There will always be someone better than you.
I have an odd profession. One that inspires questions like, “How did you get into this?” Or, more frequently, “What is this?” Depending on how much people know about my career, they’ll ask what my endgame is — because writing about people playing videogames professionally is thought of as a stepping stone, not a home — what my goals are within and beyond the esports space. My answer is always the same: to be the best writer. Not the best in my field, but the best writer.
At the beginning of her stage girl career, Hikari Kagura lives a charmed life via natural talent and hard work. She shines onstage. She throws herself into her lessons, and later, the revue duels. And she lands one of the leads in the Royal Academy of Theatrical Actors latest performance. Hikari is the reason why Karen Aijou is enrolled at Seisho Music Academy in Japan, with plans that the two will reunite once trained to perform Starlight together. Between the two, it’s obvious that Karen needs more training and has less raw talent. There are times where Hikari appears to have forgotten all about Karen, flourishing in the duels until she meets the Royal Academy’s top star, Judy Knightley.
Judy is everything Hikari is and more. She has the raw talent and the Takarazuka Revue-influenced physical requirements. As Hikari shoots up the duel rankings, it’s Judy who stops Hikari in her tracks, defeating her with ease. This causes Hikari to lose her luster and ability as a stage girl. She fails not only on the dueling stage but in her classes and on the actual stage, leaving her peers confused. It’s not until she reunites with Karen that she regains her luster and stage prowess.
Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight is a bit loose as to whether this luster or talent is a physical thing that is taken from Hikari (shown by the length of her weapon) in the duels, or simply a confidence issue. Hikari’s confidence is important regardless. Her loss to Judy confuses her, halts her momentum completely, and causes Hikari to rethink her career as a stage girl entirely. This affects Hikari when she returns to Japan and does reunite with Karen — ultimately leading to Hikari’s inability to think outside of the revue’s societal constraints. Only when Karen breaks the cycle does Hikari really come to terms with her own strong desire to stand onstage.
For me personally, Hikari’s first defeat was more of a figurative loss of her “shine” rather than a magical siphoning of talent. While the giraffe insists that shine, or talent, must be taken from the other stage girls to create a top star, the giraffe is ultimately revealed as an audience stand-in, pointing out that we, as a viewing audience, are complicit in helping create the toxic Takarazuka top star system. Like most societal cycles, it’s not wholly any one person or entity’s fault, but the audience expects to be entertained at the very least and through the years, the top star came to belong to that audience. Judy as the Royal Academy’s top star takes from Karen in a similar way to how a musumeyaku like Claudine Saijou gives everything for her top star in Maya Tendou. The giraffe/audience pits these young women against each other with the desire that they will ultimately be entertained.
The moment that Hikari lost to Judy, I felt for her. Knowing in your mind that there will always be someone better than you — perfection is an ideal not an attainable goal and other myriad phrases that suit this particular situation — is far less affecting than having it demonstrated physically at the expense of your pursuit of perfection. I want to be the best writer and already I can feel others closing in on me, outside and inside of my profession. It’s not a great feeling. Some days, I just want to throw my computer across the room. Every word is bad. Everyone else is better.
These are the days to dig in. To realize between gritted teeth and the iron taste of blood from biting a bottom lip in frustration, that there’s always the next stage, the next article, the next interview. Keep moving. Find your stage.