Childhood friends Karen and Hikari made a promise that, together, they would one day become the next theatrical stars. Real life got in the way of their childhood dream when Hikari moved away, but Karen never forgot her promise. Years later, the two friends finally have their chance when they're invited to a mysterious audition. However, the two are not the only ones who have trained for this moment, and they must now compete with others whom all share the same dream of performing on stage.
#01: "Hoshi no Dialogue (星のダイアローグ)" by Starlight Kukugumi (スタァライト九九組) (eps 1, 12) #02: "Fly Me to the Star" by Hikari Kagura (Suzuko Mimori) (ep 3) #03: "Fly Me to the Star" by Karen Aijou, Kagura Hikari (Momoyo Koyama, Suzuko Mimori) (ep 4) #04: "Fly Me to the Star" by Mahiru Tsuyuzaki (Haruki Iwata) (ep 5) #05: "Fly Me to the Star" by Futaba Isurugi, Kaoruko Hanayagi (Teru Ikuta, Ayasa Itou) (ep 6) #06: "Fly Me to the Star (instrumental version)" (ep 7) #07: "Fly Me to the Star" by Karen Aijou (Momoyo Koyama) (ep 8) #08: "Fly Me to the Star" by Junna Hoshimi, Nana Daiba (Hinata Satou, Moeka Koizumi) (ep 9) #09: "Fly Me to the Star" by Maya Tendou, Claudine Saijou (Maho Tomita, Aina Aiba) (ep 10) #10: "Fly Me to the Star" by Maya Tendou, Junna Hoshimi, Mahiru Tsuyuzaki, Nana Daiba, Saijou Claudine, Futaba Isurugi, Kaoruko Hanayagi (Maho Tomita, Hinata Satou, Haruki Iwata, Moeka Koizumi, Aina Aiba, Teru Ikuta, Ayasa Itou) (ep 11)
If Revue Starlight put as much effort into the story as it did into presentation it could’ve been a great show. However not balancing the two and not at least compensating on something in particular it brought down both elements. There will be some spoilers in this review but given how lackluster the writing is I sincerely don’t think they matter.
Starlight starts off rather simple before trying to make things more complex and failing. We got a few girls, they attend an art school that teaches them all about theater and their ultimate test is to be top stars during a yearly Seisho Festival. However
there’s a caveat. Outside of interpersonal drama and the hardships of study and practice, girls have to compete in a mysterious underground audition ran by a talking giraffe who serves sort of as a stand-in for the audience hungry for spectacle and drama. They get armed with some weapons with a bow being as advanced as it gets, and go at each other until one cuts off a button from the opponent’s outfit. The one who managed to do that and moves up in ranks. Ranks seem to correlate with their prowess as a performer rather than a fighter, so a lot of the time these fights become battles of will where the one who’s right wins. It’s a more or less elegant and thematically appropriate way of putting in action in a show like this and justifying your characters going “yep, screwed up on that one guess you’re right and I’m wrong”.
The show runs with this sort of basic structure for about 6 episodes. We get some SoL bits, we get a focus on a character or two, we learn about something that bothers them and then it’s solved in a fight and never matters again. As trite as it might sound this is the best part of the show to me. SoL segments are enjoyable thanks to presentations that’s easy on the eyes and character interactions, who despite their overall simplicity have a good dynamic when you put them together. If I were to make a music comparison this show would be like a shittier Kraftwerk when it came to characters. They don’t have a lot of complexity but compose some basic elements together well enough for it to be entertaining. The fights are also somewhat spectacular, they won’t be wowing many people with top notch animation or stunning action choreography even though both of those are on a decent level. However, when you put together everything they do for the characters, the design of the stages, songs and decent animation and choreography it’s a nice cherry on top of I think almost every episode.
Unfortunately when episode 7 rolls in the show changes drastically and tries to be way more complex and dramatic than it has any right being with how barebones the story and characters are, they can’t even establish a coherent theme or statement but you take a look at how it’s presented and it’s as if you’re supposed to be getting something new about life out of this.
At Episode 7 we learn that the aforementioned giraffe and his underground auditions grant winner their wish, which one of the girls uses to put on the same show over and over for god knows how long. It pretty much comes out of the blue but at least there’s nice bits of foreshadowing to be found throughout the show alluding to that girl’s strong affection for the event and recontextualize her actions. At this point she seems like a big villain or a psycho, after all it’s not very kind or healthy to force everyone inside a time loop for unknown but presumably very long time. Not to worry through, her crazy gets knocked out of her the next episode so we can build up the drama between the two main characters.
That’s what the remaining quarter of the show pretty much is. It’s all about the main couple of Karen and Hikari. Even the story within a story of the show, the titular Starlight is supposed to be a parallel to their relationship and their fate. The two want to be happy together but there can be only one top star so one will have to fall by the end. This is their entire dynamic. One wants to do the impossible and go against “fate”, the other wants to prevent her precious little baby friend from having to face the hardships of losing in that underground tournament and losing her “shine” or basically idol charm and shit. Despite being very simple and straightforward the show leans so much on hitting you over the head with “subtle” symbolism and allusions in dialogue that at times you’d think this is supposed to be some 2deep4you art film. It depends on personal preference, but I found it very frustrating how self-indulgent the show got with that stuff despite having a pretty damn basic, unimaginative plot and themes.
Another slightly disappointing aspect is music. Not that it’s bad but unless you’re a fan of JPop already this won’t have anything new for you. Aside from standard instrumental tracks this is just bland, generic idol jpop. It’s nice that lyrics for the fights tie into what the actual fight is about but it’s important to note that unless you’re pirating this anime or know japanese you won’t have much of a clue as to what they’re singing about. On top of that it’s obviously mixed differently from the way a normal track by itself would be so there are many times during a fight where the insert song is getting a bit muted so that characters could talk. Symphogear has a similar thing going on but that show did it much better cause characters actually sing during a fight, so the song itself actually blends in perfectly with the action.
At least art is consistently good. There’s a dedication to striking visuals and cinematography. Also while the actual symbolism was pretty damn blunt and obnoxious at times, at least it was consistently nice to look at and I guess it gives people looking for it something to chew at. The last few episodes, I’m not sure from which point exactly, struggled with production but I doubt many people will notice that. Aside from some cheap, slow, panning shots that you’d see in almost any other show it’s clear that the team working on it believed in the project and was passionate about making it so at least there’s no jank there to really leave a bad spot on the presentation.
Overall this show is rather hard for me to recommend. If you’re really into idols or SoLs with female cast then sure I guess you’ll get something out of it. Otherwise though it’s just a very mediocre, at times bad even narrative that’s only spiced up by nice visuals. Maybe if it went over the top, or at least harder on the spectacle it would be worth watching just for that but as it is that part alone can’t carry the show.
Starlight Review is what happens when you aim high but fail in execution. One could almost forgive the director for all of the homages to Ikuhara (though curiously I didn't catch any to Penguindrum, a project he actually worked on) peppered throughout the work, but when all is said and done these references, set among a half-baked story, may come off as clumsily endearing but end up holding it up to these other, better works and highlighting where it falls short.
Stylistically, this work comes off saturated in Ikuhara, and from episode one it takes up some very explicit imagery from Utena (the duels, the tower)
and sets them to a very pretty orchestral score and even musical theater. An underground audition! A scoring system which rules over students mercilessly! Calls from a mysterious entity that offers to grant your wishes! A giraffe! There's clearly a lot going on here - a mix of familiar and fresh - and even if the art's fairly plain (auditions aside) and Karen could use a throat lozenge, it gives the impression that it's going to tell a big story.
Unfortunately, the story Starlight ends up telling borrows from the weaker elements of Ikuhara - repetition, awkward humor, weirdness for the sake of weirdness - with most of the strengths left aside. The story itself isn't really that big, and depending on how much you enjoy yuri and the Nanami episodes of Utena your mileage may vary on large portions of it which tend to muddle on with awkward humor and eye-rolling professions of love and starlight and promises. Much of the show is centered around conflicts between sets of characters themed around tensions which presumably arise between theater nerds, and while the themes of sacrifice for art and conflict between performers is the show's strongest element even these tend to lack depth. What's remarkable about Starlight is how conservative the storytelling element is - the conflicts between the side characters are wrapped up uncomfortably neatly, most within the space of a single episode, and they're back to being friends by the next. For a theater school everyone's awfully nice to one another. One also has to wonder at the consequence of focusing so much on these side characters when they all end up shuffled off to the audience for the show's finale.
The main story of Starlight is equally unsatisfying, if not moreso due to all of the attention it's given. Featuring some of the blandest character design in the story, they're also some of the least interesting - for how fraught their relationship is, the substance of it isn't developed much beyond Karen's endless repetition of their promise and Hikari's lukewarm reception for much of the show. Like other elements of the show, it's something which intrigues on first glance and tires on third or fourth.
Starlight has an interesting premise, and despite its unambitious execution it has some genuinely strong episodes. Despite this weak first entry, I'm looking forward to what the director does next.
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.
Another one of those shows which has a great first episode, however is completely lacking throughout the series in story, character development and to a degree, sound direction. For a show with an arts school setting and singing each episode, you would think that story and sound would be a priority, not for this show though. The biggest disappointment so far I've watched. The first episode was actually really great, and I thought it had potential, sadly the rest of the show just pales in comparison.
I have no idea why they even made this show, when it was so obvious that the animators wanted to
make a show about manufacturing. Literally the best part of the show was the transformation scene. I've never even seen such a high production transformation scene before. I graduated mechanical engineering and I'm surprised they even researched about different industrial manufacturing processes like annealing, drawing, and stamping which normal animators would have no business knowing! And they weren't just flimsy drawings but it's as if the animators actually visited and thoroughly researched the production line of some factory, all for one scene that doesn't even last 1 minute!!!
They could've set the show in an engineering school instead of an arts school and the show would make 100x more sense considering how much animation and research they put in that transformation scene. In comparison, the only thing I remember arts related in anyway was "position 0", pathetic.