Content Warning: Stalking
What’s it about? The Kouka Revue, a fictionalized version of the Takarazuka, is an all-women acting troupe known for their lavish musicals. The prestigious school that trains these actresses admits only 40 students per year and is about to admit its centennial class—including disgraced ex-idol Ai, who just wants to get away from men; and country girl Sarasa, who longs to play the coveted role of Lady Oscar.
Kageki Shojo!! is a bit of an odd duck. It initially ran as a two-volume seinen series, and its sequel got picked up by a shoujo magazine and is still running at ten volumes and counting. While I’m not familiar with the sequel series—the first volume will be coming out in English two days after I type this—I and several other members of the team really enjoyed the seinen run, which deals with some very heavy topics (for the most part quite well, by my estimation). Partly because of that, I’m quite curious to see how the change in demographic changes the series’ storytelling parameters, and how the anime adaptation will weave those elements together. And while this first episode doesn’t make the most dazzling debut, it does have a few glints of what make this story special.
As you might have been able to tell by its scores on certain aggregation sites, this is not the most “sakuga” anime out there. This is unsurprising, since a lot fewer shows about and target toward women get greenlit, and they’re historically given fewer resources than their boy-targeted counterparts (RIP Farewell My Dear Cramer) with a few star-studded exceptions (Fruits Basket). Kageki Shojo!! does boast a director with previous experience working on shoujo (the beloved and still-sequelless Yona of the Dawn anime), but more importantly it knows the importance of saving what resources it does have so that its biggest scenes will make an impression.
A lot of this episode is characters standing around and talking or doing simples movement cycles, and it can look a bit stiff or weightless when combined with the thin linework and a pastel color scheme that frequently deemphasizes shading. But then Ai and Sarasa meet for the first time, and the camera takes leaps in expressiveness with dramatic angles to signal the intended emotional “pop.” It’s the kind of trick I’m used to seeing in shows whose production staffs had to learn to work smart, and I honestly respect the hell out of it.
Fortunately, that frequently functional animation is backed up by strong source material. If Noé is the season’s best boy then Sarasa is its best and brightest girl, an indefatigable sunflower animated with almost rubbery sproing in contrast to her impressive height. Her undaunted determination makes up for the fact that Ai doesn’t get to show much nuance in this premiere besides “prickly and judgemental”—the script conveys that she’s got some pretty serious trauma and closed herself off to cope, but it doesn’t necessarily make it fun to be stuck with her seething resentment for the one girl we know is very sincerely trying to be her friend.
For those worried that this will turn into a show about ambitious women stabbing one another in the back, I can at least reassure you that female friendships are a core part of the story. Whether the queer undertones come to anything or if it’s a side effect of setting the story in the world of all-women theatre, I unfortunately can’t say. Sarasa mentions a boyfriend back home in the seinen series, but the anime opening sure does end on her and Ai holding hands. For now I can only safely chalk it up to subtext so folks don’t get their hopes too high (me; I am folks).
While there will be plenty to discuss down the line when the series gets into the manga’s plots around stalking, sexual abuse, and disordered eating (this episode already cut a little bit of the manga’s more idol industry-critical dialogue, so I’ll be interested to watch that going forward), for now I’m just happy that this story now has a platform to reach a broader audience. While I doubt the anime will ascend past this first episode’s threshold of “pretty okay with a few exceptional bright spots,” I love stories about theatre and dance; and since this is one that I know won’t be trying to endlessly pump me for money with a gacha game (…that I’m still playing) down the line, I couldn’t be more excited.