Daiba Nana gets her day in Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight
I may have a muted and mostly intellectual reaction to Revue Starlight as a whole (per my summer comments), but there is one character that the show completely sold me on and got me emotionally invested in, and that was Daiba Nana. And whatever else I may feel about the show, episode 7, her focus episode, was an excellent and amazing thing. For me, it was unquestionably the highlight of the entire show.
At one level it's not surprising that I like episode 7, because one of my things is episodes that reveal a totally new perspective on events and force you to completely re-evaluate everything you've seen so far. I'm predisposed to love them unreasonably wherever they crop up, whether it's in an otherwise ordinary show or in generally excellent works such as Madoka Magica.
(In general I'm all for unusual narrative tricks, from this through non-linear storytelling to all sorts of things. Just do them well.)
Beyond what it revealed, "Daiba Nana" (really, that's the episode's title) was really well put together and presented, like much of Revue Starlight overall. Given something to emotionally connect with, all of the show's technical work paid off for me, as everything built up over the course of the episode to really pack a punch. The show's understated presentation with drip after drip of unwelcome, unpleasant change sold me on Daiba Nana's mindset and on why she felt the way she did and reacted as she did. Her ultimate choice was not a surprise but an inevitability, and in the process it ripped off her mask to reveal the person underneath.
(In retrospect, the episode also sold me on why she was the winner of the Revue. Out of all of the competitors, she was the one who had a concrete goal that she understood, not an abstract desire or vague target. It's fitting that Hikari was the one to defeat Nana, because Hikari too had a very concrete goal that she was aiming for.)
In the end, Daiba Nana got what she wanted but not what she needed, and on top of that what she wanted was slowly turning to ashes in her mouth. In a single episode, Revue Starlight transformed her from a cheerful cipher to a quietly, desperately lonely girl who broke our hearts and so very much needed a hug.
(If you want to read more about episode 7, I recommend Emily Rand's writing.)
As a side note, looking back, my experience of Revue Starlight as a whole was definitely interesting even if it wasn't necessarily engaging. I don't often have the experience of watching a show while knowing that things are definitely flying over my head and there's an entire layer of things going on that I'm barely grasping the edges of. Here it was Revue Starlight's entanglement with the Takarazuka Revue (part of which is its multimedia nature, where the full Revue Starlight experience extends well beyond the anime alone). In that respect I'm reminded of watching Joshiraku.
(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2018.)
Sidebar: Another little impressive thing from the episode
One of the little things that episode seven showed us (at least as I remember it) is how Daiba Nana's collection of mannerisms and habits seems to have evolved over the course of her many loops. In the very beginning, Nana wasn't really 'Banana', although she clearly liked bananas. It was only through relentless repetition and refinement that Nana boiled herself down to a cheerful supplier of a stream of banana themed foods and so on, with all of the foods (and many of her mannerisms) carefully honed through far more practice than any of her classmates had any idea about. The authentic, imperfect, uncertain Daiba Nana was far in the past by the time of the first six episodes of Revue Starlight that we saw; we saw only a polished front, the person Daiba Nana had made herself into for the sake of her goal and her classmates.
The seventh episode quietly showed us that the Daiba Nana we'd seen in the first six episodes was a polished, rehearsed role, and it showed us how that had come about, how Daiba Nana wound up playing a role instead of being herself, because she had to in order to keep everything going.
(I suspect that all of this is in part something the show wants to say more broadly, about the Takarazuka Revue and other things. But even just as a character piece, it was beautiful and wholly convincing.)