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This Week in Anime
Revue Starlight is a Dazzling Surprise

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Revue Starlight has sparkled its way into the hearts of many fans this season, but what makes this surreal spin on school idols different from its peers? This week, Nick and Steve take center stage to find the answers.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for language.





You can read our weekly coverage of Revue Starlight here!

Nick, I know we're going to be talking a lot about bananas today, and believe me when I say I love and respect the work that you do, but if you make even a passing reference to the Minions I'm ending this column permanently.

Nick D
Do I look like Micchy to you?

I just wanted to lay down some ground rules before we continue.

But yes, there is a very important reason we're talking about bananas today.

It's time to talk about Revue Starlight! It's a completely normal slice-of-life show about girls attending an arts academy specializing in theater. They sing, they dance, and they definitely never have conversations with a giraffe!

Now that's not entirely true Steve, there is something pretty unusual about these girls that I don't think we need to tap dance around.

Namely, what the fuck is this thing Futaba's holding?

Whatever it is, Kaoruko seems pretty into it! And yes, I suppose there are a few unusual things about Seisho now that you mention it. Their elevator seems pretty jacked up.

What, your high school didn't have a secret 4th-dimensional elevator that transported you to a liminal space ruled by the laws of drama? You must have gone to public school.

Jokes aside, I don't know what your experience with the first episode was like, but I went in pretty much blind and got one hell of a trip.

or more accurately a fall

So I'd actually been excited for this title for a while, back before we even knew it would be a TV anime, when this stunningly animated PV dropped back during spring of last year.

I do kind of remember that now that you mention it! I still don't know that it would have prepared me for this.

Yeah, going in I was expecting super intense anime fights as part of a stage play. What I got was something decidedly different.

Props for making a god damn giraffe seem sinister.

So it's probably worth mentioning at this point that the lead director Tomohiro Furukawa has worked closely with Kunihiko Ikuhara (of Utena, Penguindrum, and Yurikuma fame) in the past. And as you can see, the experience might have rubbed off on him a bit. If a giraffe waxing poetic about the abstract essence of the stage isn't surreal, I don't know what is.

I dunno who at Bushiroad decided that their next anime-girl-raising mobile game should hand off the anime tie-in's reins to a director best known for some of the most obtuse and ambitious visuals in Penguindrum, but good on them.

Seriously. The show is constantly throwing out these weird, surreal, but gorgeous images that elevate the rest of the anime.

For the uninitiated, Revue Starlight is initially similar to other high school musical performance shows like Love Live! or the billion other idol shows we get every year. On paper, its main defining trait is that instead of being idols, our cast are training to become professional Takarazuka performers, so they train meticulously in all levels of performing arts. In practice, its defining feature is taking the abstract conflicts of its cast—envy over skill, jealousy of others' bonds, blinding ambition—and turns them into gorgeously choreographed battles on a constantly shifting battlefield ruled by autonomous stage props to create the most flamboyant anime fights since Star Driver.

Honestly, as somebody who has limited experience with theater but plenty of interest, "idol show but with actresses" probably would have been enough to string me along. A lot of care also goes into the scenes of the girls' daily lives, establishing their personalities and relationships. The strange underground duels are certainly the show's selling point, but they wouldn't have the same impact if the characters didn't have a strong foundation.

Strong characters like The Gay Agenda here:

You're gonna have to be more specific than that. There's a lot of Agenda going on at Seisho Academy.

And not all of it faithful!

But yeah, cool fights will only get you through a whole season of anime if they're based on solid emotional beats, and while I was initially skeptical of Revue Starlight's chops, the more it's progressed, the more confident I am that it has more going on than just trying to sell character goods.

I think it's done a great job of fleshing out its cast in half a cour, giving many of them their own miniature arcs. At center stage has been our protagonist Karen and her childhood friend Hikari, whose initial friction upon being reunited has resolved back into closeness. Their make-up episode is one of the show's highlights. Even though it doesn't feature a duel, their scene in front of Tokyo Tower is just as dazzling.

I cannot tell you how thankful I was when they got Hikari and Karen's resolution taken care of in the first third of the series. One of my initial misgivings was just how tired the Mysterious Returned Childhood Friend stuff was. Hikari's way more interesting now that they've reunited and are working toward their shared dream.

Exactly! And it also lets us have a delightful episode dedicated to Karen's scorned roommate Mahiru, who is desperately thirsty in all the wrong places.

I'd also like to thank Mahiru's episode for so completely embracing its subtext.

It features the main hallmarks of an Ikuhara-inspired show: lesbians and shitposting

For real, I loved Mahiru's episode. The third wheel friend secretly in love with the main character is a tried and true anime trope, but Starlight smartly ties that into Mahiru's real issue. She's unable to see herself as somebody worthy of love, so she clings to Karen's hyper personality to give herself purpose.

Mahiru's struggles are just as valid as the others, and she negotiates her own insecurities between all the jokes. I love it when a jokey side character gets treated seriously, and this episode was my favorite until the most recent one crashed into my heart.

Yeah so ABOUT THAT EPISODE. Until now, Starlight's tread a steady line with how it frames these underground "Auditions." The cast has struggled with insecurity over losing, but so far just about everyone's found some level of catharsis or encouragement from being pitted against each other for supremacy. Your peers are simultaneously your closest compatriots and fiercest competition after all.

But then episode 7 drops a big old shoe to question whether or not that environment is actually healthy.

There have been undercurrents of this since the beginning. The entire premise of the "Top Star" is exclusionary and unfair, and Karen continues to defy it by wishing to share equal brilliance with Hikari and everyone else. She's questioning a basic tenet of theater and Takarazuka in particular, so I've been really interested to see where that goes thematically.

Which brings us to the Big Banana herself:

You might even call her the Top Banana!

To think everyone was making Homura Akemi jokes about Hikari when this show started.

NANA is so enthralled by their first performance of Starlight that she can't imagine anything being better. And that's totally understandable. We all see the past through rose-colored glasses, and we all find comfort in familiar things. That's part of being human.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for her I guess), NANA happens to have access to a metaphysical manifestation of theater with the power to change reality, and she also happens to be talented and hard-working enough to harness that power for herself.

And that's how we get Primer but with a Banana.

It's a hell of an episode, and not just for the revelation about what had been the most one-dimensional character in the show.

I think "bases her hairstyle on bananas" is worth at least two dimensions, but that's just me.

Just in terms of direction and editing, it's an immediately unsettling watch that tells you something is off even when everything seems normal. Harsh jarring cuts and framing that's just a little too distant or claustrophobic than it should be. You could probably watch episode 7 with the sound and subtitles turned off and still know that something is wrong within a minute.

It's a brilliantly executed story, even without any of the impressive duel animation we've been dazzled by previously. It's quiet and melancholy and suffused with sinister little details.

It's also great how it magnifies Hikari's sudden appearance from an earth-shattering event for Karen to a universe-shattering event for NANA. And it opens many more questions about everything that's happened so far.

It's a total game-changer, and I can't wait to see what the show has in store for us now. With this, Revue Starlight's rocketed up my list of of must-see shows this season to sit right next to Planet With.

I've been a fan of Starlight since the beginning (and cough you should read our weekly coverage of it cough), but it's certainly become something special in recent weeks, and I too can't wait to see where it goes next.

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