Center stage. The focal point of attention. The top star with top billing. Let the spotlight shine on my (current) anime of the season. Position zero, this is Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight!
Debuting in July of 2018, the Revue Starlight anime is one part of a multimedia franchise that started in 2017 with a stage play, 3 Manga series that are still running, plus an announced smartphone game still in the works.
Truth be told, prior to its premiere, I had no idea what Revue Starlight was. I haven’t watched Utena, or Penguindrum or Yuri Kuma Arashi, but I know of their reputation. I’m familiar with the studio, Kimena Citrus (Made in Abyss from last year) but still wasn’t paying much attention to the pre-season chatter, so much so that Revue Starlight was not even close to being on my radar.
When high praise was being thrown about it after the first couple of weeks, I got curious and watched the first episode. For the first 15 minutes or so, I was watching a pretty decent, but unremarkable introduction to the world, characters and the general dynamics.
And then this happened.
And finally this.
The theatrics. The singing. The drama! Oh, it was better than good, it was amazing. It reminded me of Made in Abyss, where the first 20 or so minutes of the first episode were decent, but the last 5 minutes with Hanazeve Caradhina playing opened my eyes to the show’s potential.
Things reach a fever pitch with episode 3, with what is (so far) my favorite song during the Revue battle.
As Gugsy wrote in his piece about why viewers should be watching this show, “each duel has more than meets the eye.” Each duel isn’t just a contest of physical prowess, it’s a battle of wills and ideals. The girls put themselves on the line, both their bodies and souls, and try overcome their opponent by cutting off the clasp from which their jacket hangs.
It’s still all relatively friendly however, and even in defeat, the girls sally on the next day, continuing on with their lives until it calls once again.
Revue Starlight is weird. At first glance, it’s almost like an idol show (by my understanding anyway). Each episode effectively focuses on a character, following their daily routine in school with the others before going on stage in the latter end of the episode to duel their next opponent. Karen, the protagonist, has generally been the one facing off the episode’s focal character in the duel, setting her ideal of everyone having a spot in the spotlight against her opponents. It’s a cute sentiment, but mildly naive, especially considering the coveted lead (male) role, the role that gets the spotlight and center stage, is only for one person.
If Revue Starlight were only about the daily lives of the girls and (amazingly well) choreographed duels, then it would be pretty good. The juxtaposition between slice of life and grandiose battles is well done, and the animation throughout the series so far has been rock solid. The vocals for the songs have been very strong, and the show would’ve been a solid summer entry.
Thankfully, Revue Starlight is so much more than that.
Personally, when I’m choosing what entertainment to occupy my time with, whether it’s a novel, game, anime, film, orTV series, I’m trying to find one that has a solid humanistic core, and all the better if it has a strong theme or moral behind everything. This isn’t to say that I snob at pure entertainment, SyFy’s Killjoys is fun camp, while Overlord is a power fantasy through and through. To really push my buttons though, the show/book needs that core.
Revue Starlight has that core and puts it forward, front and center, every week. At initial glance in the first episode, everyone feeds into a neat stereotype, but the show reveals their own insecurities and personal drives in the character episodes (there’s also the whole “heart on the sleeve” thing during the Revue battles).
Another great aspect is that, so far, the show has been a challenge to the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female musical troupe that dates back from 1913. The troupe put on elaborate musical stage plays, with women playing all the roles. While how the show critiques it is beyond the scope of this article (honestly? I can’t quite articulate it), I highly recommend the website atelier emily, which has been covering Revue Starlight and providing great analysis and insight on each episode.
At the time of this writing, there have been 7 episodes released. While the first episode was solid in its own right, the show has continued to climb new heights with every episode. Every week gives us a peek into the lives of the different characters and learn more about their motivations, while also moving the timeline along as the cast continues to produce their second year rendition of the play, “Starlight.”
However, despite all my praise, can I wholeheartedly recommend Starlight Revue to eve? No.
Heavy symbolism and an idol-genre like format are definitely not to everyone’s preference, add in a healthy dose of musical theater trappings and the result is something very unique but doesn’t lend itself well to universal preferences.
However, if “musical theater critique” piques your interest, then I highly recommend checking out, at least, the first episode of Revue Starlight. Like any great story, a slow, unassuming beginning sets things up for a strong, magnificent climax.
Hopefully the show can stick the landing in a few weeks, because after episode 7, expectations are certainly high. If it does though, then Revue Starlight will definitely take its place center stage amongst this season’s anime offerings.
Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight is currently airing on HiDIVE. Please be aware that the subs have had quality issues, though everything should still be understandable.
What’s your current front runner for anime of the season? Shout it out in the comments!