So many stories of ambition and hubris involve towers. It could just be a phallic thing (insert your own joke here) but, as we are oft, I blame the Bible. The story of Babel is as old as, well, the Old Testament (a testament to its oldness) and has made its mark on the entire Western literary tradition. That said, imagery of futile effort like we have in this finale of Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight, with Hikari stacking stars only to be thrown from the top again and again, is actually fairly widespread in mythology. Sisyphus, as you might recall, was condemned to roll a bolder a large boulder up a hill only to have it tumble back down to the bottom right before he got to the top. Children sent to Buddhist hell stack stones by a river, and demons will routinely come around and knock over their piles. Here, too, Hikari has her own personal hell, though this one has a giraffe. You’ll have to explain that one to me.
I’m glad that Revue Starlight decided to break out all the symbolism for this last episode, because it’s always these bouts of visual storytelling where it is the strongest. The pink desert that buries fallen stars reminded me of Flip Flappers, which can only be a good thing. Symbolism is great because they, by necessity, need to connect with something personal inside our brains in order to convey meaning. Thus when they click for us it’s a deeper level of understanding than the anime simply telling us what it means to say. Sure, it’s not quite as direct nor precise, but it feels more profound, and it’s those kinds of cerebral moments that stick with you much longer than any amount of exposition. Sure, sometimes a show’s symbolism is heavy handed (I get it, inverted Tokyo Tower) or it’s just weird for the sake of weird, but even then at the very least it’s trying to be interesting, and that’s what I ask of any anime first and foremost. And with that, time for the final impressions!
Final Impressions ~ Exit, stage left
Revue Starlight turned out to be something of a cross between a magical girl anime and an idol anime. That’s not too far of a stretch, since idol anime are basically modern magical girl anime, still coming-of-age stories where the girls ‘transform’ on stage to become something greater than themselves (frilly costumes and all). The two genres are immediate relatives and have been interbred before (…that sounded way creepier than it had to be). But idol anime has always faced a fundamental problem in storytelling. Of course, idols naturally means singing and dancing. People watch for the choreographed sequences and fans demand them. But what purpose are they to the story? Sure, they can look good but often they cut entirely away from the plot and serve only as shiny distractions. Make no mistakes, shiny distractions can be great and perfectly enjoyable, but when you’re trying to tell a story in a format as limited in time as anime every distraction means compromises in the depth of the narrative. This is the same issue action scenes also pose, and in fact the stage sequences for idol anime are basically that genre’s action pieces. Action anime, however, have refined its craft over many generations and have gotten good at weaving plot into its action and vice versa. Idol anime, perhaps still young, often don’t give much concern to those techniques and instead simply opt for light stories, which I I consider to be a waste of the genre.
Enter Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight, which obviously wanted more depth to its story than your typical second-rate idol anime. And I suppose the answer was simple; there’s already a medium that uses song and dance in storytelling, and its musical theatre. And so Revue Starlight is not just about musical theatre but is also itself musical theatre. And to Revue Starlight‘s credit, it pulled it off rather well, with an anime that, when it got going, didn’t feel like it just happened to be set on a stage, but actually felt like a real stage show. I suppose it’s a mixed-media thing and there actually is a Revue Starlight stage show, but bringing all that into anime takes work.
The thing is, theatre and television have very different relationships with their audience and it’s hard to translate. On that note, though, I think something has clicked for me. Do you remember how I was criticising Karen’s character, how she didn’t feel like much of a protagonist most of the time? Well, I now think that’s deliberate. It was around when the giraffe turned to the audience and broke the fourth wall that it came together for me. Of course Karen did not feel like a protagonist. She was the one who jumped in. And where did she jump in from? The audience, of course. When I wrote about the Happy Sugar Life finale I discussed tragedy and how the audience can only sit there, frozen between pity and horror, and watch it unfold. Karen, though, refused to watch a tragedy. So she jumps in herself and puts on a different show.
That’s actually kind of clever. Perhaps I’m just easily impressed, but I wasn’t expecting that kind of pseudo-meta commentary from Revue Starlight, so I’m impressed. It’s just a simple little thing, but still. Brava. You got me.