Revue Starlight keeps on cruising under the command of very skillful rookies, creating one memorable scene after the other. But as admirable as their ambition is and the generally excellent results they’ve had so far, we can’t avert our eyes from the severe struggles the team is facing either. Let’s recap all that’s been going with this production, the very good and the less fortunate!
Storyboard: Masayuki Kojima, Tomohiro Furukawa
Episode Direction: Akane Tsukamoto
Chief Animation Direction: Hiroyuki Saita, Kuniyuki Ito
Animation Direction: Shouko Yasuda
Assistant Animation Director: Hiroki Koike, Reo Kawamoto
Action Assistance: Fumiaki Kouta
Key Animation: Mihiro Iida, Sayaka Ozato, Masahiro Okamura, Hiroki Koike, Takushi Koide, Daisuke Saito, Miki Sakaibara, Kaito Shimizu, Yoichi Shimizu, Kana Shundou, Mika Takazawa, Shiori Tani, Akane Tsukamoto, Shixian Lin, Tomoya Naganuma, Akiko Matsuo, Junko Matsushita, Yasunori Matsumura, Tomoka Mizusawa, Moaang, Shuko Yamashita, Sennin Yatsunami, Masayuki Yoshiki
─ The second episode of Revue Starlight was a milder affair than the first one, though I imagine some people might have actually welcomed things slowing down after the overwhelming raw energy the premiere contained. All things considered, I feel like it was a bit of a step down, but seeing even the more modest episodes keeping that musicality in the lighthearted school segments and the grandeur when on the stage convinced me that the outrageously strong start wasn’t a fluke. This was quite the intriguing follow-up with its fair share of interesting visual ideas too; Junna’s anxiety as a hard-working normal girl who perhaps lacks the natural gifts the main characters possess was made all the more compelling by the arresting mob imagery. Implementing that alongside a design trait like her glasses (which are also used to showcase her single-minded focus on her dream) into the nature of the battle was a really neat touch as well.
─ On top of that, the implication that maybe all these fantasy developments aren’t a pure metaphor made things quite amusing. Of course, there’s no denying that these fighting auditions represent the conflict among the performers to earn the leading role in a more abstract sense, and even the competitive mentality of other fields where people are pushed to become the best and only the best. But within the narrative, all the magical battle shenanigans are being treated as real events in an otherwise perfectly standard setting, rather than keeping it all vague like I expected director Tomohiro Furukawa and company to do. And you know what – sure, why not. I can only appreciate the studious Junna looking up talking giraffes in books about Unidentified Mysterious Animals.
─ Who was responsible for this satisfactory if not quite as memorable second episode, then? As you might have heard, Made in Abyss‘ series director Masayuki Kojima lent a hand to the team by co-storyboarding this while his next project is in preparation. He’s not alone in this side adventure either, since all 3 main directors from the series have already worked in Revue Starlight. Kojima appears to have storyboarded the first half of the episode, which managed to blend in very well by inserting all the visual motifs that Furukawa set the tone with in the first episode. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering that back in Made in Abyss Kojima also got across a handful of concepts he wanted other episode directors and storyboarders to respect and thus maintain a sense of consistency; just like how he insisted on a focus in verticality when conceptualizing shots for his previous series, this time he accepted Furukawa’s symmetrical vision that’s similarly tied to the themes.
─ Furukawa himself drew the rest of the storyboards, though I’d like to mention debutant episode director Akane Tsukamoto instead. She’s from the same generation as Koide, as she also joined Kinema Citrus as an animation trainee and started appearing in their credits around 2014. While she hasn’t caught as much attention as him among fans, the studio appears to hold her in high esteem. Tsukamoto quickly got entrusted with different animation supervision and checking roles before her debut as director on this episode, where she also served as key animator, clean-up artist, and even digital in-betweener. This production is all about versatile rookies, which isn’t much of a shock with Furukawa at the helm. He’s extending the same trust he received when he was still starting out now that he’s handling his first major project, while working with a studio that’s very receptive of young talent to boot.
─ On the first post about the series I neglected to talk about Revue Starlight‘s opening sequence. Though I wouldn’t say it’s spectacular, that mostly came down to the fact that it was broadcast in the place of the ending and thus had obtrusive credits scrolling over it. The series direction duo split the workload once again: Koide specifically handled the action sequences, while Furukawa directed and storyboarded the rest. The former’s work led to some eye-catching layouts – especially apparent in the cuts animated by a Satoshi Sakai who’s gradually outgrowing the perception that he’s only a 2DFX specialist, but also in yet another appearance of Fumiaki Kouta. Furukawa’s sequences, on the other hand, are very much in line with his vision for the series as a whole; many symmetrical compositions, a competition to claim the center spot, plus some flowery direction. Not the most memorable opening of all time, but a decent enough encapsulation of the show’s visual charisma.
─ While the opening does live up to the visual flair of the series, there’s something I have to single out as a disappointment in that regard. Studio Pablo is renowned as maybe the best independent art crew working on TV anime for good reason, but their showing here lacks any sort of identity despite Revue Starlight having such a strong personality. On a technical level some of the paintings aren’t quite on the level we’ve come to expect from the studio, but perhaps most worrying is the feeling that even the more beautiful shots are backdrops that could belong in right about any series. Though the company’s CEO and star art director Kentaro Akiyama is helping out, this is actually Kenji Fukuda‘s first time handling a full series, and he’s simply not faring as well as the other rookies in the team. I would still say this is an above average effort with some stunning scenery, but it feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity considering the glamorous theatrical design and the skill of the art crew.
Storyboard: Takushi Koide
Episode Direction: Taku Yamada, Takushi Koide
Chief Animation Direction: Hiroyuki Saita, Kuniyuki Ito
Animation Direction: Mika Takazawa, Hiroko Oguri, Kaito Shimizu, Kyuma Oshita, Arihiro Goto, Maki Sawai, Takushi Koide, Shiori Tani, Hideaki Matsuoka
Key Animation Supervisor: Hiroki Koike, Reo Kawamoto
Key Animation: Naoto Uchida, Kai Ikarashi, Kazuhiko Ishii, Nobuhiro Okazaki, Masato Okada, Sayaka Ozato, Shinya Kaneko, Takushi Koide, Arahiro Goto, Maki Sawai, Kaito Shimizu, Takanori Suzuki, Takeshi Takakura, Shiori Tani, Yoshito Narimatsu, Takayuki Noguchi, Takehiro Hamazu, Satoshi Horisawa, Hidenori Makino, Yuichiro Yamada, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Shinpei Wada
Moaang, Eri Irei
─ Leave your subtlety at the door, because this episode makes it clear since the very first shot that the show’s most charismatic character will get the grand treatment she deserves by the hand of the most passionate young star in this project. This isn’t to say that Tendou Maya – it already feels wrong to refer to her by any other name – is a character with no nuance, since a considerable part of the episode is dedicated to humanizing the implacable leader; the loneliness of that top position born from her attempts to reach out being met with competitive animosity, her utter respect nonetheless for the friends that face her with her everything, and even cute details like treasuring the hairpin she wore when they performed together go a long way in making her sympathetic. But assistant series director Takushi Koide knew that Tendou Maya shines brightest on-stage, so he exploited his position as the revue designer to create the most flamboyant performance yet. While everyone else demands attention when appearing, all gazes come naturally to the top star. The animation and digital departments focused their efforts in depicting how everything revolves around her, while the layouts themselves get across how much of an insurmountable wall she is for Karen at the moment despite her stairs challenging anyone who dares climb them. Even her swan motif adds to the dignified spectacle – though it also makes me look forward to whenever she softens up and that’s just reframed as her really liking birds, since the series has shown it can juggle this theatrical flair with light-hearted, cute comedy.
─ And that’s precisely the charm of this episode. Although Tendou Maya’s immense stage presence could have carried the whole thing, Koide managed to put together an episode that isn’t just occasionally impactful but also regularly amusing. From minor details like Mahiru gradually breaking down as Banana observes it with a lot of interest to the perfectly timed comic delivery with the kidnapping situation, the episode is padded with charming moments even before we reach the memorable confrontation on the stage. Koide also managed to adorn it with some interesting transitions and creative ideas like a paper airplane being thrown by a background character that traverses the show for minutes, until Claudine meets her rival once again and the plane crashes against a statue that’s very clearly coded to her. We know for a fact that Furukawa contributed to the storyboard in some way or the other because he’d confirmed it beforehand, but staying uncredited so that Koide receives the acknowledgment he deserves seems like the right decision after this outrageous debut as storyboarder and episode director. It’s no wonder that many people on the team were so impressed by Koide’s first boards.
─ Another common belief among the team was that, as lovely as they were, Koide’s storyboards were extremely demanding – high in calories as people in the industry say, a pain in the ass in layman’s terms. While the second episode was a bit of a respite for the production, Koide doubled down on the idea of framing even the most mundane moments with tricky layouts, and then went all out when it came to the action. He personally contributed to the revue (those forceful smears are hard to miss) while also pushing everyone to their limits, no matter their roles and whether they were credited or not. Studio Makaria’s duo of Korean artists, who have a history of working with Kinema Citrus, handled one of the major highlight scenes. Moaang had been hyping up the series for months and yet didn’t publicly claim this minor, rough but interesting sequence in the previous episode, seemingly feeling more proud about this excellent contribution to the third episode’s fight. I have to say that I’m a bit sad that the sharpness from Tendou Maya’s expressions got corrected away, but that’s to be expected from a show like this. And truth to be told, my personal favorite sequence is actually this amusing wake-up routine with layouts by Trigger’s very own Kai Ikarashi and key animated by the young Hidenori Makino. When I first watched it I got similar vibes from an equally characterful long shot acting cut in the original teaser, so it was satisfying to hear from a friend who contacted Makino that it was indeed one of his points of reference.
This happens to be Tendou Maya as animated by Moaang.
─ Though Koide’s ambitious approach is of course welcome as a viewer and respected by the team, there’s no denying that it’s very taxing on an already exhausted crew. I don’t particularly enjoy being the bearer of bad news, but if you haven’t heard about it yet, Revue Starlight‘s production is in a very tight situation. Kinema Citrus’ president and capable animation producer Muneki Ogasawara, easily the most qualified person to judge the state of the studio’s endeavors, has repeatedly asked for help on Twitter and went as far as saying that he wasn’t sure they’d even be able to finish the show as things stand, a sentiment that’s been echoed by animators too. I used the reach of the platform to send some artists his way and might contact him again to see if he’s open for substantial remote contributions that acquaintances would be up for, but I’m aware that this is just palliative treatment for a bigger problem. Revue Starlight isn’t quite in the same situation as your usual production disaster since it’s been in the making for a fair amount of time with talented, dedicated staff, but the sheer ambition of this team could be their downfall. Here’s hoping that things work out for them, since the show is delightful and all interactions with Kinema affiliated creators I’ve had were very pleasant. Good luck!
─ To avoid ending on that downer, let me wrap up with a couple short notes. For one I’d like to say that the ending sequence, directed and illustrated by the lovely mebachi, is a great throwback to Penguindrum that I refuse to believe is an accident on Furukawa’s part. I still see comments regarding whether he’s earned these nods or not, which always make me feel like reminding people once again that he was an integral piece in that production despite starting it as a complete newbie. He’s damn well earned this! I also feel like I owe a mention to the elephant in the room – or rather the pink glow in it. The show’s very first scene featured that glitter on the tiara that represents the top star dream the whole cast is chasing, and ever since then there’s been glowing orbs in right about every scene, which you’ll now never unsee even if you hadn’t noticed them until now. Sometimes they blend in decently enough, but there are many instances where those hues would never be there and thus stand out like a sore thumb. I wanted to wait for a while to see if they were clearly coded to something/someone, but they vaguely appear in scenes revolving around the girls aiming for that role, as an everpresent reminder of their dream. A neat idea that we’ll have to wait and see if they decide to take any further!