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This Week in Anime – The Adolescence of Revue Starlight

Chris and Steve attempt to decipher the theatrical teenage emotions of . Also: the giraffe is scarier in this one.

This movie is streaming on HIDIVE

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Hey, Chris. This is your brain.

And this is your brain on .

Any questions?
I think anyone who went through and didn’t come away with multiple questions wasn’t paying enough attention. For instance, why all the insistence on tomatoes here when we know the superior fruit is the banana?
Unfortunately our resident Big Banana hasn’t had as much time to bake us her usual treats. She’s too busy hogging all the power tools and stabbing her friends on the metaphysical stage of life. As one does.
We all deal with leaving high school in our own ways, and sometimes the sober grad party just isn’t cutting it.
Hell yeah, because this isn’t your dad’s . This is ! It’s bigger, louder, gayer, and has a eldritch produce giraffe. What more could you ask for from cinema?
I had to immediately give this movie big ups for choosing to make the giraffe even weirder than it was in the series. as an anime has always proudly gotten by on artistic esotericism, so skewing one of its most WTF focal points even further is a great statement of that intent.

That overall intent being providing even less narrative mechanical justification for all the wild staged shit it’s throwing at the wall and getting by on the most outlandish outsized vibes possible.
It’s the best direction the movie could have gone for too. When I reviewed the TV series back in 2018, I thought it ended in a good but muddled place. It had such a great, confident creative voice, but the story and characters couldn’t quite bear all the thematic weight being pushed on them. The movie, though, is everything the series was, but honed and tempered to a brilliant and blazing point. It’s a version of I love with practically no reservations, and I’m so happy to see that.
Indeed, one major thing that sticks out to me about this movie is that, though it’s nominally a sequel to the TV series, it has so many earmarks of working as a compilation or retelling as well. Once the opening act setting things up is taken care of, the main attraction, the dueling duets between our various star-crossed thespian lovers, do a lot to reiterate and review (or ‘revue’) the issues they worked through in the show.

The setup has a lot of elements that tie into the overall themes of the movie which we can get into later, but just on the surface it does work as a great refresher if it’s been a while since you last saw the series.
It’s feels uniquely and deliberately suited to the movie format too. Not that it follows a standard three-act structure or anything—it’s shape is twistier and more abstract than that—but it really guns for presence and spectacle above all else. It’s about theater, and it echoes the grandeur of theater to a degree that only a film can.
Even compared to the necessary theatricality of the TV series, it cannot be overstated what a Capital-M Movie this movie is.

Like, not to brag or anything, but I’ve now seen this film three times. First I watched a screener to review it for ANN. Then I liked it so much I drove 90 minutes to the nearest theatrical showing. And now I streamed it again to get screencaps for this column. And I’ll watch it again! But getting the full cinema experience was hands down the best way to experience this sensory smorgasbord of song and swashbuckling.

Let me state for the record that I am mad jealous you got that theatrical experience I missed out on. Even the first time I watched through this I couldn’t stop myself from compulsively screen capping what felt like every other frame. So I was happy to let myself give it another watch less than twenty-four hours later to simply soak the whole thing in.
It really begs for multiple viewing. It’s a lot to take in at once! Not only do you have flashy set pieces that layer dialogue over lyrics, the narrative prioritizes emotional potency over linearity, so it expects the audience to do a lot of work connecting the character arcs. It’s fitting, because it’s making the most use of the symbolic surrealism of its stage productions. That’s what I want more than anything from . But you do have to want that in a film to get the most out of this one.
I’m extremely glad I gave it that second watch. The aforementioned vibes carry the clashing conflicts on-screen perfectly well, but there are details that crystalize better once you know where they’re going. Like the early scenes with the girls declaring their post-grad plans, keeping track of where each one of them is going (pointedly, none of the partnered-up pairs have the same goal between them) informs their specific flavors of angst each couple is fighting through.

It also gives you more opportunity to catch all the delightful little background details, like Maya mirroring an ad’s pose or being warned about the dangers of driving under the influence (of Richard Wagner).
There’s also stuff I didn’t notice/appreciate until this third viewing. Like Karen and Hikari acting opposite of each other, just separated by an entire hemisphere. Now THAT’S pining.
These two would cross an ocean to see each other again, even if that’s made a little easier by taking a train escorted by an existentialist talking giraffe.

Such travels might also be made easier by the metaphysical question of how much all this is actually even happening. Compared to the somewhat more explicated audition duels from the TV series, what the girls get up to here is very specifically not an audition, and the way it comes off might simply be the most lavish symbolic representation of all of them psychologically working through that particular flavor of graduation uncertainty.

I like the way that allows their hang-ups to be expressed nearly-entirely in these high-concept musical duels, compared to needing to be directly detailed and plotted out across full episodic time-slots.
Additionally, and appropriately, it’s a more mature way of handling ‘s conceit too. To draw the most obvious comparison, it’s like how the duels in evolved from an episodic ritual into a crucible of the duelists’ opposing souls. While the Stage Girls were never just fighting to be the top star, excising that goal completely lets the true depths of their psyches shine.

It’s also a movie about creation (specifically: rebirth) through destruction, so it fits to destroy the main crutch of the TV series.

The movie is extremely committed to that point. Not only is the overshadowing presence of Tokyo Tower cut down by the film’s end, they even burn up the giraffe partway through, almost immediately after he puts forth the idea that only exists because the audience (both he and us) enjoyed Review Starlight so much we demanded the girls fight each other again.

What remains in that destruction is that core principle: The stage girls aren’t fighting for the sake of satisfying any sort of system, heck, they aren’t even really fighting each other. They’re fighting against their idea of themselves at the end of this stage they’re on before they take the next one.
You have to accept that anytime anybody in the film talks about “death,” they’re really talking about something else, whether it be graduation, losing themselves, losing each other, abandoning their passion, etc. It’s the inky uncertainty that lies beyond the foreseeable future. The film does try to nice and point the symbolism out, but you have to take it seriously when it tells you not to take everything seriously.

Of course, even a fake giraffe can be pretty frightening.

The movie rides that incredible line of drenching its proceedings in layers of symbolism and motifs while simultaneously having the characters scream exactly what they textually mean directly at each other and the audience. In other applications this might seem like overkill, but it absolutely fits the sensory overload this movie is shooting for in all its clearly-labeled baroque-ness.

Oh yeah, the film’s about as subtle as Kaoruko’s attempts to seduce Futaba.

I should also mention that the music whips ass. Nearly every revue is this winding, genre-hopping opus featuring both vocalists singing their hearts out. It’s legitimately breathtaking in spots, evoking the full-throated sincerity of musical theatre at its finest.
I adore the way it teases us with the timing on this music, not starting with a song, but instead waiting until nearly a quarter of the way into the film before our favorite bad banana transforms the train the crew is riding into a rolling combat stage and busts into that opening to let us know It Is On.

I legitimately pumped my fists and cheered.
The movie simply would not work without music big enough to accommodate all the feelings of two teenagers ramming their neon-lit war rigs into each other.
The fights in were always great, but the absurd escalation afforded by the movie lets them get even more grandiose in their choreography and emotional intensity. Each successive one somehow manages to top the last, and they all effectively feel like equal parts collaborative stage shows and earnest fights to the death. Which makes them not unlike the spectacle of pro wrestling, I suppose.

They are also, and I’m not sure how this is actually possible, somehow even more homoerotic than the TV anime.

No small feat to be sure, but if managed to do it, then I suppose had no choice but to up its own ante. Noticeably absent from these pairings is poor Mahiru, always the odd Stage Girl out. She, however, gets something arguably even better than a girlfriend: the opportunity to be slasher villain.

If we’re talking about surprises, then her revue was probably my favorite one.
The colors shown off in those screencaps would do it it enough for me, but I also came off impressed by Mahiru’s showing versus Hikari. It’s probably the one that delivers the most on being a sequel to a story from the original series, demonstrating Mahiru’s growth past her place in a love triangle she had no chance in, as well as how far she’s come as a performer.
If we’re talking our favorite number from the movie though, well, there was really no contest as to which one would end up being mine.
Ah, the one where the nerd gets owned, excellent choice. Someone had to teach her not to quote Goethe unprompted.

You joke, but the turnaround climax of the whole exercise really is Junna realizing how hollow her regurgitated philosophical quotes were, picking up the shattered piece of her previous weapon of choice which symbolized that, jamming it together with the tool her best frenemy told her to kill herself with, and then just screaming “Kill me yourself, coward!”

Like obviously I like this fight a lot because I love Banana and the battle animation in this part goes up to eleven. But also, that thematic execution which ends on some of the rawest cathartic growth for one of this series’ coolest couples, well, it’s just one more part of this movie where the extant emotion affected me in exactly the way they planned for it to.
It’s so good! Junna literally fights with words, i.e. the big star kanji she keeps throwing at Nana, but she only turns the tide once she starts using her own words, uncertain but powerful. Each fight is about accepting that kind of vulnerability. That’s also the whole throughline with Karen and Hikari. It’s only by acknowledging their past and present weaknesses that they can move forward to the next stage.
This movie digs in deeper in detailing those pasts of Karen and Hikari to flesh out their relationship, something I think was a bit of a weakness in the original series, especially given the pair’s supposed Top Star billing. I still don’t know that it gets that over as far as it wants, but those specific weaknesses definitely make them and their connection feel more human. I appreciate touches like lil’ Hikari’s concern that Karen might stop being her friend after she helped her come out of her shell.

Or Karen’s fixation on Hikari as more of a motivating goal than a person during their pre-high-school separation period.
Yeah, the confirmation that neither of them felt like they were good enough for the other did a lot of fortify their relationship for me. Though I’m not surprised that the most enduring couple, from a fandom perspective, to come out of the TV show was Maya and Claudine. And their movie revue certainly lives up to that reputation. They’re so extra, they need four delineated acts. And two giant skulls.
Of course the theaterest kids here would get basically their own whole separate movie within the movie.

This shot is brilliant and should be shown in any film study class

Okay I’m making a joke there but of all the duels in this movie, this is the one where the symbolism gets cranked up so far to the outlandishly overt side of things that it loops around to being genuinely amazing in how brazen it is.

So much of this movie is like if and had a baby which they somehow conceived by swordfighting.
That’s another reason why I think the film gunning for more symbolism and abstraction is a positive thing. Both the series and the film are about the politics of theatrical productions (specifically, those of the Takarazuka Revue), but I think the film’s messaging ends up more universal than the series’, just by virtue of leaving itself more open to interpretation. It’s also all the more explicitly about overthrowing the usual principles of theater, so that’s nice to see.
Truly, Claudine is The Joker of the stage.
Which makes Karen the Mad Max.
Oh boy, if you want to talk about bold abstraction, this final Fury Road invocation here was where I had to congratulate for the fact that there was nothing it wouldn’t just go for.

Karen reforged, like the weapons in the original series, into a personified representation of the Position Zero goal itself, roaring back into a rematch invoking the cinematic indulgences of George Miller.
It rules so goddamned hard. Like, all that imagery is metal enough, but then the fuel Karen consumes is all the memories we’ve been watching up to that point. It’s an act of violent catharsis that, again, speaks to the sound and fury of recreating and reinventing yourself that must come with every new stage and performance, in theater as in life. You’re still made of the same stuff, but rearranged. Reforged. Reborn.
It doesn’t even need to culminate with another complexly-choreographed fight, because the pageantry of the stage Karen arrives to confront Hikari on is the kind of theatrical reward it would be on its own in a real-life production. The act of getting to stand for that performance, in a way they now see themselves as worthy of, is the victory, regardless of who wins the ‘duel’. Just the swelling of the music and the simulated ridiculous stage lighting effects sell that effort.

My third time through, and I still get chills watching the climax of the film. Just something about the explosive disassembly of all the show’s visual language in the service of letting the girls move on with their lives. The tower’s destroyed. Their capes are taken by the wind. Their uniforms are tattered. All they have left is their next step.

For real, after a couple previous near-misses, it was this part of this movie, this glorious, celebratory graduation for all of them accompanied by that incredible score, that properly loosed some waterworks from me at last.
And you gotta love that director Tomohiro Furukawa can’t help but add some final few additional Ikuhara-isms right before the finish line. Namely, the time-honored tradition of girls stabbing each other, and sharing the fruit of fate.
I know there was some consternation back when the TV series was airing about comparing its style to Ikuhara. But I think The Movie here definitely proves that Furukawa not only deserves to be measured against his legendary mentor, he has absolutely made his own, defining style out of everything he’s learned and honed.
Furukawa unchained is a demonstrably proven force to be reckoned with. Which is why now, more than ever, I can’t wait to find out whatever the hell “Love Cobra” is gonna be.
Out with the giraffes, in with the snakes, it would seem. Count me in for it too!
Until that day, though, I imagine I’ll be returning to plenty more times. It’s a delightfully overwhelming and uncompromising ode to the magic of theater. And where else am I going to see an anime girl lift 194kg?
Maybe if we somehow convince Furukawa to direct the second season of How Heavy Are The Dumbbells That You Lift? I know that is still a whole-ass franchise with a mobile game to dabble in and stage-show performances and the like. But for the specific action of Furukawa’s unmatched anime treatment of the material, this was about as perfect a finishing follow-up as I could ask for, and one I can confirm I’ll also be watching plenty more times. And no matter what that now-extra-crispy giraffe would accuse me of, I don’t know that I could demand any more from these girls.
I guess you could say, that really was the . Or better yet, Karen could say it.



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