Those who have an appreciation for musical theatre will find a lot to grasp onto with the musical-acting anime Kageki Shojo. It provides an insider look at the real behind-the-scenes of theatre and the trials and tribulations of its cast, making it stand out among other shojo.
The show spotlights the young women of the Kouka School of Musical and Theatrical Arts, a two-year academy where hopefuls train to be part of the all-female Kouka Revue Troupe. Unlike regular theatre, the Kouka Revue has women play both otoku-yaku (traditionally male roles) and musume-yaku (female roles). With clear resemblances to the famous all-female Takarazuka Revue in Japan, Kageki Shojo incorporates many elements down to the selected performances, cast hierarchy, and daily cleaning routines to inspire the story.
Each girl has their reason for auditioning, but many dream of being a “top-star”, the best actor in each troupe. Ai Narata is an ex-idol member of JPX48 who wants to escape the world of men after “graduating” after being canceled online. Sarasa Watanabe is an eccentric student who wants to debut as Lady Oscar from the Rose of Versailles. The two couldn’t seem more different from one another, but their desire for the main stage brings them together. Kageki Shoujo revolves around their budding friendship and individual growth as they train to become esteemed kouka actors.
Getting a glimpse of the action behind the curtain, we see the rigorous routines of the students. They aren’t allowed to perform until their second year, but they need to learn and practice as much as possible to climb their way to stardom. When they are allowed to practice performing, the emotions come through strong. Both the Japanese and English voice actors excellently executed their dialogue and songs making it feel like a real musical. It gave the old theatre kid in me goosebumps.
Where the show truly shines is its carefully crafted character development. The show does a great job of focusing on individual struggles and how each girl uses them to fuel their performances. Rather than stick to typical tropes, Kageki Shojo depicts various issues that young women face in the real world and the theatre world. From the very beginning, Ai struggles with interacting due to her traumatic past with assault and stalking. But as the story progresses, she begins to open up to her classmates, with Sarasa having a big hand in that.
Kageki Shojo goes in depth on each backstory to really connect and empathize with them. The theatre is a place to become someone else, to escape life’s harsh realities, but each young woman has her own real-world problems that still creep up. Everything from social pressures, harassment, and eating disorders are explored with a much-needed seriousness that never points blame at the girls, but rather shows how they persevere and use their struggles to inspire their stage presence.
Sarasa and Ai’s relationship is particularly well written and never feels flat — the intricate dynamics of both personalities work well together off and on “stage”. When researching the inspiration behind the show, it became obvious that the writer has a deep love for the Takarazuka Revue. And that love comes through in the anime.
There’s a lot packed into the 13 episodes making it a really satisfying season, although I would be lying if I said I wasn’t on the edge of my seat waiting for a season two. I have hope as the original creator, Kumiko Saiki, is still releasing the manga.
Kageki Shojo is an easy recommendation thanks to its theatrical roots, outstanding character development, and emotional performances. It brought me back to the high school musical season and the emotions that come with pouring your heart and soul into a show. If you know that feeling, you’ll know it’s hard to replicate, but Kageki Shoujo comes close to it.
Kageki Shojo is available to stream now on Funimation in Japanese and English.
Title: Kageki Shoujo!!
Studio: PINE JAM
Producer: King Records
Director: Kazuhiro Yoneda
Creator: Kumiko Saiki