by Mercedez Clewis,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Kageki Shoujo!! ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Kageki Shoujo!! ?
How would you rate episode 3 of
Kageki Shoujo!! ?
From the moment I read Kageki Shoujo!! The Curtain Rises (the prequel manga to the main series) I knew that I would love its anime adaptation. It felt a bit like fate, if I want to be a bit theatrical. Also, I'm weak for anything takarazuka. That said, it was an easy decision to ask to cover Kageki Shoujo!!. While I'll always be an idol fan first, takarazuka is just as close in my heart. It's with that passion that I hope I bring every ounce of enthusiasm and critical insight I could to this series. Safe to say I'm excited to share my thoughts as we make our way through this series, starting with the season premiere.
Episode 1, “Beneath the Cherry Tree, in a Rain of Petals,” opens with all the pomp of a true takarazuka performance, instantly transporting viewers into the world of kouka, and by proxy, the Kouka School of Musical and Theatrical Arts, well known for its minimal acceptance rate. Only those that are the cream of the cream of the crop are accepted, and from those, the lackluster are culled until only stars remain. Even then, it's a hard climb to be the true étoile on the stage, no matter how much talent any of the girls in this cast have.
It's here that we meet two teenage girls: 16-year-old Ai Narita, former JPX48 (this is definitely in-world AKB48) member and, at first, a very unlikable, stoic lead to be paired with 15-year-old Sarasa Watanabe, Tall Girl Supreme and the Genki Girl Trope in human form. It's an uncanny pair that's instantly compelling, even if you only like one half of the duo. We don't get much time with them because the Kouka School of Music and Theatrical Arts takes center stage, showing off the vast cast of girls who are going to be a part of their next batch of performers. And that's really what the bulk of episode 1 is spent on: seeing Sarasa, Ai, and their fellow classmates find their footing as brand new Kouka students. It's all interesting, and most of the scenes get studded with a bit of comedy, as well as a healthy dollop of characterization.
It's here that I want to give you some trigger warnings for episode 3, just in case you haven't watched it already. Episode 3, “The Teddy Bear,” deals explicitly with child sexual assault, child abuse, and sexualization of a minor. That said, Kageki Shoujo!! handles it quite well, even if it's not absolutely perfect, and gives a ton of insight into why Ai is so “unlikable” and stoic. It also explains her flash-stepping out of the way of every man who even hints at touching her.
As ANN's resident idol lady, I instantly glommed onto Ai, in large part because she's a former idol, which presents a lot of chances for the show to craft a realistic idol sub-plot, which is something I crave. However, episode 3 is where I feel like I really saw her for who she is, and I really admired the care put into her character. It feels strange to say that episode 3 was my favorite episode; as brutal and uncomfortable as the sound design and animation were, it is the most beautiful of the trio, upping the animation as it tells a somewhat messy, imperfect story about child abuse, hopefully validating viewers who might have been in Ai's position as kids themselves.
Out of all the characters in the series, Ai feels the most real, in a very intimately painful way. Her story and the abuse she underwent feels like the story of many of the girls and young women who are devoured by the idol industry, and while her story isn't connected to her work as an idol, it is deeply connected to why Ai became an idol so willingly. This isn't an easy episode to get through, but I think it's important that a series with an all-female cast of entertainers like Kageki Shoujo!! tackles it because this happens: it's real, it's brutal, and its lingering effects can persist for years to come. So much of Ai's character gets explained, and in many ways… it makes you want to see her become a star in her own right.
Overall, Kageki Shoujo!! is one of Summer 2021's strongest premieres, passing the three-episode test with flying colors. All three episodes waste no time on antics or filler: instead, every second is dedicated to developing Sarasa and Ai's characterization as well as their incredibly tenuous relationship. As polar opposites, they're far from adhesion: there's no hint that these two will ever be anywhere close to being friends. And yet… it's hard to not want them to find some sort of middle ground, especially now that they're sharing the same space. I think that will shape into a beautiful friendship, and I do mean friendship—I don't think we can expect this one to have any hint of yuri, so… be glad there's The aquatope on white sand, which seems much more friendly to an overtly queer reading.
Just like IRL takarazuka, everything feels incredibly theatrical in the premiere episodes, including the dynamics between the rest of the cast, which is as vast as the ocean itself. I credit that wonderful feeling, in part, to the music, which was done by Tsuneyoshi Saito. Sound director Yukio Nagasaki also deserves credit: both work in tandem to create an incredibly listenable soundtrack that serves as the perfect background accompaniment to the new adventures of this class of Kouka students. I also can't forget to mention the multitude of voice actresses playing the various Kouka students: they all embody each character design (done by Takahiro Kishida, as well as Akira Takata, Eriko Iida, and Maki Takao) so well that it feels like the characters are about to leap off the screen. It's splendid voice acting, blending in with the music in scenes to heighten the drama, which is part and parcel to being in such a competitive environment.
Ultimately, I have high hopes for Kageki Shoujo!!, and feel confident that this will be one of Summer 2021's strongest shows that plays out like a grand ballet: fluidly, thrillingly, and beautifully week to week. That's thanks to PINE JAM's animation, as well as the stellar voice acting from Sayaka Senbongi (Sarasa) and Yumiri Hanamori (Ai), both of whom convey just who these two girls are at their core. Those elements, combined with the other voice actresses, the music, the animation, and the sound design, really elevated Kageki Shoujo!! in my eyes, and make it an easy, “Why aren't you watching this?!” kind of recommendation.
Now… all that's left is for me to sit back, relax, and enjoy this beautiful, genuinely heartfelt ride of a show.
Kageki Shoujo!! is currently streaming on Funimation.
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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