To be a stage girl: the fall of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight’s Hikari Kagura

To be chosen as a Takarazuka Revue trainee is part physique, part talent, and part effort. The audition includes singing, dancing, and sight-reading, much of which cannot be prepared in advance. No amount of effort and talent can make up for factors like natural height or charisma. And the audition is the easy part. Young girls, not women, are chosen and developed into Takarazuka actresses through a strict training regimen that doesn’t stop when the lessons themselves — usually six-to-seven hours, six days a week — end.

First-years have it particularly rough. They have to clean the school extensively in addition to their lengthy classes in anything and everything from singing and dancing basics to drama, koto or shamisen, music theory, and drama. They cannot wear makeup or style their hair — it must be cut or braided. Previously, the Takarazuka curriculum included sewing, English, and etiquette lessons, all in service of Takarazuka industrialist founder Ichizo Kobayashi, who saw the school not only as a tourist opportunity, but a training ground for Japan’s future wives and mothers. Members of all classes must adhere to a strict hierarchy, including addressing their elders properly at all times, with precise language and greetings. When an older student approaches, they much bow and move out of their path.

The cycle repeats in the revue itself, where first-years in the troupe are more stagehands and small ensemble roles than full-fledged Takarazuka actresses. At this point in time, they already will have been separated as an otokoyaku or musumeyaku as well, and their entire time period with the troupe will be spent taking parts of one role or the other. During their time with the troupe, they cannot marry or have romantic relationships. All of this sacrifice and still only one otokoyaku per troupe can be top star. This is all in service of not only becoming the best but, in the words of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight‘s Maya Tendou, becoming a dream. The Takarazuka Revue provides inspiration and a respite from every day life for young women all over Japan.

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“Fly Me to the Star” — tracking the iterations of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight’s ending sequence

“I’ve always had my eye on you.

Seeing you let me leave my loneliness behind.

But the moon bites back its laughter again tonight.

Won’t you turn my way?

Oh, fly me to the star.”

– “Fly Me to the Star,” Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, ending song

It’s no coincidence that Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight‘s ending song, “Fly Me to the Star,” can sound like both a romantic confession or a plea from a fan for a star to look their way. Top stars of the Takarazuka Revue have massive individual fanbases. Part of the Takarazuka appeal is going to see your favorite star onstage, and top star candidates are evaluated not only on their physical attributes and talent, but their stage presence and marketability. Within Revue Starlight, this is a reminder that the trainees shown are not only revue trainees but also fans of each other, in a way — the manner in which the trainees approach Maya Tendou is another example of this.

It’s also no coincidence that Hikari Kagura stars in the first rendition of the ending sequence. She might seem like an odd choice, especially for the third episode — “Fly Me to the Star” was not featured as the series ending in Episodes 1 or 2 — because there’s so much focus on Karen Aijou’s defeat to Maya. Yet, this is also the episode where Nana “Banana” Daiba announces that she’s going to be doing more on the production side of things, and where Hikari first truly reaches out to Karen, albeit only to slap her in the face.

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Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight and the Mystery of Daiba Nana (Part 2, more Takarazuka criticism)

Nana “Banana” Daiba is tall.

She is talented.

The series makes a point to show her high up in the revue duel standings — third, behind Claudine Saijou and Maya Tendou. It’s a clear message that she should be one of the trainees to beat. Not only is she diligent, but she has natural advantages that other trainees don’t have. Only tall young women have a chance at becoming otokoyaku. In the strict Takarazka Revue tradition, only otokoyaku can become a top star.

Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight is concerned with challenging the Takarazuka system and pressures that come with it. Karen Aijou and Hikari Kagura’s promise to stand on the same stage together is the first step in this direction. Seisho Music Academy’s framing device of the play Starlight is another: it sets up the status quo to be challenged.

Two young women try to grasp a star at the same time. One of them is struck down while the other lives. Even if they want to share it, or claim it together, they cannot. “And it shall be bestowed upon you, the Star which you have longed for.” is Starlight‘s tagline, but the words are a poison. Once that star is bestowed, solitude follows. Only one person can claim position zero.

Only one stage girl can become top star.

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Let’s only walk on the flower road: in defense of Kaoruko Hanayagi

“I’ve been there before so I understand what you’re going through Hanayagi-san. For those who pursue us and those who support us, we have the duty to become the very best versions of ourselves.”

-Maya Tendou to Kaoruko Hanayagi, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 6

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Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, sparkles, and the comic relief episode

Tomohiro Furukawa’s overarching direction of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight is an interesting cycle of influence. Furukawa worked alongside Kunihiko Ikuhara on Mawaru Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma Arashi. Ikuhara’s directorial flair has clearly inspired a lot in Revue Starlight, especially in the mechanical transformation sequence that transitions Karen Aijou from Seisho Music Academy to a surreal underground dueling stage

Yet, Ikuhara was influenced by the Takarazuka Revue itself: the main subject of Revue Starlight. He also drew inspiration from Takarazuka-influenced anime and directors like Rose of Versailles and Osamu Dezaki. Rose of Versailles in and of itself is often synonymous with the Takarazuka Revue, and helped cement its top star system — the same system that is under scrutiny and criticism in Revue Starlight. Furthermore, Revue Starlight isn’t just an anime project, it’s a multimedia project that includes a stage play directed by former Takarazuka actress and director Kodama Akiko.

No other episode showcases this cycle of influences better than Episode 5, “Where Radiance Resides.”

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