Karen vs. Mahiru
Karen’s really started to take her promise to Hikari seriously. She’s the first to school and the last to leave, and the rest of class 99 is noticing: especially Mahiru. While everyone else is congratulating Karen on her miraculous improvement, Mahiru feels her finally slipping completely away. After a flashback to her rural past is triggered by a surprise delivery from her parents, Mahiru feels like a woman without direction. Later, in the underground auditions, she completely loses it in her match against Karen. While she is eventually defeated, allowing Karen to slot up to seventh place, she’s finally free of Karen’s orbit and can learn to shine on her own terms.
Well, I’ve been complaining about Mahiru’s struggle for about a month now, so I can’t say I’m not glad that we finally got an episode dedicated to her. It’s just really hard to see my girl go down like that. Let’s start with the good. I really have enjoyed getting to know each of these characters, (Karen and Hikari excluded, so far) and Mahiru was no exception. The newsreel of her acceptance into Siesho Academy was heartbreaking. We’ve seen nothing, if not the unraveling of a fragile young woman in these first four episodes, and seeing her pushed to her breaking point was hard to watch, at times.
This uncomfortably kept up once Mahiru snapped. Mahiru’s obsession played out in a pretty cliché way. Because she had nothing for herself, Mahiru latched on to the star shine of her roommate in order to make herself feel better. I think I’d have an easier time believing this if I had any idea how talented Mahiru actually was relative to the other girls. While we’ve consistently seen Karen at the bottom of the class until this week, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen Mahiru so much as dance. Combine this with the fact that Karen and Maya are the only people we’ve ever seen on the secret audition leaderboard (meaning Mahiru wasn’t ninth going into this week), and it leaves me with a serious dearth of information about Mahiru.
It’s quite clear that Mahiru’s lack of confidence didn’t necessarily come from a lack of natural ability, but rather internal anxiety or depression, but we were unable to see if there even was an external component to her sadness at all. I think it would have added a lot to this really rich character, and kept her from feeling so stock-crazy in the second half of the episode.
I also didn’t really buy Karen’s redemption arc in this relationship. At the end of the episode, just before she beats Mahiru no less, she compliments her abilities and tells her she has her own shine. This is kind of hard for us to see without any tangible evidence of said talents and its occurrence just before Mahiru’s defeat. Karen is also still dumping her for Hikari, and we saw Mahiru go to some pretty humiliating lengths to stop that from happening. Some acknowledgment from Karen of what she’s put Mahiru through would go a long way, but I think this week closed the book on that ever happening.
We also haven’t learned anything new about the cause or importance of the underground auditions yet, but we are coming up on midseason, so there’s sure to be a big reveal coming up. What we did find out—besides the fact that Mahiru is participating in them—was that it’s relatively easy for the girls in the underground auditions (which will be heretofore called Revues) to break into each other’s fights. This clears up why everyone was only mildly surprised to see Karen in the first episode and may be paving the way for doubles Revues or even free-for-alls.
On a technical level, I do have a one nitpick for this episode, though. This was easily the worst Revue of the series. They reused this strange rolling animation three times. It’s not the first time Revue Starlight has cut animation corners; Karen’s transformations sequence is copy-pasted in the first three episodes, but this was the first time I noticed a recycling within the same episode.
Like I said up top, this was a tough episode for Mahiru fans. I’m glad she finally has the chance to succeed on her own, but given the arc of the show, she’s not only going to be a background character in the final “Starlight” performance, but it seems as if she’ll be grateful just to be up there. I think anyone watching Revue Starlight closely knows Mahiru deserves much better than that.