goes through the same hand motion, interrupting an ongoing stage. All of Hikari’s efforts were for naught because all Karen ever wanted was to stand onstage with Hikari. Of course Karen would lose her luster without Hikari. It’s also no coincidence that Karen didn’t truly cry at Hikari’s disappearance until she understood exactly what Hikari had gone through in losing her motivation for the stage.

Revue Starlight (and Karen) doesn’t want a world where any more stage girls have to sacrifice their ambitions, their friendships, their relationships, and themselves to the top star system. So Karen breaks on through.



  1. It’s not a good way and it doesn’t truly break the cycle

    I think it’s actually the very first strike against the cycle. After all, the top star is supposed to steal from the losers. She’s the very first top star to sacrifice herself for their sake instead. Note the show parallels this to Jesus’ sacrifice in the text from Starlight Gatherer. The last page Karen was trying to translate literally said Claire stayed in the tower to atone for everyone’s sins.

    Jesus’ sacrifice compels you (if you are a Christian, at least) to take responsibility for your sins. You would feel ashamed otherwise. Likewise Hikari’s sacrifice made the girls more self-aware about their actions as stage girls, about their symbolical sins. They’re still going to aim for the top, as Junna said, but now they can take responsibility for their actions. This is the big change that Hikari brought about. A change in awareness, in understanding.

    And Karen too learns something that has escaped her since the very beginning of the show. No matter how many times Hikari tried to warn her, she never listened, she never understood. But now that she experienced a loss herself, she is starting to understand. Indeed, Karen’s conclusion when she feels her passion slip away is “Now I get it. Hikari lost what was most important to her.”

    So Hikari’s sacrifice is not a bad thing, and it’s not true that it doesn’t break the cycle. It’s the very first step in breaking it. Hikari is starting this revolution and Karen will finish it. This two are always like one, two sides of the same coin. You seem unable to see it but it’s so clear to me.

    Revue Starlight (and Karen) doesn’t want a world where any more stage girls have to sacrifice their ambitions, their friendships, their relationships, and themselves to the top star system.

    I’m not sure that’s the point. I think it’s more like what Maya said. The stage girls can always reborn anew because the stage compels them. It doesn’t matter if they lose everything. They can get it all back as long as they don’t give up. I think That’s the “stage” the show is aiming for. Not a stage when no one suffer, but stage where everyone takes responsibility and face the challenge with optimism and hope. The real change is not a change in the world, it’s a personal change. That’s what breaks the cycle.

    That’s how I see it at least.

  2. “(As an aside, any romantic love she has for Hikari is certainly forbidden within the system as well, although the series does have one canon couple in Futaba Isurugi and Kaoruko Hanayagi who have remained together without consequence.)”

    There is a strange moment here. On the one hand, if Futaba x Kaoruko is really a canon, then the “ban on romantic love” doesn’t make any sense. But at the same time, if Karen is not in love with Hikari, then the canonical romantic line of Mahiru is already losing its meaning.

    In general, I’m confused.

  3. Reading through all your essays Inoticethat you often say Kaoruko and Futaba are a confirmed/canon couple, that their relationship is explicitly something that would be against takarazuka rules (i.e. romantic), etc. I do agree they are together, and certainly the most visibly and consistently domestic, established & committed pair in the series from start to finish. However I tend to have trouble telling others their relationship is “canon” or confirmed as romantic in the text. It’s in part due to an expectation of queerbaiting/not wanting to give people false expectations, but I think also a result of a (probably quite western/modern?) conception that a relationship isn’t confirmed except by explicit, unambiguous words, kisses, etc. It’s also a bit because of my own unfamiliarity with certain nuances in Japanese language & translation of words for platonic vs romantic like, cultural norms in terms of relationship representation,etc.
    So what I am trying to ask is – is there any specific reason you refer to them as canon? Or is it more of a “well come on I mean look at them. Look at their storyline” kind of deal?

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