When past was future: the goddesses of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight’s play, ‘Starlight’

Starlight. This is the story of a distant planet from long ago, in the faraway future.”

-Hikari Kagura, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 9

Compelling and captivating are two words used frequently in Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight to describe the in-universe play and narrative framing device, Starlight. Following the star-crossed Flora and Claire, Starlight is a tragedy that borrows from known Takarazuka Revue staples like Elisabeth — ai to shi no rondo (Elisabeth — rondo of love and death) and is made to have the same influence and frequency of performance as Elisabeth or Rose of Versailles in order to frame the relationship of Revue Starlight leads Karen Aijou and Hikari Kagura. Starlight is synonymous with being a stage girl.

Karen and Hikari were inspired to become stage girls — effectively entering the spartan and highly-controlled education system of a Takarazuka trainee — by a performance of Starlight. Throughout the series, they frequently open episodes with narration from the play, reiterating how the story of Claire and Flora draws them in and captivates them and also that this tale is ultimately a tragedy. These two leads are torn apart once they reach for their distant star. Starlight not only encapsulates the stage girl experience but within it’s narrative, perpetuates the toxic cycle that Karen aims to break.

“Why were we confined here? What sins did we commit? Amidst the flow of time, we goddesses have forgotten even that. Ah! And so it repeats! The cycle of despair.”

-Nana Daiba as the goddess of despair, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 9

An understated part of the Starlight story is the role of six goddesses that block Claire and Flora’s path towards grasping their star. Each of them is given a “sin” that has trapped them there for 500 years, now an integral part of the cycle, presumably as stage girls who have come before. Through the goddess of despair’s monologue, Revue Starlight pointedly asks why these stage girls are fated to be pitted against one another in search of the top star position. What sins did they commit? Why are they confined by this cycle?

In Episode 9, Hikari reads the original book upon which the play Starlight is based, The Starlight Gatherer, to Karen. Despite Starlight‘s role in framing and perpetuating the poisonous societal hierarchy of Takarazuka, the prologue is oddly prescient to Karen breaking that same hierarchy later in the series. It lists the six goddesses and what their sins could become. This provides an additional framework for most of the Revue Starlight cast, who play the goddesses in Starlight.

When Fury was Passion: Junna Hoshimi

Junna is the first stage girl to receive a focus episode and through her, Karen, and us as an audience, are further initiated into the revue duels. Her story is a relatable one: dedication, sacrifice, and hard work to make up for natural talent or physique that she lacks.

Of all the stage girls, Junna is the most aware of her own shortcomings by the start of the Revue Starlight series, yet the accompanying manga and stage performances reveal a Junna who is unsure of herself and uses the mask of competence or authority to hide her faults. Her fury is at the system, but also at herself for lacking certain natural qualities that would make moving through the ranks all the easier.

When Junna is defeated by Karen, it allows her to move forward from this anger and focus on her passion and dedication to her craft. In turn, this allows Junna to help Nana “Banana” Daiba with her own emotional scars much later in the series.

When Curse was Faith: Futaba Isurugi

The “curse” that is Futaba’s sin has also been translated as “binding.” Futaba is rooted in many ways, some completely out of her control, like her lack of physical stature. If Futaba was tall, that would likely make her not only one of the best otokoyaku, but a potentially a top star.

However the other side of Futaba’s curse comes from how much she has given up, and continues to give up, for Kaoruko. During the timeframe of the 99th troupe’s Starlight performance, Futaba’s dedication to Kaoruko has become a crutch for her to lean on while not reaching further on her own, presumably keeping the barrier physical limitations and the strict rules of Takarazuka in mind in a self-loathing manner. It takes the arrival of Hikari and the change in Karen to push Futaba down a slightly different path — one where she trains harder with Claudine Saijou and faces her underlying fears both in her position as a stage girl and in her relationship with Kaoruko.

When Escape was Bravery: Kaoruko Hanayagi

Born into a wealthy family, Kaoruko takes a significant amount of things in life for granted, including her relationship with childhood-friend-turned-lover Futaba. The “flight” or “escape” mentioned by Starlight encapsulates Kaoruko’s manipulative nature and general laziness. When her lessons seem too tough — or she simply doesn’t want to do them — Kaoruko often runs away rather than putting in the effort. More importantly, in the face of Futaba’s improvement, Kaoruko initially commits to leaving the school in hopes of coercing Futaba to run after her, rather than facing her own fears of abandonment.

Placed side-by-side in the tableau of goddesses, Kaoruko and Futaba have matching purple gemstones, another indicator of their closeness, both in their real-life relationship and the sins that Starlight assigns to them. Kaoruko can be brave thanks to Futaba and Futaba can have faith in her own abilities thanks to Kaoruko, even if Kaoruko’s love and support isn’t always obvious. There’s the added layer that Kaoruko leaving her family, and their dance style, in pursuit of the Takarazuka-like Seisho Music Academy was a significant departure and potentially caused a rift with her family — the one time where Kaoruko’s tendency to leave was bravery rather than escape. Kaoruko’s relationship with Futaba allowed her to be brave in order to pursue what she wanted.

When Jealousy was Affection: Mahiru Tsuyuzaki

Mahiru’s sin is one of the more straightforward in the list. The entirety of her focus episode uses Takarazuka trappings of physical comedy and fourth-wall-breaking to tell the story of Mahiru’s jealousy. Upon Hikari’s arrival at Seisho, Mahiru finds that she now has to contend with Hikari for Karen’s time and love.

However, Mahiru’s jealousy isn’t solely of Hikari over Karen’s affection. The more important facet of Mahiru’s envy is of Karen’s ability to shine onstage. Somewhere along the way during her lessons at Seisho, Mahiru had lost her own luster, overwhelmed by the larger talent pool after being a big fish in the small pond of her hometown for so long. This jealousy becomes affection not only when she reaffirms her feelings for Karen, but also when she relearns to have affection for herself and her own abilities as a stage girl.

When Despair was Hope: Nana Daiba

Nana “Banana” Daiba spends almost the entirety of Revue Starlight in a time loop that traps her peers in their first-year performance of Starlight. Banana discovered her passion of theatre through enjoying it with others in junior high school, but soon found herself the only member of the group when her classmates left to pursue other activities. When she has so much fun in her first production of Starlight at Seisho, she wins the revue duels, becomes top star and, unbeknownst to the rest of the troupe, returns to the beginning of her first year to relive it.

Rather than fight against the toxicity of the top star system, Banana chooses to freeze time instead. Like Karen, she rejects the cycle, but instead of looking for a way to break it, she becomes fixated on the past, unable to move forward. Banana uses her natural physical advantages like her height and voice to win, besting even the troupe’s default top star, Maya Tendou. Hikari and Karen force Banana to reflect on just how awful and ultimately pointless her time loop is by defeating her.

Even then, Banana’s despair, the post-production doldrums and depression, is incredibly relatable, especially to anyone who has ever been part of a theatre performance. Her hope for the future comes later, when her role in Starlight is adjusted after Karen breaks the cycle.

When Arrogance was Pride: Karen Aijou

Taken completely at face value, Karen doesn’t seem like the arrogant type. Yet, once she begins her journey through the giraffe’s underground revue duels, Karen’s arrogance is revealed, especially when she starts winning. Without understanding just how insidious of a system she’s up against, Karen’s initial insistence that she can breeze through the revue duels to stand onstage with Hikari is laughable. Maya Tendou’s thorough thrashing of Karen in their first duel firmly puts Karen in her place, and forces her to revisit her viewpoint.

Karen’s assignment of arrogance to pride is particularly interesting since pride can also be synonymous with arrogance and seen in a negative light and all of Karen’s actions could be seen as arrogant within the established societal framework. Even when Karen better understands the system she’s up against, her desire to share the stage with Hikari is still viewed as unnecessarily prideful.

Through Starlight, Revue Starlight forces us to consider whether the actions of these young women, or Starlight‘s goddesses, are truly sinful. Each “sin” points out genuine flaws in their respective characters, but they also work towards revealing how unfair the system in place can be at the same time.

The closing lines of the 99th’s troupe’s latest Starlight performance change the ending. Claire and Flora break the cycle and free the goddesses. Their outlined sins, and Banana’s personal narrative make her appearance as the final goddess — clad in the uniform of her beloved 99th production rather than the updated uniforms of that year — all the more poignant, especially when her initial lines were those of despair. “You did well to arrive at the truth,” she says. “Flora, you two have freed the goddesses. We have been watching over you all this time.”

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One comment

  1. Great article! I really enjoy your delving into the group psyche, specially when we’ve had so little time in the series to really know them (the only exception is, perhaps, Nana?).

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