by Mercedez Clewis,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Kageki Shoujo!! ?
Content warning: this review (and episode) contains discussion of eating disorders.
Episode 5, “The Chosen Maidens,” largely continues the plot thread from last week surrounding Ayako's disordered eating, but not before lightening up the mood with some comedy. While it might seem strange for the episode to split its focus between Ayaka's predicament and Sarasa going to her first kouka show, I thought it fit how life with disordered eating often feels: the world marches forward while you're hurting, not mutually exclusive from your suffering, but part of the cruelty of reality when you have to quietly struggle.
In fact, that's where I'd like to spend most of my review, in large part because the front half of episode 5 is as expected: Sarasa and a few of her classmates go see a kouka show, Sarasa and Ai have the heartfelt moment they've been building towards, and things continue on as the girls keep at their studies. But around 10 minutes in, we circle back to Ayako at the end of episode 4, who's chafing under the back and forth between her teachers. She's both too fat and too underfed at the same time; too dedicated to turning her body into a “proper body” and too heedless of the damage she's doing in trying to get there. I say that not to admonish Ayako, but because Kageki Shojo!! openly acknowledges all that as it explores the root of Ayako's disordered eating, and how it's affecting her classes.
It would be nice to say that the events of episode 5 are just fantasy, but when I watched Ayako quietly eat a chunk of calorie mate, then proceed to stick her fingers into her mouth and down her throat, my heart seized in sympathy. Ayako wants so badly to do well, so badly to not be “fat” that she pushes herself harder and harder, to the point where it's clear to the staff that she's binging and purging. But that's not enough to curtail Ayako's self-harm or offer her solace as she becomes even more wan, and eventually, collapses. It's the story of a lot of AFAB actors, and resonates painfully throughout the entire rest of the episode.
Episode 5 is… hard to watch, largely because Ayako's story feels drawn out of real-world struggles with disordered eating and diet culture that are afflicting teenagers both in Japan and across the world, which are often born from institutions that seek to regulate and discipline female bodies. I cried when I read this arc in the prequel manga that Kageki Shojo!! draws from, and I teared up here as Ayako tried to do her best, but the floodgates well and truly opened when Mr. Onodera knocked on Ayako's door and reminded her of her worth because… who hasn't needed to be told that they matter, that they have something to be proud of, in spite of their body? Moreover, inclusive of their body? I think we've all been there. That moment is what really pulled everything together for me, making this episode of Kageki Shojo!! one of the most memorable to date.
Mind you, Ayako's arc isn't executed perfectly: there are fingerprints all over her story, and in many ways, it has a drama to it that bulimia – and eating disorders in general – starkly lack in reality. Eating disorders hurt: they're not fun, they're not dramatic, and they're not glamorous. Their victims are punished by a body-policing society for the rest of their lives, and are often left with invisible scars that never go away. That said, I'm saying this from my own personal perspective with mental health in general; perhaps Ayako's story resonates with you and the context of this episode.
Most egregiously, the teacher (Ms. Tachibana) that started this entire bout of disordered eating doesn't suffer any consequences, nor does she get more than a slightly stern talking to. She just… gets to potentially do this to another girl in the next round of Kouka students, which is horrible, but perhaps indicative of another unfortunate reality in performance art institutions. That said, I firmly believe that someone watching this episode needed to see this message, and needed to know that they don't have to hurt themselves to have a “good” body, and that's what counts. Kageki Shojo!! might have fumbled the proverbial ball across the finish line in a few ways, but at the end of the day, it talked about something that harms AFAB teenage bodies a lot, and that's still more than a lot of series have done.
In the end, Kageki Shojo!! continues to be part drama, part slice of life, and entirely grounded in the reality of being a teenage girl trying to succeed, and thus far, it's done that really, really well. Not perfectly, of course, but well enough that I feel deeply moved on some level each and every week. Episode 5 is proof of that, pulling together loads of plots threads that transition the story into its next arc while soundly wrapping up Ayako's growth arc. This story about girlhood, teenagedom, and becoming a Kouka star remains deeply satisfying. I can't wait to see where Kageki Shojo!! goes next!
Mercedez is a JP-EN localization editor & proofreader/QA, pop culture critic, and a journalist who also writes for Anime Feminist, where she's a staff editor, and But Why Tho?. She's also a frequent guest on the AniFem Podcast, Chatty AF. When she's not writing, you can find her on her Twitter or on her Instagram where she's always up to something.
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