The ninth episode of The Promised Neverland opens with the shot above — reminiscent of a triptych painting that can be folded in three. With this frame, episode director and storyboarder Hiroki Itai immediately grounds the episode and all events that follow. After a surreal eighth episode that set us off-balance with dutch angles, a spinning camera, and cuts that chop up two concurrent scenes, presenting them as a unit, paneling and more straightforward direction centers Episode 9. This episode stands alone with it’s visual strength, but also builds on what came before it with an ever-evolving in-universe camera.
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.”
“The normal happiness, the pleasures of a young girl, all burned away to aim for a distant twinkling.”
-Giraffe, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 1
At Arashigaoka Academy, blending in is not only a way of live, it’s introduced as the only way to survive. While the body count rises in Yuri Kuma Arashi, so do the cries from various young women in the series to uphold the status quo at all costs. Sumika Izumino is announced as the first casualty within the scope of the series and all her classmates can say about her rumored death is that it was her fault for going out alone. Friends are necessary for survival. The Wall of Severance is constantly being rebuilt to keep the bears, the others, out. The Invisible Storm consumes those who don’t follow the status quo and stay within the lines.
Blend in completely. Be invisible. Those who cannot read the atmosphere are evils inevitably sought after, found, and obliterated by the Invisible Storm.
For people who are supposed to make a homogeneous background pattern, thereby becoming invisible, these young women — lily and bear alike — are oddly conspicuous individuals.
Earlier this year, I watched David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Then I revisited Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Mawaru Penguindrum.