Kageki Shoujo!! (Kageki Shojo!) is an ensemble anime with a large cast about life in a famous all-female theater troupe, based on the Takarazuka Revue. It is all about overcoming personal challenges, the hard work put into creative professions, and the competition and self-doubt that go with them. Sarasa and Ai stand in the center of the stage, but we get to see more of the other actresses' backstories, dreams, fears, and motivations, too. However, while Kageki Shojo! delves into some serious issues, not all stories were treated with the same patience and sensitivity. Overall though, it is an excellent musical drama series, akin to older shoujo anime about performers, like the classic Glass Mask.
Let’s take a look into what we loved, liked, and didn’t like so much in Kageki Shojo!
Bright-eyed Sarasa Watanabe entered Kouka Academy, a famed school preparing performers to act, dance, and sing on stage. This is an all-female troupe, and actresses have to pick early on whether they will specialize in male or female roles. Sarasa’s over-the-top optimistic energy comes in contrast with Ai Narata’s cool allure, a beautiful former teen idol who is afraid of men due to a painful history of childhood abuse. The two, after a series of misunderstandings, come closer and appreciate each other, committing to their training at Kouka, and to their friendship.
We also meet more students: Ayako Yamada looks the most ordinary but is a gifted singer, who, unfortunately, struggles with low self-esteem and body issues. Kaoru Hoshino comes from a family with a Kouka tradition, is ambitious and passionate. Sawa Sugimoto is the best student, Kouka fangirl, and a hard-working performer. Through the series they face challenges and grow as characters, leading to the finale, and competition among the best of the best to participate in a performance at their open school event.
Kouka is based on Takarazuka in several ways. Kouka is not just an all-female troupe with musumeyaku and otokoyaku, but the training the actresses undergo is also similar. The episode where a member of the military trains the students is a practice actresses undergoes to perfect their movement techniques. The initial shots of the first episode are actual scenes from Takarazuka plays, like the Phantom of the Opera, or the Rose of Versailles, animated. The sought-after Silver Bridge is where Takarazuka top stars walk, right in front of the main stage. The strict cleaning rules for underclassmen are similar to the actual practices in the Takarazuka Academy, as there is a strong focus on discipline. All these carefully presented details show love and direct allusion to the troupe that produces sparkly, extravagant musicals for over a century.
We touched briefly on the challenges of a creative profession above, and we want to stress that Kageki Shojo! does not shy away in its depiction of conflict, pressure, and sacrifice, and the sometimes bad practices employed in the industry. For example, in episode 5, we see Ayako developing an eating disorder after a teacher berates her in front of her classmates because she gained some weight.
There are not only sad events, though. We do get Sarasa’s arc, for example, that is all about finding her own voice and identity as a performer. There is clear character development in her case, and she comes to be one of our favorite girls of the season. The final performance that gains her the role of Mercutio is amazing and the changes she goes through are presented dynamically and clearly. Even if you are not interested in musical theater, you will find relatable points and get inspired by her efforts.
Ai’s arc was the most promising in Kageki Shojo! as we see many of the events through her perspective. Ai starts off as a withdrawn girl who dislikes male attention, to the point that she irks away from a friendly touch on the shoulder, or calls her fan disgusting, leading to her forced retirement from her idol career. When we find out that her behavior is the result of a deeply traumatic experience when she was a little kid, the pieces come together. Ai grew up feeling deeply unsafe in her own home, because of her mother’s predatory partner and her mother’s indifference. When the moment comes for Ai to grow and understand that she cannot project this behavior to all men around her, it is done in a way that does not center her experience. She is shamed, and not understood, and the focus lays on her fan, her arc turning into his redemption arc.
Similarly, episode 5 focuses on Ayako Yamada, and her developing eating disorder. While it is made clear that her teacher’s behavior was unacceptable, the resolution comes way too fast. After her caring mentor professor talks to her, we see that Ayako gets back on her feet quickly. This is all lovely, however, the matter is left there, crisis averted, and the issue is not brought up again. This is rather unrealistic, and it left a bitter taste. However, that was largely lifted in the second half of the series, which was executed in a better way.
Animation and Music
With a soft color palette, crisp backgrounds, and sparkly details, Kageki Shojo! serves beautiful animation, which feels modern and distinct. The animation style did not prepare us for the drama that was introduced after the second episode, and Ai’s backstory, and the contrast between the heavier themes and the soft colors, was interesting. Unlike other musical shows, where the female characters look alike a lot, the cast of Kageki Shojo! had their own memorable looks and mannerisms.
The soundtrack was lovely, and the highlight was the ending theme, which came in several variations! One variation shows Sarasa and Ai as the otokoyaku and musumeyaku, and another Sawa paired with Ayako, for example. Each variation is performed by the respective voice actresses, giving us a glimpse into the performances the cast is going to have in the future, as professional actresses, and offering us a chance to ship them together, romantically or not.
We enjoyed Kageki Shojo! thoroughly! It was one of last season’s anime that we started without strong expectations and it grew into one of the series we were looking forward to every week. There were a couple of cases where the treatment of character development arcs was uneven, however Kageki Shojo! found again its pace and gave us a lovely experience.
What did you think of Kageki Shojo!? Let us know in the comments below and thanks for reading!