maya tendou

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.

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The Disappearance of Hikari Kagura

“Those who cannot wake up in the morning. Those who are content standing on the sidelines. Those people will never be called upon.”

-Giraffe to Karen Aijou, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 1

The next phrase out of the giraffe’s mouth is, “Well then, I must ask you to leave.” Yet as he says this, Karen has already climbed all the way up his neck. She uses it as a slide in order to crash the revue duels and save childhood friend Hikari Kagura. This is who Karen is. And it’s this personality that makes her the perfect person to break the cycle. She doesn’t fit the Takarazuka Revue mold.

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The melancholy of a musumeyaku (part two) — Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight’s Karen Aijou

Hikari Kagura’s purported Episode 10 betrayal of childhood friend Karen Aijou is shown in Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight‘s first episode. Not foreshadowed, straight up shown, albeit in a dream. From the opening moments of the first episode — when various members of the class introduce themselves around position zero — to the revue duet and Hikari’s rumored heel turn, Karen and Hikari’s relationship is laid out for us visually via cinematography and staging. Hikari’s actions in Episode 10 aren’t shocking, especially with the road she (and Karen) traveled to that final dueling stage.

Once again, it has a lot to do with the series’ incisive look at the Takarazuka Revue.

(The following post will quickly review but also assume knowledge of the sacrifices a musumeyaku is expected to make for their otokoyaku partner in Takarazuka, which was covered in part one of this week’s Revue Starlight coverage.)

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The melancholy of a musumeyaku — Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight’s Claudine Saijou

Throughout all of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, we never see Claudine Saijou’s dueling stage. There are glimpses of it when Mahiru Tsuyuzaki’s performance crashes through several other revues, but Claudine doesn’t introduce her stage. She doesn’t receive a standalone episode — for all of the talk that the show does Mahiru dirty, at least she receives her own spotlight episode and somewhat cathartic revue — and is all too often shown in relief to Maya Tendou. Even when Claudine is separate from Maya, her dedication to becoming a stage girl is irrevocably tied to Maya or she is put in a position to support someone else (namely Futaba Isurugi after Futaba fights with Kaoruko Hanayagi).

None of this is a coincidence and it all revolves around critiquing the Takarazuka Revue.

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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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