Within my first month of high school, I carried an armful of drop cloths down a narrow flight of stairs, deep into the heart of the old building, a place that few students knew existed. The door opened, pushed with a considerable amount of force by one of the upperclassmen. He loomed over us in the doorway, made slightly menacing by the grey lighting, somehow dull while still making us wince and cover our eyes. Dust rose and fell in small clouds at my feet as I walked, kept low by the autumn humidity. Beside me, the few other freshmen tasked with carting props and supplies back and forth from the auditorium shivered from a chill in the air.
The old building was connected to two newer buildings by narrow hallways that never seemed to quite fit in with the existing decor. My history class in that same building had Cold War blackout curtains. As we shuffled forward, stepping around a variety of odd furniture, textile piles, a candelabra, and a painted carriage, two of my classmates began to snicker, pointing at a hole in the insulation next to a sign that read, “Danger! Asbestos.”
This was a Cold War bomb shelter. It also was the drama club prop and set storage room.
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.
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.
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.
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.