Revue Starlight has begun developing its central relationships, entrusting the most inventive creators at their disposal with key episodes. The fascinating, very deliberate madness they put together is a collective success, but not even their camaraderie is enough to fully make up for the very serious production struggles the team is suffering.
Storyboard, Episode Direction: Masayuki Kojima
Chief Animation Direction: Hiroyuki Saita, Kuniyuki Ito
Animation Direction: Kyuma Oshita, Shinichi Wada, Mika Takazawa
Key Animation Supervisor: Reo Kawamoto, Hiroki Koike, Sayaka Ozato, Shiori Tani
Assistant Animation Director: Kaito Shimizu, Kousei Aoki, Takushi Koide
Key Animation: Yui Agena, Kousei Aoki, Kyuma Oshita, Noriko Onishi, Sayaka Ozato, Kumiko Kawahara, Kaori Saito, Kaito Shimizu, Yuka Suzuki, Hiroaki Takagi, Yuki Nakajima, Shougo Nishi, Masumi Hattori, Takayoshi Hayashi, Saori Hosoda, Hideo Maru
─ The biggest gripe I had with the series so far was that, as evocative as the situation can be, the central conflict wasn’t all that compelling. Though Karen’s straightforward nature is charming, her challenge of the status quo isn’t very inspiring if all there is to it is a vague promise from the past – hence why her crushing defeat against Tendou Maya seemed like a perfect move. I’m not entirely convinced that it’ll be enough for her to give much more thought to the system she’s rebelling against, but at least it forced her to actually talk with the partner she based her entire strategy on. And that’s the other major point being addressed: her relationship with Hikari, which so far had paled in comparison to Tendou Maya and Claudine’s charged rivalry and the tragedy implicit in Kaoruko and Futaba’s bond. Karen and Hikari had barely interacted at length to begin with, so the conversation in the second half of the episode was long overdue. The way it managed to compress time, skipping forward at random but in a way that still implies a coherent friendly conversation is excellent in a way that feels very Revue Starlight, as this show’s direction is all about the rhythm. It’s the scene the staff were proudest of in this episode, and you can easily see why.
─ The person in charge of that was none other than Made in Abyss‘ director Masayuki Kojima, who returned with full control over the episode this time around. The material he’d been given was strong to boot, since even in that highlight conversation the script by itself does a great job to imply a believable flow out of disconnected excerpts, but he still managed to leave a strong individual impression with his execution of those ideas. Much like the last time he makes an effort not to stray from the visual identity of the show, though the storyboard full of shots that put emphasis on verticality tells you which project his brain has been occupied by in recent times – not that it’s a bad fit for a series about aiming for the top! You might think that a reflective episode without performances would give the exhausted production a chance to rest, but since he’s not good at holding back, it ended up full of tricky layouts and angles that the team couldn’t always handle properly. Revue Starlight‘s battle against its own ambition continues.
─ Series director Tomohiro Furukawa thanked Studio Pablo for their exceptional job in this episode (aided by art company INSPIRED, I’d like to add). As harsh as I’ve been with this show’s background artwork because as a whole I don’t think it lives up to the potential of the project and the crew involved, the scenery in this episode was often captivating to the degree I wished for. It’s curious that the most fascinating backdrops arrived in the episode disconnected from the most inventive design elements, but at the same time it’s not all that surprising; in projects like Seraph of the End, Pablo proved no one in this sector of the industry even comes close to their marriage of urban settings and greenery, so an episode like this falls comfortably within their skill set.
Storyboard: Yudai Kubota (kubotabee)
Episode Direction: Yoshiko Mikami
Chief Animation Direction: Hiroyuki Saita, Kuniyuki Ito
Animation Direction: Akiko Matsuo, Saori Hosoda, Kaito Shimizu
Key Animation Supervisor: Reo Kawamoto, Mika Takazawa, Shiori Tani
Assistant Animation Director: Kousei Aoki, Junon Takeo, Arisa Sugiyama, Takushi Koide, Kouta Mori
Suzdal Cat Animation Director: Shiori Tani
Key Animation: Akihisa Akuzawa, Yusuke Adachi, Mihiro Iida, Yasuhiko Uetake, Shinya Uchida, Isamu Utsuki, Hidetoshi Oomori, Keisuke Katayama, Kazuma Kikuchi, Takushi Koide, Saori Suruki, Hiroaki Takagi, Shiori Tani, Mitsuhiro Nanbe, Toshiko Hashimoto, Kanae Hatakeyama, Kyosuke Matsui, Akiko Matsuo, Takanori Yamamoto
Moaang, Azure, Kiwan
─ All things considered, this might have been the trickiest episode to pull off, and easily my favorite since the impossibly energetic premiere. We’re all used to anime taking a girl’s feelings for another and exaggerating it to outrageous degrees, making their attraction and jealousy into a source of comedy with varying degrees of tactfulness. Revue Starlight‘s success starts with its hilarious, well-constructed gags in that regard. The recurring situations where Mahiru is about to indulge in her obsessive pursuit of Karen thinking she’s alone, just for Hikari to appear out of left field to catch her at the most embarrassing moment are inherently amusing and carefully framed so that she’s also obscured to the viewer too until the right moment. Even the flow of the episode, which could have been interrupted by returning to the same gag many times, is preserved by smartly transitioning out of those moments via organic swipes and match cuts of sorts – like the jump from Kaoruko’s collateral damage to a shot of her locker to move onto the next scene.
─ But it’s the last instance of that recurring gag that leaves the strongest impression. Mahiru’s once again caught in a shameful position… but the tone instantly changes from the cartoony nonsense to a more somber note with the realistic impact. The episode switches gears to tackle her insecurity, perfectly illustrated by this gorgeous shot: Karen’s brightness, that glitter that Mahiru longs for, is now getting caught in the net of her childhood promise to Hikari, with barely any percolating to her. Giving proper gravitas to this situation, treating her feelings as genuine while at the same time turning the usual theatrical conflict into a circus, was the complicated challenge the episode set for itself and what truly made it so special in the end. Perhaps this curious balance is best exemplified by one of the metaphors occurring in the background. If I just tell you that the entire episode is comparing Mahiru to a potato, you’ll likely think that it took all the jokes too far and made her feelings come across as a joke after all. Potatoes come from the countryside like her, they’re not glamorous, and rather than taking the spotlight they’re usually served as a side dish. But as Karen forces her to realize, she’s capable of standing on her own, and her pleasant warmth is beloved by everyone. So be a proud potato, Mahiru. Ｙｅｓ， ｔｈｉｓ ｉｓ ｏｉｍｏ．
─ An episode this special required thinking outside the box, hence the presence of Yudai Kubota as storyboarder. This eclectic artist best known as kubotabee was poised to become one of the new leading voices in anime a few years ago, after irrupting into the scene with unique music videos that had him collaborate with new sakuga stars at the time like Bahi JD, yotube, Yuuki Watanabe, rapparu, and many more. Unlike the meteoric rise of some of his peers though, kubotabee has taken things a bit more slowly, gradually building up a net of relationships that now also includes noteworthy veterans like Seiji Mizushima, Goro Taniguchi, and even Masaaki Yuasa. He mostly favored indie endeavors, escaping the constraints usually seen in professional 2D animation, and has since become a regular presence in 3D productions that try to break barriers by incorporating mentalities tied to hand-drawn craft into their very core. This mixed media approach is embodied by PLAMOV, the group of artists he formed a few years ago capable of colorful 2D animation, grotesque live action pieces, eye-catching VFW, and much more. Since this small studio already produced the charming ending sequence for Kinema Citrus’ Made in Abyss, seeing one of their leaders show up to storyboard the most inventive episode of their new original anime is actually not much of a surprise.
─ As much as kubotabee is to be thanked for the brilliant, fourth wall shattering confrontation in this episode, I don’t want to single him out as the one reason for success. Anime is for the most part a team effort, and that’s even more apparent when it comes to projects like Revue Starlight. The director noted that at the script meetings they decided on more specific concepts than usual, and that it was his assistant Takushi Koide who oversaw the ideas this audition was built around: baseball, Tobidashi Boy, and Suzdal Cat. The first one comes from the fact that actress Haruki Iwata, who voices Mahiru in the anime but most importantly performs her role in the musical that started it all, likes the sport a whole bunch. A similar fondness that the character has towards the fictitious mascot character Suzdal Cat and its Space Crazy Cats team that populate her fever dream of a stage. These were designed and drawn by Shiori Tani, who was in charge of all the cut-out art and earned the official role of Suzdal Cat Animation Director – the most bizarre credit this week, in a show with a Giraffe Designer and an animation director who chooses to be listed as Junon Takeo as a 4 years old Barakamon joke. If this is starting to sound like meaningless madness though, keep in mind that the Tobidashi Boy icons that were used to illustrate this ludicrous chase are actually a popular Japanese symbol warning of danger on the road, which in this case was meant to symbolize the impending doom. This is a crazy episode in a crazy show, but that absurdity is constructed very deliberately as a collective effort.
─ Everyone loves a good team effort. All those neat ideas conceptualized by a diverse group of creators got executed brilliantly by animators like Moaang, who handled the highlight sequence save for one cut that was presumably animated by a fellow Korean artist from studio Makaria. But much like the success is collective, so are the hardships. We’ve gone over the fact that this production is struggling immensely due to the ambition of everyone involved. And any changes in that regard tend to be for the worse. The credits are becoming akin to a bloodbath: every member in the core team of animators is making multiple appearances every single week, while relative newbies like Silver Link’s Kouta Mori get promoted in a hurry to try and fill the gaps. This is especially obvious when it comes to the animation directors, since right about everyone who is available is now permanently supervising the quality of the drawings because otherwise the show would immediately fall apart. Main animator Kaito Shimizu recently said that it’s a miracle each episode so far has made it to the broadcast… but at the same time he pointed out the excellent camaraderie among the crew, which pushes everyone forward and makes him want to be as kind towards everyone else. This is very much unlike production disasters maliciously sunk from within by some bad actors. You should be cheering for all teams that suffer in the first place, but even more so for crews like this that simply aimed higher than it was possible and still maintained a great attitude.