by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Revue Starlight ?
The classic, formative Greek tragedies are always about a fall. No matter how well-off the protagonists find themselves at the beginning, they will suffer and break by the end at the hands of a murky amalgam of hubris, the capricious whims of the gods, and the inevitable turn of fate. The fall, therefore, is obvious, but the fault is the more difficult and more interesting question, and that's the question posed by Revue Starlight at the end of its tenth episode.
Before I get ahead of myself, however, this is our Claudine-focused episode, if by nothing else than process of elimination. It's not as neat as that, though, because much like Futaba and Kaoruko's joint episode, Claudine's story and character are inextricably linked to Maya, so any focus on one will focus on the other. Unlike Futaba and Kaoruko, Claudine and Maya are comfortable in their respective roles, and unlike Karen, they're comfortable within this system. And why wouldn't they be? They got the leading parts last year, and they've consistently remained at the top of the rankings for the Auditions. They have both the talent and the pedigree expected of stars. Their presence on the stage is evidence of everything working as intended.
To Revue Starlight's credit, their relationship possesses more depth than a one-dimensional rivalry between the two top actresses in their class. That's certainly one facet of it, and that's how Claudine found Maya in the first place, reaching out to someone whom she thought she could beat, only to get upstaged herself. But their conversations and interactions in this episode in particular paint them as more synergistic than antagonistic. Maya shattered Claudine's image of herself as a child prodigy, and this let Claudine work on herself, improve, and ultimately become a better actress. Claudine, meanwhile, guarantees that Maya can never let herself get complacent, lest her rival seizes the chance to usurp the Top Star. They both push each other, and they both love it, exchanging insecurities and trash talk in equal measures. In the end, there's nobody Maya would rather have at her side, so she doesn't hesitate when it comes time to choose a partner for the revue duet.
Starlight's ultimate ambition is to critique this system, however, so the pair that most benefits from it is also most emblematic of its issues. Claudine can boast all she wants about beating Maya someday—she still hasn't. They can make each other better, but they can't break out of their designated roles. In Takarazuka terms, these are the otokoyaku (women who play male characters) and musumeyaku (women who play female characters). My friend Emily wrote an excellent post going into more depth on this topic (and I highly suggest you read all of her other excellent posts on Revue Starlight), but in short, only otokoyaku can be Top Stars, and thus it's a role for Maya and Maya alone. Claudine exclaims before their duet that the stage gives everyone an equal chance to shine, but that's a lie she's bought into, and a lie that crystallizes itself as soon as Maya loses. Claudine immediately refuses to let Maya take the fall, and instead insists that it was her own fault they lost. It's a touching gesture, and it's indicative of how much she really does care for Maya (and vice versa, as Maya arrives to comfort her), but she's also embracing her supporting role and propping up Maya as an untouchable Top Star. It's a plea for the status quo, where only those allowed to shine must continue to shine. It's not only unfair—it also clearly takes a toll on both Maya and Claudine, and it probably gets in the way of them sharing these moments where they let their guard down.
If another way for the Stage Girls to assert themselves exists, it will surely come through Karen, who couldn't care less about the rules if it came down to helping her friends. The fluidity of her relationship with Hikari is presented as a foil to Maya and Claudine's rigidly-defined roles. Their aquarium date proves this, as the two of them enjoy the jellyfish together, no longer one chasing after the other. Similarly, as they clasp hands and reminisce about their first “performance” of Starlight 12 years ago, the past and present swirl together, their child selves exchanging hairpins with their adult partners. They're not battling for supremacy in either the stage or their relationship; they're sharing it, and they're enjoying each other. Even during the Audition, their roles are murkier than strictly otokoyaku and musumeyaku. Hikari is higher-ranked, and she gallantly carries Karen in her arms at one point, but Karen's the one who delivers the final blow to Maya. Their journey together has been rocky, but when they work together, there's not just mutual love and respect, but a parity that represents a way forward.
Oppressive systems are never taken down so easily, however. As much as Hikari tries to ignore the giraffe's call encroaching upon their date, its ring doesn't stop, and the show must go on. The giraffe's made a big deal about rules in the past, but this whole duet battle (and Hikari's transfer for that matter) clearly shows he's making things up as he goes along to suit his desire for the ultimate revue. Rules, after all, only apply to the participants, not those making the rules. Thus, the Revue of Fate immediately gives way to the Revue of Tragedy, and Hikari pushes Karen off the tower. This moment hurts, but it comes as no surprise considering it's been foreshadowed since Karen's daydream in episode one. More so than a betrayal of character, it's a betrayal of Karen's ideals, which honestly hurts even more. Given Hikari's past, though, her actions do make sense. She, better than anybody else at Seisho, knows the full extent of these Auditions' consequences and the power that the Top Star holds. It was only by the giraffe's interference that she was able to reunite with Karen in the first place. As much as Karen has repeatedly touted that they will all perform Starlight together as equals, Hikari is still too entrenched in a system that will never allow that conclusion. She can't imagine a solution outside of it, so her only recourse is to take that power herself and try to fix it from within, not letting Karen's shine be stolen, nor letting Karen unwillingly steal the shine from her friends. I can't imagine that this system will allow such kindness, but that's Hikari's fatal flaw. Karen might have had the hubris to think she and Hikari could share everything including the Top Star, but Hikari has the hubris to think she can fix everything on her own. In other words, don't trust a giraffe over your girlfriend.
This was a heavy episode of Starlight, but I'm hopeful that its ending stinger will pave a way forward for Karen's revue revolution. Her defeat should crystallize in Karen's mind that this system is fundamentally broken, and she's probably going to have to rally the other losers, i.e. her friends, to save Hikari from its clutches. Visually, this episode looked a bit rougher than we've come to expect, but that's more a sign of the show's ambitions than an indictment of its quality. The producers actually sent out a call for foreign independent animators to help with the show's production a while back, and you can see a couple of their credits in this episode. It's obviously not the ideal way you want to make a cartoon, since that means their own animators are working themselves ragged, but it's cool that kind of collaboration is possible. And the show remains staged beautifully, with some legit great cuts of animation sprinkled throughout. The care put into the final scene in particular made it sting all the more, and makes waiting for the next episode all the more painful.
(P.S. I don't want to be that guy who constantly compares Revue Starlight to Utena, but come on, why else would an anime go out of its way to quote Hermann Hesse? I see you.)
Revue Starlight is currently streaming on HIDIVE.
Steve is a longtime anime fan who can be found making bad posts about anime on his Twitter.
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