The unusual theatricality of Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight

October 7, 2018

On Twitter I've been periodically calling Revue Starlight 'theatrical'. Perhaps surprisingly, I'm not talking about its swordfight segments, where people duel each other on fantastical settings while also (perhaps) singing about it; that's actually one of the least theatrical elements of Revue Starlight, in the sense that I have in mind.

In most shows, even ones that are fantastical or aren't set in this world, the events and actions we see are intended to be real within the show's setting (or at least to the characters, since they may sometimes be hallucinating or imagining things and we see the world through their eyes). Thunderbolt Fantasy may be a highly stylized and arch fantasy, but all of those crazy fights and exchanges of dialog are real within the show; they are what actually happened. The same is true of Mushishi, Gun Gale Online, and even pretty much for Yurikuma Arashi.

This is also true for the sword fighting segments of Revue Starlight, as the second episode makes clear; we are told outright that they really happened. But as we are also shown no later than the fourth episode, it's not always the case for the rest of Revue Starlight. Some of what we are seeing in the anime is not real even within the show itself. In these segments we're seeing a shorthand, abstracted, excerpted version of the actual 'real in the show' events, something that is intended to evoke the real thing instead of being it. We are tacitly seeing a stage play of what happened, with the sets and scene changes and so on visible, instead of what happened. It is in this sense that I say that Revue Starlight is theatrical. Just as a theatre performance may be done so that we are aware that we are watching a theatre performance that depicts 'real' events, we are aware in Revue Starlight that we are watching a performance that has been chopped and diced and reformed for us, not the show's reality.

(Theatre performances can also be made with the intention of making it feel real to the audience, of course, and many are.)

This decision fits in with Revue Starlight's other decisions, of course; the show is not shy about what it is doing or why. But for me it adds an extra layer of distancing unreality between the show's characters and me. I'm not entirely seeing people doing things, I'm seeing a performance. It's a nice performance and I admire the artistry of many segments of it, but.

(And for me Revue Starlight was most successful where it was not so self-consciously a performance, when it was much more animating the show's reality.)

PS: As Yurikuma Arashi shows, you don't have to be theatrical in this way to have your show be mostly in service to metaphors and themes. To put it one way, that things happen because ultimately they are a big metaphor doesn't mean that things don't happen. The puppet strings show, of course, but they generally do if metaphor is the most important thing to the work.

(This elaborates on some tweets of mine and is something that's been revolving around my head since I started calling Revue Starlight 'theatrical' on Twitter.)

Written on 07 October 2018.
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Last modified: Sun Oct 7 16:56:58 2018
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