yuri kuma arashi

Good morning! Sara-zanmai speculation and Ikuhara Greek choruses

Who is Sara?

The short answer is, a local idol of Asakusa in Sarazanmai. The longer answer could relate to a kappa’s head dish (sara) and director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s penchant for Greek choruses.

Major spoilers for Mawaru Penguindrum. Mild spoilers for Revolutionary Girl Utena.

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A slightly-too-early primer of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Sarazanmai

In two weeks, director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s latest original anime, Sarazanmai, will air in Japan. I’ve found few anime as immersive, both coy and direct with their symbolism, and as emotionally-affecting as Ikuhara’s original works, which include Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, and Yurikuma Arashi. They all have something important to say and reward watching (and rewatching) with a careful eye. To say that I’m looking forward to Sarazanmai is an understatement.

I rarely preview series, but in the interest of digging into Sarazanmai as soon as possible, and organizing my own thoughts before the first episode airs on April 11, here is a collection of themes that the series may be looking to tackle, based on the information available thus far and Ikuhara’s previous work.

This won’t be as in depth regarding some of the names behind Sarazanmai outside of Ikuhara and a few others. For more on that check out this post at Sakuga Blog. Also special thanks to Good Haro for translation work and providing additional pre-release material.

Major spoilers for Mawaru Penguindrum.

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The true giraffe was in our hearts all along (or, the Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight finale)

“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.”

-Giraffe while observing Hikari Kagura, Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight, Episode 12

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.

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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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To be a center — Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight Episode 1

“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

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