Revue Starlight reached its mid-climax with an astonishing episode that changed absolutely everything while at the same time respecting everything that built up to it. A genius move that was achieved, to the surprise of many fans, while saving energy production-wise. Just how did they achieve that?! Find out about it!
Storyboard: Shouji Saeki
Episode Direction: Kazuki Yokouchi
Chief Animation Direction: Kuniyuki Ito, Hiroyuki Saita
Animation Direction: Kyuma Oshita, Hiroko Oguri, Sayaka Ozato, Hiroki Koike
Takushi Koide, Kaito Shimizu, Mika Takazawa, Shiori Tani, Shouko Yasuda
Key Animation Supervisor: Reo Kawamoto, Arisa Sugiyama
Assistant Animation Director: Junon Takeo, Kousei Aoki
Railroad Animation Director: Takeshi Takakura
Key Animation: Kousei Aoki, Akari Abe, Mihiro Iida, Shinya Uchida, Noriko Onishi, Sayaka Ozato, Takeshi Osame, Atsushi Kasano, Kenji Kanie, Azumi Kuniyoshi, Takushi Koide, Rie Saito, Satoshi Sakai, Takuro Sakurai, Aika Sato, Maki Sawai, Keiji Shigesawa, Satoshi Shimada, Junon Takeo, Hikaru Takanashi, Shiori Tani, Kaori Higuchi, Saori Hosoda, Takanori Yamamoto, Sennin Yatsunami
─ Episode 6 was, at least for Revue Starlight‘s standards, on the modest side. Not to say that it’s without charm, of course; Futaba and Kaoruko’s relationship appears to be as popular with fans as it is among the staff (although nothing comes close to the love for Tendou Maya and Claudine’s fierce relationship), and this episode exposed the true extent of their co-dependence after the show had quietly made them drift apart for weeks. When it comes to the execution of all of that, however, the team was forced to save some energy for once – for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who’s seen episode 7. Even within a project that’s shown to go all out to the extent of harming itself in the process, resource management is still a factor that inevitably affects some episodes.
─ Production constraints aside, part of that economical approach stems from storyboarder Shouji Saeki, whose style is less extravagant and demanding than the people who preceded him. He’s a wonderful director who should be considered studio Gainax’s last pillar, but his strengths lie in more conceptual grounds – which is how he managed to turn a magical girl anime and car commercial hybrid like Houkago no Pleiades into the modern show that’s channeled golden age Gainax’s strengths in the most striking way. When it comes to storyboarding certain material though, his work is simply adequate. That becomes obvious in the daily life scenes, which were a more straightforward affair than usual, lacking the enchanting rhythm and the mathematical precision of the grand layouts we’d seen before. There’s a noticeable increase in quality as we head into the second half, perhaps more suited to his skills; the more emotionally charged sequences are more inspired, with a storyboard that’s easy to read and leaves a stronger impression too (that solitude!). Saeki even had some tricks up his sleeve for the revue, like this scene where the back and forth framed by the windows is timed to the dialogue. Series director Furukawa noted he’d been a fan of Saeki before he even joined this industry, and considering the circumstances, I think he can be satisfied by the work one of his old idols put together.
─ That enforced restraint I’ve been talking about affected the animation itself, as you can imagine. The show is resisting the production doom the studio’s frankly talked about very bravely as far as I’m concerned, to the point that anyone who hasn’t heard about it and looks away when the credits roll might think it’s faring well. Episodes allocated fewer resources like this make the rougher spots stand out more though, and even affect the highlight sequences. I find the usage of space in Satoshi Sakai‘s portion of the fight to be excellent for one: starts off with an eye-catching shot and then proceeds to give a feeling of depth through the layouts of each cut but also through the spatially-aware sequence… and yet it feels like it doesn’t live up to its full potential, since it lacks the polish to be truly on-point. Similar things can be said about the finisher by Revue Starlight’s ace Takushi Koide – his charismatic slashes are unforgettable, but there’s some awkward floatiness to the sequence that his previous contributions didn’t have. Great work nonetheless, but the productions cracks begin to show when you put it under pressure.
─ Funnily enough, the one piece of animation that left a strong impression and felt like it was realized to its full potential was a relatively inconsequential moment at the dojo that included Kaoruko’s cute tantrum: skillfully animated and miraculously free of underwear shots! The scene was animated by Azure from studio Makaria, who’s none other than the Korean artist behind the sakuga-loving virtual youtuber AnimaLyon (whose intro video you can watch here, featuring English subtitles we contributed ourselves). Is that very relevant to the episode? Not really, but it’s amusing trivia you won’t hear about elsewhere so it’s our duty to note it. Similarly, no other outlet will talk about the presence of a Railroad Animation Director in this episode, which follows the tradition of ridiculous credits that started with an explicit, prominently featured Giraffe Designer. The Sakuga Blog officially endorses all silly staff in-jokes and production memery, so please continue with this wonderful nonsense.
Storyboard: Tomohiro Furukawa
Episode Direction: Akane Tsukamoto
Intro Storyboard, Direction, Key Animation: Takushi Koide
Chief Animation Direction: Kuniyuki Ito, Hiroyuki Saita
Animation Direction: Reo Kawamoto, Arisa Sugiyama, Saori Suruki, Kaito Shimizu, Kouta Sera, Chiharu Kakuya, Hiroki Koike, Raku Nishikimi, Shiori Tani, Sayaka Ozato, Hiroko Oguri, Takayoshi Hayashi
Layouts: Masatsugu Arakawa
Key Animation: Akane Tsukamoto, Reo Kawamoto, Arisa Sugiyama, Saori Suruki, Kaito Shimizu, Kouta Sera, Chiharu Kakuya, Hiroki Koike, Raku Nishikimi, Shiori Tani, Sayaka Ozato, Hiroko Oguri, Takayoshi Hayashi
─ Oh boy. Talk about an episode that recontextualizes everything that had happened beforehand and yet doesn’t compromise the emotional integrity of the cast for the sake of huge reveal. The big twist isn’t what makes this so special, although the careful planning that went onto it is something you’ve got to respect – starting from the simple fact that the truth about Nana comes in the seventh episode. What truly made this shine was what felt like an immediate switch from a charming gag character into a very compelling flawed human being. Now that’s of course not actually the case; the reason why this episode worked so well was that the show had very carefully laid the groundwork beforehand, otherwise it could have never sold Banana’s struggle so well, but an episode this dazzling can blind you from the deliberate preparation where half of its success lies. Which is to say that as much as I adored it, treating episode 7 as a wild departure feels like doing it a disservice.
─ We could be here all day going over all the bits of foreshadowing, but at the very least I want to highlight how all-encompassing of an effort it felt. Narratively, this has recontextualized many events and solved some riddles. From her tailing of Hikari that felt mother-like caring for a new classmate but is now implied to have been scrutiny of the foreign element to the suspicious missing presence from the revue despite her naturally fitting disposition, there are many developments that have clicked after this reveal. Thematically this has not only revealed the true scope of the series, but also given us a greater understanding of many scenes; Hikari’s arrival was signaled by these turning cogs, which at first appeared to represent fate bringing her together with Karen to fulfill their promise, but now we know they also indicate that time is beginning to flow now that she’s erupted onto Banana’s stagnated stage. Even on a design level, many details now make more sense than we could have ever imagined. Her phone, which has been very prominently featured throughout the show, has a yellow and brown case that seemed like a playful choco-banana gag… and yet that exact same visual composition was used to show the contrast between the dazzling stage she chases and the shadow it casts on her. Every single step the show has taken so far is so deliberate you can only applaud.
─ It’s episodes like these that truly spark the curiosity of fans, making them wonder exactly who is behind such a stunning spectacle. And as usual, the answer is a lot of people. Commanding that team we find Tomohiro Furukawa again, as he deemed this episode important enough to return to storyboarding duties even though he’s ridiculously busy as series director. As the person most responsible for this show’s visual vocabulary, it’s no surprise how well episode 7 twists elements we’re familiar with to make them vaguely unsettling even before the big reveal. Distorted familiar BGM, old visual concepts that have a different nuance, and details that confirm we’re seeing the world through Banana’s eyes for once; all the shots framed through her phone are an obvious example, but the moment that stuck out the most was the intricate layouts we’d usually see empty being populated by background characters – what she’s doing to her classmates is very cruel, but every piece is very important for Banana’s plan to recreate the past, so she keeps track of everyone in a way that the other main characters focused on the auditions don’t.
─ On a related note, Banana’s overseeing eye and the time shenanigans made this the perfect episode to exploit Yuto Hama‘s design skills. As a pupil of Ikuhara, Furukawa understands that typography and graphic design can go a long way to establish a unique aesthetic for your show. And in the same way his master has been relying on Lovedesign’s Wataru Osakabe, much of Revue Starlight’s visual identity is owed to Hama’s design and 2DWorks contributions. Not that many years ago he was still working under designer Tsuyoshi Kusano, and after designing some anime logos on his own (Danmachi‘s being arguably the most popular), we find him playing a quietly crucial role on a title this important. He was delighted to see a friend of mine acknowledge his work, so if you’ve been enjoying it as well, go ahead and thank him for it – and the rest of the team too of course!
─ Now as important as everyone I’ve mentioned so far were, there’s a key figure I’ve yet to mention. And I don’t mean Takushi Koide, although the fact that he handled all the introduction by himself – from storyboard to animation – confirms that he’s the top star within the production team. The person I’m referring to this time around, though, is Masatsugu Arakawa. If you look at the credits from this episode, you’ll quickly notice something very weird. How come the lineup of animation directors and key animators is essentially the same? The unusual role inserted in-between appears to be the answer. Arakawa conceptualized every single shot in this episode, which only left polishing up and finishing the movement to the rest of the team. Furukawa noted that this episode, striking as it was, only took about 2,300 drawings to complete. By his admittedly ambitious point of view, that’s about half of what a normal episode of anime takes nowadays. Something this visually memorable was strictly speaking a conservative animation effort.
─ Saying that Arakawa singlehandedly elevated it through his layouts would be unfair, but it’s undeniable that this happens to be one of his specialties. He’s a veteran who regularly gets recruited to oversee the layouts of climactic moments, because he has an unmatched understanding of what makes certain shots stick in people’s memories. His magnum opus to this day is Fuujin Monogatari aka Windy Tales, which used his wonderful composition sense and idiosyncratic rough designs to capture the unrestrained imagination of children like very few pieces of fiction ever have. If you loved this episode and are up for something quite different and yet featuring similar visual concepts, now that’s one underappreciated piece of genius! And if all you want in this world is more Revue Starlight, look forward to the next episode directed and storyboarded by action star Fumiaki Kouta. That’s where all the animation power in the team has been funneled into as of late, and all the staff are hyping it very effusively!