Every once in a while, you find an anime that ends up surprising you in the most pleasant of ways, and this past summer season, there was one such anime: Shoujo☆Kageki Revue Starlight. I think it can best be described as the cure for the common idol anime, although these aren’t idols we’re talking about here. They’re stars~
Synopsis: Starlight is a song and dance revue troupe loved throughout the world. Karen and Hikari make a promise with each other when they were young: one day, they’ll stand on the Starlight stage together. Time passes, and now the girls are 16 years old. Karen is very enthusiastic about the lessons she takes every day, holding her promise close to her heart. Hikari has transferred schools and is now away from Karen. But the cogs of fate turn, and the two are destined to meet again. The girls and other Stage Girls will compete in a mysterious audition process to gain acceptance into the revue.
In this review, I won’t be talking that much about how closely this shows ties into Japanese musical theater, simply because I just don’t know all that much about it. For a crash course on the subject, you can check out this helpful little guide, so let’s get things started.
At first glance, it’s hard not to dismiss Shoujo☆Kageki Revue Starlight as just another music anime such as Love Live! or The iDOLM@STER. It has the singing and dancing that we’ve come to expect in such an anime (although in this anime, most of that takes place in rehearsals), but underneath that polished exterior lies a surprisingly deep story that’s pretty unexpected.
The first half of the season seems like your typical music anime—with the girls building towards their performance at the upcoming Seishou Festival on one hand, and the competition between the girls in order to become the Top Star on the other—but episode seven was a game-changer, and from that point on, the story opened up and became a lot more complex and intriguing than what you’d typically find in other music anime. I’m talking about stuff like time loops, symbolism, and tragedy, and the importance of that Starlight performance can’t be understated.
While I appreciated the originality of the story, I have to admit that part of me liked the audition process more than the story of Karen and Hikari’s journey. Everyone understands something as simple as sword fights and the desire to be the best, but not everyone will quite understand or be receptive to how the final couple of episodes unfolded. To me, they felt drawn out and like you could’ve condensed them into a single episode, though, that final episode sure was something else.
On the flip side, the side stories that involve many of the other girls are straightforward and easy to follow, and you have that natural drama and big personalities that create some really entertaining moments. Despite all of the battles, there’s still plenty of comedy to be found here (at least for the first half of the season), so you also get a lot of the positive qualities that you’d find in other music anime.
In short, the story is not without its share of flaws, but at the same time, it’s original and fresh and that touch of the unexpected helps make Shoujo☆Kageki Revue Starlight a spectacle that definitely deserves some more attention.
Moving on to the characters, I think the cast is actually quite comparable to that other music anime, Love Live!. For some of the girls more than others, there’s an ample amount of character development to be found, and with the low, low standards that have been set by other shows, I can see most if not all of these characters potentially playing the lead role.
Everything starts with Karen, and to me, she was the weakest link in the group. Granted, I wouldn’t say she’s as uninspiring as Honoka was, but for a character with such a critical role, I usually found myself indifferent to her, or at least not as emotionally involved as I should have been. Story-wise, Karen and Hikari are tied at the proverbial hip, yet it’s Hikari that’s really the driving force here, and Bakaren seems to just be along for the ride.
Despite her aloof personality, I thought Hikari came across better than Karen, and there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. For a majority of the season, this transfer student doesn’t quite fit into the group incredibly well, yet that coincides with the ongoing competition to become the Top Star, so it’s all good. Although I liked Hikari, I will say that I thought that most of the other girls have her beat in terms of charm, and being alongside Karen so much might’ve made Hikari look better in comparison. 😛
Perhaps Karen and Hikari left a lot to be desired from a personal standpoint, but at least their relationship isn’t lacking in cuteness, and all of the flashbacks were really touches. From their childhood promise to become stars together to the performance of Starlight, their connection is on full display, and while I was lukewarm to them as individual characters, together, the pairing is more than the sum of its parts.
Lost in all this talk of Karen and Hikari is Mahiru, who’s Karen’s roommate that has a huge crush on her. Her jealousy of Karen and Hikari’s close relationship culminates in one of the more entertaining episodes of the season, and it added some extra spice to the school life portions of the series. Given how great she always was with Karen, it’s hard not to feel bad for Mahiru, but everything seemed to work itself out, and I ended up liking her even more.
In addition to Karen x Hikari (or Karen x Mahiru), there are two more pairings that play major roles in the story, Claudine x Maya and Futaba x Kaoruko. If I’m being completely honest, I’d say that I preferred these two pairings over Karen x Hikari. Story-wise, neither of these pairings present anything fancy, but all four girls have the charisma and charm that I thought Karen was mostly lacking.
Early on, it’s clear that Maya and Claudine are a cut above the others, so this rivalry between the two becomes another ship worth sailing. They’re incredibly similar, and even though their stories aren’t as fleshed out as Futaba and Kaoruko’s, they’re more involved in the larger storyline. I don’t know, there’s just something about these two that draws you in, and that “shine” that often gets talked about in this show? Claudine and Maya definitely have it. I just wish the conclusion to their journey had been more drawn out and more rewarding, because I thought it was pretty underwhelming.
Now, those two presented us with something a little bit different, but even though I considered myself aboard the KuroMaya yuri hype train, upon rewatching it, I gotta go with Futaba x Kaoruko as my favorite ship. They’re not chief rivals like Claudine and Maya are, but they far and away have the most couple-like relationship out of any of the girls. We don’t really see a tomboy x princess relationship often enough in anime, but thanks to Futaba and Kaoruko, I want to see it more often. Their relationship more or less plays out like you’d expect, complete with a dramatic “lover’s quarrel”. Cliché and melodramatic as it may be, I really like this type of interpersonal drama, and even though they’re often in their own world and don’t play much of a factor in the larger scheme of things, Futaba and Kaoruko bring something a little different to the show.
Nana and Junna don’t really have a go-to partner like the other girls do, though, they seem to have a friendly relationship with each other, and both girls play important roles within Seisho Music Academy’s 99th class, especially Nana. She may not get as much love as a lot of the other girls, but Junna was my favorite character in the show. As the class rep, it’s no surprise that Junna is hard-working and a leader amongst the girls, and I loved how level-leaded she was. And did I mention that she’s absolutely adorable?!
Speaking of adorable, Nana is that as well, and she’s like the motherly figure of the group. Due to the use of her favorite ingredient in her meals, Nana got the cute nickname “Banana”, and her full name translates to “Big Banana”. Her hair even resembles a hand of bananas, and amongst the girls, she seems as loved and respected as anyone. And unlike Junna, Nana does play a big part in the story, and her backstory is easily among the most intriguing out of any of the girls. I was a little disappointed that her story wasn’t explored further, but it was still really good while it lasted.
And then there’s the giraffe… whom I hated, so let’s just move on. All in all, this is a pretty strong cast of characters, but I ultimately felt like it was being held back a bit by Karen. But on the bright side, this show doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s pretty gay, and yuri fans should love all the pairings, which consist of a little something for everyone to enjoy~
So far, so good, but I think where this anime shines brightest is in the animation department, where it looks great not only for a music anime, but just as an anime in general.
Remember that janky CG during the Love Love! performances? Yeah, this anime puts those stilted performances to shame, and the audition scenes are more akin to a fairly big-budget action anime than your typical music anime. I never thought I’d use the word “impressive” to describe the visuals in an anime like this, but they’re exactly that. The direction is superb, the use of CG is well-done and doesn’t suffer from the awkwardness seen in similar anime, and there are times when you can see some shades of Ikuhara in the show’s striking visuals.
When the auditions aren’t taking place, the show still looks fine, although it does come back down to Earth. And aside from the recycled animation used to signify the start of an audition, I don’t think there’s much else to complain about, so if you think all music/idol anime are nothing more than the same old stage performances, this anime will definitely change your perception and raise your expectations for future music anime.
As far as the music goes, I think I’d actually give this anime the edge over more traditional music anime. While other music anime seems more intent on creating simple pop songs that are meant to sell albums, this anime doesn’t focus as much on the songs themselves, and the girls don’t even really sing during their auditions. The performances are accompanied by insert songs, and if you’re able to ignore the clanging of blades, you’ll notice that those songs are actually quite nice, so it’s unfortunate that they’re kind of overshadowed by the action. However, the music takes an instrumental approach during the more easygoing scenes, and since I always enjoy me some piano music, I thought that this really added to the atmosphere and helped bring the music back to the forefront.
Other than Shocking Party, I can’t say that I really like the songs from Love Live!, so the music from this anime felt like a breath of fresh air from the overprocessed and underwhelming music you’ll typically find in anime such as this. Also, it was awesome how the girls all get in on the ED.
Overall, it felt like Shoujo☆Kageki Revue Starlight worked pretty well on a number of different levels, and whether you’re a hardcore fan of music/idol anime or just a nonfan that wants to be entertained, this anime goes above and beyond what you’d expect in this type of anime, and it’s hard not to like that~