by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Revue Starlight ?
We've made it through 11 weeks of Revue Starlight, so let's address the giraffe in the room: what the heck is starlight anyway? I'm not talking about the musical they've been preparing for, although starlight naturally plays a significant role in it. I'm talking about small “s” starlight. Starlight brings Claire and Flora together, and it also tears them apart. Starlight can be beautiful at a distance, yet it can be dangerous up close. It can be brilliant, and it can be blinding. It can be warm, and it can be an inferno. It means a different thing to everyone, but it's something everyone at Seisho possesses. It's the light of the stars, i.e. the people on and around the stage who make theater possible. It's the “shine” that Mahiru sees in all of her friends long before she can see it in herself. It's the omnipresent purple pinpoint of light that can be seen glistening in nearly every background of every shot. It's the fuel that drives their ambition to do more and do better. It's the same fuel that gets exploited during the Auditions and ultimately drained to power whatever stage the Top Star desires. Hikari knows all of this, because she lost her starlight once before. And it's because she knows all of this that she refuses to take the light from her friends, and especially from Karen. She'd rather shoulder that burden all on her own. She offers up her own light, as precious as her own blood, and thus, she disappears.
Banana's time loop was proof for the audience (and for Nana herself) that these surreal auditions had very real effects on the world above ground, but for the rest of the girls, Hikari's sudden disappearance is their first reckoning with the Auditions' consequences. Of course, it hits Karen the hardest, who refuses to accept that Hikari would leave without telling her. Through a series of vignettes, Starlight paints an accurately blunt portrait of grief as Karen tries to contact and find Hikari, all to no avail. The litany of texts sent with no reply hit me especially hard, because I couldn't help but think of the similarly excellent and emotionally devastating A Place Further Than The Universe. My favorite part of this sequence, however, is the quiet brutality of the title cards, which do nothing but tell us the time passed as it dilates from days to weeks to months. After spending so much time and energy showing us the emotional highs and lows of every Audition day, Revue Starlight reduces seven entire months to a single white screen with some text on it. But that's probably how it felt to Karen.
Karen navigates her grief in expected ways, with denial, bargaining, anger, etc. She never gives up, though. Even with winter bearing down and the 100th festival performance looming ever closer, she's still wishing Hikari a good morning and sending letters to her old London address. The show, nevertheless, must go on, and life at Seisho continues even without Hikari. And that's a good thing. Theater, as with life, is much bigger than a single person. Nana in particular delights in these new experiences well outside of the bounds of her now-concluded repeat performance. Even the biting cold of this winter is something she appreciates. The other duelists, too, have their roles and continue to work on making this performance of Starlight their best yet. Thanks to Hikari's sacrifice, they still have their own starlight. Only Karen feels different. Her feelings of emptiness echo Hikari's state after she lost her Top Star Audition in London, and the full weight of her loss hits her as the full weight of their tragedy becomes clear. In trying to protect Karen's starlight, Hikari did the only thing that could steal it for sure: she stole herself away. Just as Karen was the source of Hikari's shine, so too was Hikari the source of Karen's (“hikari” even literally means “light”). Their shared promise is what made Karen fall in love with the stage, and it had always been a love experienced through the lens of her love for Hikari. Theater is bigger than a single person, but a single person's feelings can outweigh anything.
Unable and unwilling to act, Karen turns to one of her few remaining connections to Hikari: Starlight's original text. She pours all of herself into translating it, and it shows her something that exists beyond the scope of their script. Claire and Flora's separation is not the end. Claire is still in the tower, waiting for her fated companion to rescue her. This is all that's needed to spark some of Karen's shine back into existence, and in a desperate move that's both cathartic and badass, she releases over half a year's worth of frustrations through a crowbar. She completely rejects the stage Hikari has built for herself, because it's not the stage they promised each other. Calling Hikari out on breaking their promise seems to get through to wherever she is, and the elevator doors appear once more, yielding only to Karen's fury. There's no elevator this time, however—only the stairs that Hikari descended alone several episodes ago. But Karen's not alone. She's buoyed by her friends as they reflect on their experiences during the Auditions and send their greetings Hikari's way. It's a little mawkish, but in a way that feels appropriately theatrical. They've all been selfish and competitive. They've hurt each other and been hurt. They've committed the sin of desiring to be the Top Star. But it's a sin they share, and it's a sin that binds them closer. It's not a sin to be exploited by a cruel zero sum game that steals starlight from all but one. They can cultivate their own shine, and each other's, simply by being friends, rivals, and lovers. No single one of them has to bear any burden alone. Not even the burden of being the Top Star.
Karen's climactic reunion with Hikari won't happen until the finale next episode, but a post-credits stinger gives us a glimpse of Hikari's one-woman show. It's not good. The last several months have clearly taken their toll, and any fuel Hikari might have been able to provide is surely gone. Her stage has been reduced to a barren wasteland of sand, and she's been stripped of everything, including her crown. The tower too has fallen, like the discarded prop from last year's performance. It's a lifeless, lonely existence, but in Hikari's mind it's probably still preferable to taking starlight from the others. And if this is the happiest outcome available, then it's all the more reason the Top Star system must be rejected. An entire universe of possibility exists between blind selfishness and eternal self-flagellation, and only Karen can show Hikari that.
With the auditions concluded, this episode is light on action, but it more than makes up for it with Karen's rocky emotional journey from the quiet melancholy of loss to the fiery shores of renewed passion. I also must apologize, because I've been remiss not commenting on the show's soundtrack more. It's quite lovely on its own, but it's execution is consistently fantastic. This episode in particular uses silence to great effect, so when the soundtrack enters it carries even more weight than usual. Karen's big scene in the middle of the episode, when the loss of Hikari crashes down on her like a giant wave, is carried by a tender duet between a piano and violin, with the emotional beats in her monologue matching up almost perfectly with the ebb and flow of the melody. It's a minute detail, but it's indicative of the care that continues to be put into Revue Starlight even as we approach its conclusion. Starlight may be an old and sad story, but I choose to believe that Karen and Hikari can find a new ending bound by no script. And if they have to kick a giraffe's ass to find it, then so be it. Let the Top Star fall, and let everyone's starlight shine.
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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