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.
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.
“A stage that never ends. Taking on the shine that this stage requires enough for someone else as well. Such is the atonement for a stage girl who must surely die. The stage of fate that she has chosen.”
Previously I had thought of Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight‘s giraffe as an arbiter of the system, similar to Yuri Kuma Arashi‘s Judgmens who preside over the Severance Court. In Yuri Kuma Arashi, the three Judgmens are the only body allowed to permit relationships — there’s even an offical stamp that says “Yuri approved!” — a reminder of societal constructs and barriers that the leads eventually break by the end of the series. The giraffe seemed to be of this vein, presiding over the toxic top star system of the Takarazuka Revue at Revue Starlight‘s Seisho Music Academy. This is why he always cheered or commented during the duels, kept track of the top star standings in his room, and was an important signature on Hikari Kagura’s transfer documents. Because the giraffe is the system, naturally he would have a hand in her “transfer” from Seisho once she reached the top star stage.
Yet, the giraffe’s true identity is revealed in Revue Starlight‘s finale. This revelation recontextualizes the giraffe’s actions throughout the series. While it’s not wrong that he’s an arbiter, he’s also something concrete and very familiar to anyone who has watched a stage production.
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.