The first cuts.
After Karen’s surprise victory in the first day of the secret auditions, she struggles to make sense of exactly what’s going on underneath the school. Neither Hikari nor Hoshimi, the girl she defeated the night prior, are telling her anything about what happened. Hoshimi doesn’t have time to babysit Karen; she’s trying to catch up to Maya and Claudine, the two top girls in class 99. During a dance warm-up, Hoshimi and Karen are partnered, and Hoshimi passes out from exhaustion. She makes a full recovery just in time for day two of the auditions, where she has a rematch with Karen. Despite her best efforts, Hoshimi loses again. Meanwhile, Maya and Claudine have their own head-to-head bout and Mahiru begins to feel Karen pulling away from her and towards Hikari.
Things are starting to heat up for class 99. We get the first of, presumably, many backstory episodes dedicated to a member of Karen’s class. While we don’t know much about our leads yet, it was compelling to go into the motivations and backstory of a minor character while watching the school drama unfold in real time. Hoshimi is a Johnny-come-lately to the stage girl life, and she may not be able to catch up anytime soon. It’s an ineffable tragedy that makes her quite sympathetic when she tries to take Karen out on the second day of secret auditions.
I do wish we knew a little more about Karen and Hikari, however. We don’t get much more than the childhood promise business we were told the last episode, but I trust that this show will reveal more in due time. This episode was great for checking back in with every character we met last week. While this episode did feature Hoshimi as its focal point, a lot of the first half was still spent making sure that the relationship dynamics of class 99 are clear, for when each of them will inevitably be drawn into the secret auditions themselves.
We also learn more about the secret audition process this time around. We see a leaderboard that seems to track performances in the aggregate over multiple nights. There were ten visible slots on the board, and with about as many main characters, it’s pretty safe to assume we’ll see each one of them suiting up for a song-and-dance fight to the finish.
I’m honestly not very interested in the Hikari/Karen will-they, won’t-they. I thought there was much more going on with Maya and Claudine, this episode. The roommates have a nicely dichotomous pair of scenes that explain their own relationship and highlight the potential cruelty of the audition process. After their perfectly synchronous dance performance in the first half of the episode, the final scene shows Maya besting Claudine in the underground battle arena. Maya’s final line about being only out for herself seems to be setting her up as an antagonist, and with the obvious talent differential between her and Karen, I don’t see it going well for the latter.
Another great bit player in this episode is Mahiru. From what we’ve seen so far, the roommates of class 99 mainly function like romantic relationships. These pairings are often the ones that the girls are seen in for exercises, and they are prone to displaying a lot of apparently sensual affection for each other. That is was made the Maya and Claudine revelation at the end of the episode so effective, but it’s also why Mahiru gains so much of our pity. There’s no way she can compete with Hikari, and she knows it, so it’s heartbreaking to watch her try anyway to hold Karen’s attention.
The unfortunate side-effect of how effective Mahiru’s tragedy is, is that it makes Karen much less sympathetic. Especially since not much of her character has been revealed thus far, she comes across as capricious and careless with Mahiru’s feelings. She made some strides at the end of the episode with Hoshimi, but it’s going to take some work for it to not seem incongruous with her massive disrespect to her roommate.
There’s still a lot more to be revealed about the world of Starlight Revue, but it’s definitely kept my attention so far. The full cast of characters has me wondering who will be the star of next week’s show, and what part the mysterious giraffe running the underground auditions will have to play before it’s all over.