First Look: Revue Starlight

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Alternative title(s): Shoujo☆Kageki Revue Starlight
Stage musical adaptation by Kinema Citrus
Streaming on HIDIVE

Premise

Karen is studying at a prestigious music academy to become the next star of the theatre. When her childhood friend Hikari returns to Japan after a twelve-year absence, Karen, along with her classmates, gets roped into a mysterious audition process for the lead roles in an iconic play the academy stages every three years..

Aqua’s verdict: Dazzling the Stage

This is to be be our fate, isn’t it? No talent in this godforsaken industry is going to be allowed to cut loose anymore unless it spills its creativity for some third rate mobage-peddling scam. What an infuriating show to talk about Revue Starlight is, then — one slice of its pie a fantastical fever dream, the others vacuous, dime-a-dozen passengers on the Love Live! train. Direct comparisons to the Love Live! anime really only go up if you’ve never seen an episode of Love Live! before, though — Revue Starlight takes a distinctly weirder path I can only hope it’ll continue on, and thank the µ’ses muses its slices of life aren’t quite as vacuous and meticulously choreographed as whatever passes for comedy in the world of Love Live! Regardless, the marketing model of both franchises remains the same. We have a handful of easily recognizable stereotypes in cute school uniforms. We have a combination of rookie and experienced voice actresses filling the shoes of their characters during live performances. We have universally applicable platitudes about shining together. And of course, we have the ample nods and winks towards the droves of viewers who live for their preferred ship to sail.

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Still, calling Revue Starlight a shameless rip-off undermines both the inherent superiority of its setting and themes. While awards for being a more legitimately empowering aspiration that the goddamn idol industry should be handed out with discretion, Japan’s tradition of contemporary musical theatre tradition — in particular the centennial Takarazuka revue — is something to be legitimately proud of. While the all-female theatre troupe’s works and traditions were a clear influence on Revue Starlight both on and behind the scenes — the original stage musicals were created, written, directed and soundtracked by women — their aesthetic also indirectly had a role to play in designing the look and the feel of the show. After all, Takarazuka has been an undeniable, yet often underestimated influence on the works of Kunihiko Ikuhara, who in turn inspired his protégé Tomohiro Furukawa to create Revue Starlight‘s gorgeously imaginative dueling sequences.

Dueling sequences, you say? Indeed. Like that other show one couldn’t help invoking Ikuhara’s name around, Star Driver, Revue Starlight seems to be heading in a similar direction, using the mysterious “audition” Karen will probably go through at the end of every episode serving as a kind of metaphorical denouement for whatever drama arises during the segments featuring on the cast’s everyday lives. Said duels play out like spectacular Symphogear-esque sing-offs, though the absence of an actual conflict has me worried. Karen fighting to disrupt the hierarchical structure of the audition process — the girls are essentially made to “fight” over who gets to play the lead role — and allowing all of the girls to sparkle on stage together isn’t just stale and cheesy, it’s also not something any halfway redeemable show can maintain throughout its entire run. Starlight Revue doesn’t hesitate to look at the world of the theatre through a lens tainted by the tired tropes of idol anime, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been looking forward to something that would either give a more genuinely nuanced look behind the scenes of the Takarazuka Revue, or go all-in on the surreality and symbolism.

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In the end, we’re left with a show that makes a mixed first impression at best. While the visuals, from the brisk cinematography and blink-and-you-miss-it sight gags to the aforementioned dueling sequences are top-notch across the board, the writing and characters consistently fail to break the mold. It doesn’t help that HIDIVE’s subtitles are nothing short of godawful, with frequent inaccuracies and inconsistencies that actively harm the message the show is trying to get across. Yet another caveat to a show that’s running out of goodwill as it is, though I’d still recommend giving Revue Starlight a shot if you haven’t already. It provides enough of a glimpse into a a truly fascinating world to pique my interest, and that transformation sequence is so good I’ll gladly watch all 45 seconds of it again. Let’s just hope Revue Starlight can start backing up that style with some substance.

Iro’s verdict: Price of Admission is Too High

The last five minutes of this show are great, with a surreal vibe (Why is there a giraffe? Do I even want to know?) and excellent animation on display. The first fifteen are incredibly dull, the same stereotypical idol foofaraw that has taken over Japan, with every effeminate entertainer easily encapsulated with minimal effort. The Tomboy; The Elegant; The Uptight; The Goofball; hell, even The Boring, all loudly proclaiming their full names and serial numbers like we’re taking attendance in elementary school. Revue Starlight has – at the very least – earned a second episode, but only so I can confirm whether the main event will be the school-time giggles and catchphrases or bizarre clashes of will in the underground idol arena. I might be surprised, but I’m also not exactly hopeful.

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