From it’s opening act, it was clear that Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight had something to say about the stage — what young women give to it, what they receive from it, all wrapped up in a Takarazuka package. Karen Aijou has what is quickly revealed to be an impossible dream in Takarazuka: to occupy position zero, center stage, with her friend Hikari Kagura. Seisho Music Academy and its enigmatic giraffe host naturally guide her down the traditional path of fighting others for the top star position, pitting Karen and her classmates against one another in seemingly inevitable conflict.
That is, until Karen breaks the cycle and shatters the status quo, dragging Hikari and their other classmates with her. Laying the groundwork for Karen and Hikari are Claudine Saijou and Maya Tendou.
Maya is introduced as the status quo. She is the reigning top star of the 99th troupe both via the somewhat magical world of the duel system and, as shown through their classes, the leading otokoyaku in the troupe’s performances (in Takarazuka tradition, only the masculine-coded otokoyaku can be top star). Revue Starlight doesn’t fully commit to making Maya a true otokoyaku — most noticeably, all of the available roles for the in-universe performance of Starlight are women — but surrounds her with Takarazuka trappings that show off her otokoyaku top star status including her positioning onstage, even in practice, swans and staircases in her dueling stage, and a musumeyaku (feminine-coded) stage partner in Claudine.
As a musumeyaku, Claudine frequently has a far more difficult role than Maya despite not being the troupe’s top star (or even in line for it because again, only otokoyaku can be top star). She must shine, but not too much because her true job as a musumeyaku is to make Maya shine above all others. She must keep her
If Maya makes a mistake, she must cover for Maya in a way that makes it look like no mistake was made.
Competitive and driven with no small amount of anger simmering beneath the surface, Claudine Saijou the person is very much at odds with Claudine Saijou, the 99th troupe’s musumeyaku. So much so, that Claudine’s ultimate sacrifice for Maya in Episode 10 initially came as a shock to me. Despite knowing the framework of her musumeyaku role, Claudine had been set up as someone who was desperately trying to surpass Maya through hard work and effort, forcing herself above the Takarazuka station to which she had been assigned.
Returning to earlier Revue Starlight episodes following Claudine’s Episode 10 sacrifice reveals more about Claudine and her relationship with Maya in a different context.
Claudine’s ambitions lead her to mentor Futaba Isurugi, not only onstage, but regarding Futaba’s romantic troubles with her partner Kaoruko Hanayagi. Futaba and Kaoruko have their own problems from the way that the Takarazuka system sorts them and they receive advice from Claudine and Maya respectively. Throughout Futaba and Kaoruko’s fight, Futaba stays with Claudine, who advises Futaba that “hangers-on” — in reference to Kaoruko’s laziness — won’t be good enough to make it in the top star system. Throughout this entire episode, there are multi-layered looks at not only Kaoruko and Futuaba’s relationship, but Claudine and Maya’s. It becomes clearer that one of the reasons why Claudine tries so hard is not only to surpass Maya, but to inspire her.
Claudine’s sacrifice can be seen in multiple ways: fulfilling her musumeyaku duty to the end, or as an act of love for Maya in spite of the societal forces in place built to keep them apart, even as stage partners.
When Claudine cries out that it’s impossible for Maya to lose, and falls on her figurative sword to protect her, Maya steps out from the shadows to not only comfort her, but meet her where she is. She does so in Claudine’s native French. This is where Maya herself defies the status quo and the rigid barriers placed on both young women. Here she actively reaches out and returns Claudine’s feelings by saying, “With you, I’ll be able to fly even higher.” This is an echo of Karen’s later declaration to Hikari that Hikari is Karen’s stage in the showstopping finale that finally breaks the cycle. Maya and Claudine were never going to be the couple that broke the system completely, but they caused a few cracks in their final stage that allowed Karen and Hikari to break through.