by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Revue Starlight ?
In Revue Starlight's first break from formula, episode 4 doesn't end with another metaphorical duel on its metaphysical stage. Karen is too preoccupied with Hikari's sudden disappearance to worry about auditioning again, and she spends the bulk of the runtime chasing after her. Meanwhile, Karen's classmates take advantage of the quiet left in her absence and reflect on their own desires and ambitions.
I mentioned last week that Karen and Hikari were overdue for a long heart-to-heart, and thankfully that reconciliation is the centerpiece of this episode. Before we get to that point, however, Karen needs to find Hikari. She looks everywhere (including the rooms of her still-sleeping classmates) before the group's designated mom friend Banana kindly suggests she try using her phone. It turns out Hikari has left campus entirely, and Karen doesn't think twice about chasing after her, which results in a complicated game of phone tag and literal tag as she chases her friend through Tokyo's many aquariums. In a sense, this is more of a departure for the two of them than the Underground Theater, since outside of the academy they're no longer actresses-in-training. They're just regular teenage girls now, but that actually works in their favor. Removed from the pretense of auditions, competitions, and creepy talking giraffes, they're able to slowly but surely rekindle the spark that united them so many years ago.
I love the way this scene progresses. Representing Hikari's emotional distance with physical distance is a well-worn technique, but it's utilized beautifully in this episode. Karen's desperate chase, running to aquarium after aquarium but never the right aquarium at the right time, feels like an apt metaphor for failures of communication despite the best of intentions. But Karen's resolve prevents her from giving up, both for her sake and Hikari's. Meanwhile, Hikari is upset but seems to enjoy toying with Karen in this low-stakes kind of way. At first she sends nothing but cryptic selfies, which you can read as passive-aggressive, flirtatious, or both (I think it's totally both). Eventually, she starts texting with Karen, addressing the elephant (or giraffe) in the room of Karen's recent defeat and working through both of their conflicting feelings. Given Hikari's quiet disposition, you'd be forgiven for thinking that she held some kind of answer about the true nature of the mysterious auditions. Even Karen thought that. But Hikari barely knows any more than her. She's just ambitious, angry, and worried for herself and her friend.
The highlight of the episode is Karen and Hikari's phone conversation. It's the first time we see the two of them talk casually about their time together, about the time they've spent apart, about their likes and dislikes, and about their love of the theater. The scene is edited such that it cuts between different points of their call, and we don't hear full stories or both sides of each conversation. But that's not the point. The details of the conversation are not meant for the audience, only its impact, and the tone of Karen's laughter and the sight of Hikari's smile say more than any extra words could. We're treated along the way with many shots of the busy streets of Tokyo, with the sky growing golden as twilight approaches. The two of them finally unite at where else but Tokyo Tower, lit bright orange against the dark night sky. Hikari has been hung up on the zero sum nature of the auditions and the idea that it's all over once you lose. Karen finally understands where she's coming from, but she doesn't think quite so fatalistically. Karen intends to keep practicing, keep improving, and keep dreaming of sharing the spotlight with Hikari. She extends her hand, and Hikari, who was packed up and ready to leave earlier that day, joins Karen on a stage shared only by the two of them. This isn't the surreal world dictated by the rules of theater; this is their world, silhouetted against the glow of the real Tokyo Tower.
Although Karen and Hikari are the focus of this episode, the other girls still have to go through their daily routine at the academy. This is overall lighter material, but it's still fun to watch and gives us more context on their own relationships. Mahiru nearly steals the show with her dramatic baton-twirling defense against Kaoruko's slightly nefarious intentions, and I think it's safe to assume she's the one who rounded the other girls up to create an alibi for Karen and Hikari. Kaoruko meanwhile seems much more at ease with her head in Futaba's lap, but shades of her sharpness from last week still poke through as she directly discusses the particulars of the auditions with her partner. She reaches the same conclusion Hikari did, that they're eventually going to have to fight against the people closest to them. Karen meets this with her boundless optimism, and Futaba meets it with a light bonk to Kaoruko's head. There's friction ahead for sure.
Two girls who we know have already fought to be the Top Star, Maya and Claudine, also have a short scene alone. Maya isn't a villain, but she coolly asserts her dominance by playing the leading role in their impromptu ballroom dance. (It's worth noting that the top Takarazuka stars traditionally play the lead male roles in their productions.) Claudine, who was trying to imitate Maya's form earlier and doesn't have a retort against her, still interrogates her reasons for participating in the auditions. Maya's jealousy drives her to defend her title, which reveals how tenuous even the position of Top Star can be. Whatever position of power she has can be taken from her at any time if she's not careful, which makes it less a position of power and more a yoke she must carry everywhere. The stage is unforgiving.
If your exclusive draw to Revue Starlight was its thrilling and surreal duels, you may be let down by this episode. Those are a big part of the show's appeal to me too, but the show has also been doing a remarkably good job building up these characters through their daily lives. The spectacular clashes are going to happen on the stage, but these smaller conflicts are the seeds from which those can grow and be appreciated. This episode also isn't bereft of mysterious theatrical intrigue, as the prologue reveals more of the Starlight story. Karen gets blinded by the overpowering red light of the star, while Hikari feels stardust rain from the heavens and fall through her fingers. Whatever that ultimately means, it's a striking image and an ominous portent. Mercifully, it was not a harbinger for their relationship in this episode, which is whole again by the early morning hours. Masayuki Kojima (who directed another little Kinema Citrus production last year called Made In Abyss) did a wonderful job storyboarding and directing this episode. The girls were not as clever as they thought they were, and they're all going to get in trouble for helping their friends play hooky, but the warmth with which Karen welcomes Hikari home makes it all worthwhile. The ED that Hikari sung alone last week is now a duet between her and Karen.
Now that this first major conflict is resolved, I look forward to seeing how the girls' interpersonal dramas evolve, and how Karen will ultimately be able to out-dazzle the rules of the giraffe's auditions. I'd especially like to see sides of Hikari's interiority that aren't exclusively Karen-centric. (I also want to learn more about Banana's unique brand of cuisine.) This episode lacks the bombast of the first three, but it's still full of the confident and earnest style that makes even small character moments pop. Overall, this was a very bana-nice episode.
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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