“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.