Revue Starlight Collector’s Collection (Cert PG)
2 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 301 minutes approx.
No doubt you have seen TV talent shows like The X Factor, The Voice, et al, and thought the audition process seemed quite demanding and often unforgiving on the poor saps desperate for their fifteen minutes of fame. Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
At the prestigious Seisho Music Academy, the 99th Graduating Class are in rehearsal for their annual production, Starlight, based on the tale of two goddesses bound by a shared ambition but torn apart for the same reason. One girl, Karen Aijou, has dreamed of performing on stage after seeing Starlight as a child, and made a pact with best friend Hikari Kagura to achieve this dream together.
During the initial preparation stages, Hikari transfers to the academy in time to take part in the production though her aloof behaviour worries Karen. One night, Karen follows Hikari as she sneaks out of her dorm room, finding a lift that magically appeared in the school building that leads to an underground theatre where she sees Hikari engaged in a battle against another girl, whilst a giraffe watches on.
Yes, I said giraffe. And it talks because of course it does, although it doesn’t say much other than “I understand”. This giraffe is overseeing the secret Revue Starlight auditions to find the right girl for the main role in Starlight and the billing of “Top Star”. Karen sees this is her chance to fulfil her ambition with Hikari and gains permission to enter the auditions.
I suppose if you are going to add a fresh and subversive twist to the idol anime template then you might as well go all out, which is which Revue Starlight does. In an unorthodox manner befitting such an abstract show, its origins are actually in musical theatre before crossing over to become a manga, anime, and smartphone game, rather than the other way round.
Whether the stage version is as offbeat and confusing to follow as this anime series we may never know, though I suspect the story has been expanded to fit a 300-minute TV run. I also wonder if the stage show had the talking giraffe in it – what a sight that would be. In the context of this series however, the giraffe is something of a McGuffin, in that it doesn’t serve any real purpose other than to act as a conduit for the girls to do battle.
Since nothing about the giraffe, such as its motives or background, is revealed, nor does it appear to represent anything symbolically, it feels like something from a Monty Python sketch, or maybe was put there just because. It might just be the least surreal thing in this show though as the world of the underground auditions take the girls into some dark fantasy places, psychologically and emotionally, other they are quite normal – sort of.
Karen is your typical excitable but amiable enough dreamer with a good heart, but lacks discipline, relying on roommate Mahiru Tsuyuzaki to wake her up to get to rehearsals, at least until Hikari’s arrival provides ample motivation. In fact, Mahiru’s jealousy at being usurped in Karen’s affections leads to a duel between her and Karen, though it seems that what happens underground stays underground.
Elsewhere, friends Kaoruko Hanayagi and Futaba Isurugi fall out when Kaoruko discovers Futaba has been taking extra tap dancing lessons, leading to accusations of her trying to upstage Kaoruko, so off they go downstairs to settle that issue. You might have deduced by now the format of the early episodes by way of introducing the main cast and using the battle auditions to measure the level of ambition and hunger of each girl to become a stage star.
There is an exception in Nana Daiba, a kooky girl nicknamed Banana because of the way her hair resembles a bunch of bananas. She is a wildcard in that is revealed to be in a self-created groundhog day, reliving past events because they make her happy and so she can protect the others girls from mistakes, until Hikari’s arrival interrupts this flow of repetition. Nana is the only one with any noted mystical ability about her.
But where is this all heading? It isn’t until late in the run that a story begins to emerge after taking so long to establish the cast, and it explores more about Karen and Hikari the more the plot of the play Starlight is revealed. Things get intentionally Meta the more it becomes evident their lives parallel the play’s plot and not just for them but the other girls too.
Heading into the climax, things take a surreal turn that might remind some viewers of the similarly obtuse and esoteric Revolutionary Girl Utena, or the dark whimsy of Madoka Magica. Much of the story’s symbolism is laid out on a platter by this point, though not always so clearly, whilst the pervasive questions about the giraffe and the underground auditions remain unanswered, as if we are simply supposed to accept them as everyday occurrences.
Visually, there are few complaints, the only one being how generic and indistinguishable the cast look; otherwise this is a top-notch presentation from Kinema Citrus. The true majesty of the art is found in the battle auditions, from the oft-repeated transformation sequence of the uniforms being made from scratch by machines, to the balletic fluidity of the fights, set against stunning fantasy stage surroundings.
Unfortunately, enjoyment of this show depends on how quickly one connects with it. If you can’t “get it” within the first few episodes, it might come across as wilfully indulgent and needlessly abstract. Whilst I could see what they were going for and appreciate the alternative take on the idol anime, I found it hard to engage with at times.
Revue Starlight is a solid watch but likely to prove polarising, depending on how straight you like your idol anime, or how long you’ve waited for one so unconventional to come along and rock the boat.
English Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Japanese Language 2.0 DTS HD-MA
Japanese Commentary Episode 1 & 5
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Japanese Commentary Episode 10
Revue Starlight Shorts
10 Art Cards
Rating – ***
Man In Black