Anime gets often called ‘art’ instead of simply ‘entertainment’ for the simple reason that its audiovisual achievements are more noteworthy than the characters and story that can never really reach the same level as books or manga. But like with everything in life, the polar opposite view point exist. To some viewers there seem to be nothing that kills the industry harder than ‘style over substance’, and those who despise this way of being should now take notes and never watch this anime.
But I can like both. Especially in today’s industry where substance is often lacking, new series are copy-paste of everything else that has already been made, and in generally the industry has reached a point where quantity of anime series is high yet the outcome is starting to look like serial production where quality is secondary. Few times a year, a series that manages to offer something different than any other series, appears, and if we are lucky, they turn out to be as beautiful as Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight.
The setup is very simple, but still unique for the reason that this show falls between the modern music idol genre and the older female character driven narratives focusing on personal career/show business (Prince Tutu = ballet dancer, Glass Mask = actress, Kaleido Star = acrobat). Revue’s focus being on revue artists and the main difference between the older way is the amount of girls as this series has a wide cast with more than handful of main characters.
The entire story is almost solely build around friendship drama where the series’ abstract audiovisual execution and creative usage of different elements exist to symbolize the character development and our characters inner feelings. This all is very light mannered and self-explanatory to the viewer. The most simple way how this is executed is our characters’ feelings being presented in actions and “fights” on the stage. Some more obscure analysis could be given as well, such as elevator connecting our characters’ personal life to their stage life and the alternative staircase paths showing that there is no shortcut to success. Other interesting elements exist as well such as Tokyo Tower referring to the black swan (the theory and the play itself — or at least that’s how I comprehended it), but in generally, these are only very small details that can add to the viewing experience and ultimately, exist in the series to serve its creativity and overall style.
The series is directed by an assistant of Ikuhara Kunihiko who is most famous for directing Revolutionary Girl Utena and Mawaru Penguindrum. His style is in generally considered to be among the most abstract and original the anime industry has to offer. To say that his old assistant has adopted his style is an understatement to a certain extent. For example, some of the more in-the-distance fight scenes especially regarding their background art directing resemble Utena, as well as the elevator, of course which was used in Utena as well. Same thing could be said of the “sewing in progress” scene which is repeated in the same manner as “survival strategy” in Mawaru Penguindrum.
I would also like to list several other scenes that were visually just perfect, but I will refrain from spoiling anything. Let me just state that some of the scenes have lot to offer when the revue scenes play with objects that are from another dimensions much like in video games that swap between 2D and 3D. There is also a talking giraffe in the series and one of the characters is called Banana, so I am not sure what else one could wish for. There is also decent amount of music in the series and it’s been used in a respectable manner – or at least I respect it when music plays loud and aims to make the series better than it would otherwise be, and that’s how it works here.
This is not an obligatory watch that every single person should witness, but as far as modern anime goes, a fine piece.
Damn, does this series truly knows no bounds at knowing how to captivate its audience, by showing the weaknesses that breaks you and cultivating that into the strength that makes you better and more spirit-willed with confidence. That's the vibes I got with watching Shoujo Kageki: Revue Starlight, truly a hidden gem, sleeper hit, AND a seriously underrated masterpiece that can compete with the likes of Your Lie In April, in terms of musical development (more on that later). And before you ask, this isn't an idol musical fan-fest anime (like so many that I come to despise over the years).
Since this is an original series, I might as well first introduce to you, one of the strongest staff line-ups for this series (because its their efforts that made the show stand out):
Director Tomohiro Furukawa, the protégé of popular director Kunihiko Ikuhara, handling this series. For the many of you whom have watched Revolutionary Girl Utena back in the mid-90s, the similarities will be very striking as many of Ikuhara-sensei's signature directionals is replicated well by Furukawa (his student), such as the Yuri or class settings of works past, with surrealism. With Revue Starlight, the captivating visuals and the show-don't-tell aesthetic all mesh together to form one big picture of storytelling exposition with intelligent creative control, and that's where the series truly executes majestically at its best.
Music composers Yoshiaki Fujisawa (known him for creating A LOT of excellent music repertoire) and Tatsuya Katou, coming from the Love Live! Sunshine series. I was hesitant with Tatsuya Katou because he is a name that I didn't have high expectations with, but knowing his list of works (Fate/kaleid, Free!, Mirai Nikki, Hanebado! to name a few) immediately put me at ease and rest assured, I really thank both composers because EVERY song in here, be it the OST and the Revue songs, were done with much debacle and the subversive aspect means of portraying the feelings and emotions that the main characters struggle with to achieve their very best. With the addition of sound composer Haru Yamada for his marvelous works (Banana Fish, Made In Abyss, and the No. 1 rated anime movie of all time, Kimi no Na wa.), this is an OST that is worth every bit of listening to it as is with watching the show.
Alright, let's get into this series proper, shall we?
Shoujo Kageki: Revue Starlight (doesn't tell much but) shows us about the stories of human ambitions: The cost of fame that comes with wanting to be the very best (like no one ever was), and coming into contact with the setting of harsh competitiveness, comes people's perception of us on the main stage.
From there, the story splits into two:
The Starlight, or which I like to call it "The tip of the iceberg", is about as average as it gets: Practice sessions galore and some character drama about girls arguing and motivating one another as they image themselves on stage, always wanting to be the main character that stands out above the rest.
The Revue auditions, aside from the weird giraffe-host aspect, pits the girls against each other to question whether the feelings from the Starlight festival-cum-play (which seems to always be in repeat, but case-by-case basis with the different characters' perspectives) are truly what they appear to be, and how can they exceed their limits of understanding what they truly want for the best of themselves and the others, at the expense of some sacrificial aspects of their lives.
So basically, a story with lots of plot holes, yet manages to not feel old nor boring, with the endless amount of possibilities that the new future of the girls' wishes could be granted that benefits them to the best of their ability. And yet another series that truly just doesn't give a shit about us trying to predict the plot (which it isn't), and changed gears so fast that we can barely catch up to, and that makes for a fun and fascinating idea that so many anime refused to take the road less travelled, and the risk pays off tenfold here.
The Starlight Kukugumi, which are the main 9 girls of the series, have taken lots of stride to be at where they are, and it's exciting to see every girl gets their own exposition, the perspective they're watching from:
The (main) childhood-friend troupe:
Aijo Karen, the loudspeaker of the group, and one that's not afraid to showcase her talents while being energetic to everything around her, she and Hikari and childhood friends running up the pace on Revue Starlight, and seeing it as a promise to stand together on the fated stage.
Hikari Kagura, the never-giving-up but sore thumb of the group, has a connection with Aijo since being captivated by the Revue Starlight as children, but grows up in failure and had to be content with trying again in Japan, only to see Aijo caught up to her brilliance and her tsundere-side of hoping the same situation as Aijo does.
Mahiru Tsuyuzaki, the stay-by-my-side-always friend to Aijo, is the third wheel in the Karen-Hikari relationship, to stand alongside her on the fated stage. Jealous of how Hikari has stolen her spot, she refuses to call off the relationship by proving that she is the better character aside Aijo, amidst admiring the light that was shone on her, until Karen breaks that mentality and shows Mahiru her own path to greatness without her.
Futaba Isurugi and Kaoruko Hanayagi, these two girls are situations similar but different from how Karen and Hikari were done: both girls supported one another from childhood, and always on the constant look-out of doing things together...until someone breaks that tradition (Futaba) and the score is settled out of the conflict that both friends had for each other.
The master-of-all-trades troupe:
Maya Tendou and Claudine Saijou, both hard workers, impressive at their acting crafts and wanting to be at the very top spot. And since Maya's No.1, and Claudine being the runner-up to her, this reminds me of the situation between All Might and Endeavour (which series I leave that to y'all to figure out). Being a perfectionist isn't easy, and with that comes the level of pride that has been established from the get go, and both characters aren't willing to forgo the spot (which makes for an interesting storyline arc).
The impressionist and repetitive troupe:
Junna Hoshimi and Nana Daiba, both characters who seemingly have their own stories to share as well.
Junna is the example of following your own dreams despite the conformance to the society, and is a little shy, but doesn't beat around the bush to give the clear answer. Nana (or Banana as the girls nicknamed her), her aim to keep the status quo. Both characters are exactly how the world functions and it is very relatable to our own standards.
The more we learn from the characters, the better the storytelling...ain't it so?
Not to mention that Kinema Citrus, the studio that brought you Made In Abyss, showed up with force on this series, and it's a well thought-out production through and through. The striking animation, beautiful artwork all combine forces to create one hell of a bullet show that does just as you would of the music genre: give it a whole lot of justice and experience.
I'm very impressed of the show overall, the elephant in the room is only with 12 episodes, the well done pacing and whatnot made me crave for more to milk on and it's sad because this series definitely set the gold standard for future musical series to follow. It's not a show where people can understand immediately, but it's definitely one that would be left forgotten. If you manage to pick this up, share this around with people who love musical anime, I can promise that it will impress, and impress it does to the fullest.