The meta-dissonance of Shoujo☆Kageki Revue Starlight

In film theory, diegesis broadly refers to how a given narrative is filmically narrated. Originally a term used in Ancient Greek philosophy for the act of “telling” as opposed to the act of “showing” (mimesis) a story, it was applied to film theory in the 1950s by Étienne Souriau as part of his attempt at establishing a defined science and language for the study of cinema. He centrally posited the existence of a “filmic universe,” both as posed by any individual film, and in a broader sense encompassing the film medium at large. The filmic universe consists of seven levels of existence, of which the fifth constitutes the inner world of the film as represented and implied through the medium – in other words, diegesis (Thanouli, 2014: 133-134). Non-diegesis then, as later posited by Edward Branigan, constitutes all filmic elements that aren’t part of this representation and implication, that exist outside of the film’s world (Thanouli, 2014: 135).

In some cases however, the distinction between diegesis and non-diegesis becomes blurry. For example: is the score played during a musical number diegetic or non-diegetic? The characters interact with it as if it was a part of the world, yet it has no source in that world but fundamentally exists externally to it. This illustrates a mode of ambivalence wherein the externality of the non-diegesis bleeds into and disrupts the internal consistency of the diegetic world. For the sake of this article, we may call this mode inter-diegetic (in the sense that it is positioned between diegesis and non-diegesis – not to be confused with inter-diegetic/intra-diegetic narration (Herman, Vervaeck, 2005: 81)). In this mode, where the divide between signifying form and signified content is flattened, lies the potentiality – as exemplified by Ikuhara – for the metaphorical to become simultaneously literal, for the surfacing of subtext onto text.

Takarazuka_01

Or, as in Shoujo☆Kageki Revue Starlight‘s case, metatext. Although an understanding of said metatext requires some context. Revue Starlight is not just a currently airing anime series, but an ongoing multimedia franchise project with its core in a Takarazuka Revue stage musical. The Takarazuka Revue is a theatre company founded in 1913, which with its all-female troupes and over one hundred year history has solidified itself as a nation-wide phenomenon. I won’t go into much detail about the parallels between the series and the Takarazuka Revue, since that already has been done elsewhere (see here and here), but only note the bare essentials: the anime, as well as the stage play and all other iterations, revolves around one particular ensemble in the 99th class at the Seisho Music Academy and their endeavors during the preparation for a play called Starlight. With the Seisho Academy being an overt reference to the Takarazuka Music School, the educational foundation for all Takarazuka Revue performers, a metatext permeates the narrative.

In the stage play the metatext is quite direct, being a Takarazuka musical itself – but in the anime series it isn’t as straightforward. Most of the time, the series isn’t a musical at all, but merely a realist character drama about the endeavors at the academy. We get to follow the girls’ daily practices and dorm lives, along with the various individual and interpersonal conflicts therein. A consistency is maintained of the internal reality of the world in which the narrative takes place. It is first during the audition segments that finalize most episodes that this consistency is disrupted. Suddenly, a “real” rendition of the musical stage of Starlight is entered (the fourth wall is built up rather than broken down), as the girls engage in duels played out as musical numbers for the attainment of the Top Star position. As the series shifts into an embodiment of what it is about, the form/content-divide is flattened and the metatext is surfaced. Thus we may define the narrative mode of Revue Starlight as consisting of two spaces; one being a diegetic space and the other being an inter-diegetic space.

These two spaces are furthermore narratively linked. The inter-diegetic space and its narrative relevance is continually referred to by the characters in the diegetic space, not as a fantasy or some form of allegory but as a given and natural reality. In fact, the blurriness of where one space ends and the other begins is established as early as the opening scene of the first episode. A display of the ensemble’s performance of Starlight is accompanied by a voiceover narration by main characters Karen and Hikari, which is further paired with shots of their childhood selves watching the play from the audience seats. Juxtaposition indicates that the narration is part of the stage play, yet its nature as voiceover renders it non-diegetic – hence inter-diegesis. At the same time, the content of the narration as well as the play evidently parallels the narrative of the series itself, establishing “Starlight [as] a framing device for everything that happens, or will happen, in Revue Starlight.” (ajthefourth, 2018) However, the presence of childhood Karen and Hikari as spectators contradicts the idea that the scene would be strictly metaphorical or strictly placed in the inter-diegetic space, as it indicates that this is the moment that convinced the two friends to pursue stage performing. Positioned somewhere between literality and metaphor, between the diegetic and inter-diegetic space, the scene not only establishes the ambivalent nature of the inter-diegetic space, but also that it and the diegetic space are, equally ambilavently, parts of the same narrative “reality.”

Some time ago, I hosted a discussion event about isekai, and one of the most interesting points brought up was the suggestion that Kimi no Na wa could be considered within the genre. Reading a body-swapping narrative such as this as an isekai text opens up some very interesting connotations of linkage between space and body in the shift to an “other world.” That being said, the shift in Revue Starlight from the diegetic space to the inter-diegetic space also includes a bodily shift. The transitionary sequence between the two depicts the manufacturing of a costume that is then dressed onto protagonist Karen. It all plays out like a typical transformation sequence à la maho shojo. Hence, in Karen’s transportation from one space to the other she also undergoes a bodily transformation from diegesis to inter-diegesis; what is merely costuming in the context of the play alone here simultaneously becomes the character’s actual clothing, just as her role during the subsequent duel isn’t merely performed but also embodied.

The maho shojo genre is a typical example of what Susan J. Napier defines as the matsuri mode of anime. Translating to “festival” or “carnival,” this is a mode that with a cheerfully extravagant attitude subverts any and all forms of structure and order, revealing their relativity. “For a brief moment norms are transgressed or actually inverted. The weak hold power, sexual and gender rules are broken or reversed, and a state of manic intensity replaces conventional restraint.” (Napier, 2005: 13) So perhaps, as potentially subversive bodies situated in this space that disrupts the division between diegesis and non-diegesis, between text and metatext, the characters have the power to overthrow the rigid and competitive structure of the diegetic space and what it metatextually represents. As noted by twitter user @andrearitsu, the competitive environment of the show, wherein each girl strives to attain the one position as Top Star, is a reflection of the similarly competitive system upon which the Takarazuka Revue operates – but Karen presents a reaction against this. Her goal is not to become the one and only Top Star, but for the entire ensemble to stand on the stage as Top Stars together. Through her, the story thus delivers a critique on the institution that it is a product of (@andrearitsu). And where better to let such a meta-critique come forth than in this matsuri-type, metatextually spectacular inter-diegetic space?


References

ajthefourth, “Our ‘Starlight’ – More Takarazuka Influences in Shoujo ☆ Kageki Revue Starlight”, Atelier Emily: for me, in full bloom, 2018, <https://formeinfullbloom.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/our-starlight-more-takarazuka-influences-in-shoujo-%E2%98%86-kageki-revue-starlight/>

@andrearitsu, Twitter, 16/7/2018-30/7/2018, <https://twitter.com/andrearitsu/status/1018943007922507776>

Herman, Luc, Vervaeck, Bart, Handbook of Narrative Analysis, University of Nebraska Press, 2005

Napier, Susan J., Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005

Takarazuka Music School Official Website, <http://www.tms.ac.jp/english/>

Takarazuka Revue Official Website, <http://kageki.hankyu.co.jp/english/index.html>

Thanouli, Eleftheria, “Diegesis”, Branigan, Edward, Buckland, Warren (ed.), The Routledge Encyclopedia of Film Theory, Routledge, 2014

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