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.