*Spoilers for Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight episodes 1 & 2.
We’re well into the summer season, and it’s been absolutely lovely so far! My Hero Academia has been taking on exciting new anime-original territories, Cells at Work has taught me that even red blood cells can be cute, and Angels of Death has shown me the definition of edgy dialogue (I’ll write about it sometime). However, the true shining star of this season has unfortunately gone under the radar of many. Of course, I’m talking about Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight, a show that, despite its admittedly weird story, manages to have me excited and awestruck with every scene and episode.
So what exactly is Revue Starlight? A brief description would be, “Love-Live: The Movie combined with Fate’s Holy Grail War (without servants)”, but there’s a lot more to it than that, as crazy as it may already sound. Revue Starlight tells the story of nine students in Seisho Music Academy, an intense high school dedicated to various aspects of performing arts, such as dancing, singing, acting, and even swordplay. These nine students are abruptly entered into a hidden “audition” system in the school, in which two students battle in an elaborate underground stage every night, ultimately fighting for a tiara representing their position as the Top Star of the class.
With such an eccentric plot and a large cast, it’s surprising how enjoyable and engaging the show is. So today, I’ll be analyzing one of the main strengths of Revue Starlight, the lovable, well-developed characters, and discussing how the show effectively builds its characters. Let’s begin!
Dialogue & Character Interactions
The foremost component in the Revue Starlight formula is undoubtedly the slice-of-life style character interactions. There’s a fair bit of I-Believe-In-This-Thing monologues that elaborate quite a bit on the characters, but the nine stars truly shine when they’re conversing, practicing, or just being normal high school students with each other.
Take the excellent first episode for example. Within the first ten minutes, a lighthearted lunch sequence in the garden gives all the information needed to clearly set up four of the main cast. A routine yet effective “What’s our next class” dialogue so common among classmates starts the scene, immediately suggesting that Karen, Mahiru, and Banana are and have been friends for some time, even before Banana starts reminiscing on their past performance. In particular, Banana’s incomplete sentence – “I’ve got plenty of it, so…” – makes the conversation much more natural, as rarely are normal human conversations perfectly articulate. Also, the fact that Banana doesn’t need to finish her sentence for her friends to understand her intent adds realism to the group’s camaraderie. While these may seem like a minute details, subtle dialogue choices such as these can effectively build up character interactions.
Dialogue isn’t all though; voice acting plays a significant role in establishing these distinct characters. Karen’s bubbly, expressive flare (accompanied by perfect character animation, which I’ll address later) to Banana’s gentle, caring presence, the voicing is impeccable, capturing each of the characters’ personalities with precision. Out of the four in this scene, however, Junna’s voice is the clear standout; her voice, while seemingly controlled and mature, contains an ambitious, passionate heart, and only due to this impressive voicework are her internal conflicts believable later on. Good voice acting is so often overlooked in anime, and especially considering that five of the cast are voiced by debut voice actresses, I think Revue Starlight deserves genuine praise for its polished performances.
Lastly, the lines themselves are fantastic. It would take an entire other essay to analyze the well-written script, so let’s keep it simple. The lines are filled with personality, worded in ways that allow both information and character to flow, and are well-paced, keeping the conversations interesting and fluid. To my satisfaction, the characters also refrain from simply describing their emotions, instead letting larger tones and ideas surround the voice acting and the script. By melding together many great elements of smooth dialogue, Revue Starlight is able to constantly present fun quips and engaging conversations, and the characters are all the more lovable because of it.
The Revue & The Ideals
Now let’s look at the other major component of Revue Starlight: the Revues themselves. Flashy, hectic, and dramatic, these duels are the culminations of students’ inner conflicts for each episode, pitting two clashing ideals against each other over the bursting score and the dancing blades. From armaments to environments, each of the three revues so far have been unique from each other in numerous aspects, with each successfully establishing different characters’ distinct backgrounds, personalities, and perspectives. To pinpoint the strengths of these revues, I’ll be analyzing the epic battle of episode two between Karen and Junna in depth.
From the moment the two students enter the stage, their personality traits and characteristics of are reflected cleverly through their weapons. Junna, a stern, calculative, yet relatively overlooked presence in the classroom, carries a bow, a weapon unfit for direct combat and requiring great practice and knowledge just to simply fire it. As a student unnoticed for her inherent, top-of-the-line talent among the nine, Junna isn’t one to fight head-on. Instead, her strong work ethic and fiery ambition are represented in her mastery of the bow, which enables her to fight away from disadvantageous close combat using precision and strategy.
On the contrary, Karen uses the classic sabre, a versatile weapon with a history rooted in dueling. Her confident presence radiates through her shining blade, and its straightforward nature fits her head-on, spontaneous approach to situations, shown from the second she quite literally jumped into the auditions.
As the fighters face each other, the bright, explosive lights reveal the extravagantly designed stage: another device used to explore characters in these revues. In this particular stage, the environment reflects Junna’s mental struggles. Glasses immediately glare down upon Karen, letting Junna take cover and fight from the shadows. Blurry from one side but clear from the other, these glasses mirror Junna’s quiet, overlooked persona that hides her keen, always observant nature. It could even be said that the glasses are symbolic of Junna’s consistent effort and hard work.
The gold-faced mannequins that rise from the ground serve as even more distractions for Karen, but while assisting Junna in the battle, these mannequins also shed light on Junna’s depressing view of her talent. The mannequins, all identical in appearance, surround not just Karen but also Junna. In fact, the mannequin representative of Junna is no different from the others except for the glasses. For Junna, she’s not better nor more unique than anyone else. All that makes her different is her hard work, and if she falters for even just a moment, her life will lose its meaning.
Adding on to this duel’s theme around Junna’s self perception is the dynamic lighting that constantly shifts to mirror Junna’s character development. There are several key elements to note here, all of which are scattered throughout the fight. First is the recurring purple-pink light, which is most often present as a single sparkle in the sky. The color itself seems to have a clear symbolic link to the tiara or the Top Star position, but the specific implications of the color vary for each character. In this particular duel, the color is an overpowering force for Junna, always towering over her or completely surrounding her as the only light. Another detail to note in this battle is the light-dark contrast; it’s clear that for the most part, Junna is always in the dark while Hikari is always fighting in the light. Lastly, the spotlight plays a minor yet significant role in the duel. Throughout the entire conflict, the spotlight is focused on Junna or Karen separately, and until the decisive final blow from Karen, the spotlights never converge. Only after the victor is decided do the two spotlights unite at one point.
Now, what do these details all mean? In this duel, Junna is either covered by the Tiara’s light or embraced in darkness, while Hikari is never once under the pink shine and always under the pure light, save for few spotlight sequences. The lights symbolize Hikari’s attempts to save Junna from her harmful view on her Seisho career: that she is a nobody in the shadows of the best performers, and that to mean something, she must claim the pink tiara. This mentality is also one reflected in the spotlights, which always highlight only one individual within the stage of “Junna’s World”, reflecting Junna’s belief that only one person can ever be the victor, even if it isn’t her in the end.
Because of the lighting details, the final scene of the episode between Karen and Junna becomes much more powerful. As Karen opens the curtain covering Junna in darkness, clear, bright light shines down upon Junna, representing her liberation from the tiara’s overwhelming, detrimental presence in her life. As Junna rises to face Hikari, it’s clear that the only light present is Hikari’s blue-ish light. Hikari has won the battle, and in the process, she has managed to save Junna and has furthered her belief that there can be more than one Top Star. With the final shot panning upwards, the spotlights are present again, but this time, with the two converging to shine on both Junna and Karen, reestablishing Karen’s hopes for the revue.
This is the end of part one. The next part will be out in a few days, and will address other smaller yet vital components of the show, such as character design, character animation, and media mix. Thank you for reading!