Between The Revues: It’s All About The Lesbians


Original Script, for those who prefer to read:

Before we begin this episode, I need to address two things. First off, I would like to issue some corrections to errors I made in the previous two episodes. Namely misidentifying a few productions.

The older run of Elisabeth that I labeled as the 1998 Hanagumi performance is actually the 1997 Hoshigumi performance. I was well aware of this and I’m not entirely sure how this error was made. Similarly, I said that Yukigumi’s Don Juan was from 2006 when it is in fact from 2016. This was simply a typo, obviously it wouldn’t have Daimon in the lead role otherwise.

I made a large error last episode with 1789, for which I used footage from the Toei production – not the Takarazuka production. This error is particularly embarrassing and the only real explanation I have for it is that I mass-downloaded YouTube clips of 1789 and ended up with both Toei and Takarazuka clips which I didn’t look at too closely before putting it into the video.

I also misidentified Fancy Dance as Love at Dal Lake, though I got the year and troupe right. Finally, a Revue Starlight error. I said that the first episode talks about the ideal height difference between men and women. However, said conversation was actually held in chapter four of the prequel manga, Revue Starlight Overture.

I’m sorry about these errors and I would like to thank those who pointed them out and for being kind when doing so. I will try to double-check these things better moving forward.

Onto the second matter, namely a content warning. This episode will be dealing with the subject of homosexuality within Takarazuka and Japan as a whole, which unfortunately means we will be talking about suicide. This being a rather unpleasant subject, I wanted to make sure no one was caught off guard by it in the middle of the video. Should you choose not to watch it due to this subject, I completely understand that decision.

With that said, welcome to Between The Revues. This time, it’s all about the lesbians …baby.

It’s All About The Lesbians

Last episode I briefly mentioned that it was important for Revue Starlight to feature a cast of women who all still present as women on stage, rather than falling into an Otokoyaku and Musumeyaku split, due to Takarazuka’s social politics. So let’s have a closer look at said politics, in particular to how the company view female homosexuality.

First things first, let me make this clear to anyone not aware. I am a trans woman who is a lesbian. I’m currently dating another woman and we’re both LGBTQIA+ activists. This is not going to be an “unbiased” or “neutral” take on the subject at hand. And here’s why, as a Takarazuka fan, it hurts me to tackle this subject…

Takarazuka doesn’t like lesbians.

More specifically, the company does not want to be associated with homosexuality due to a variety of reasons that we will get to. They’ll happily indulge lesbian and other sapphic fans, of which there are plenty, for their money of course and any study of queer Japan that doesn’t talk about the influence Takarazuka has had on the community is leaving out a very important part.

If we’re going to talk about homophobia in Japan, we need to first talk about Japan’s westernization, which goes back even further than Takarazuka. During the 19th century, Japan began adjusting itself to Western, and more specifically Christian, views to ease how they interacted with the world overseas.

This led to things like criminalizing sodomy between men, due to homosexuality being considered a sin, despite Japan not having much of a history with stigmatizing such behaviour in previous eras. While said criminalization was undone rather quickly, the stigma remained and of course did not simply apply to men.

At the turn of the 20th century, Japanese school girls began learning more about sexuality and romance than they had before due to imported and translated Western literature. As a result, a lot of girls began to discover their attraction to other girls which led to an increase in girl-girl couples at Japan’s all girl schools.

While textbooks promoting such developments were quickly banned from schools, the behaviour itself continued. Leading to activists and authors like Yoshiya Noboku, herself a Lesbian, laying the groundwork for today’s Girls Love, or Yuri, genre of fiction. The behaviour itself, which often seemed to be a “phase” for many girls who didn’t look to women after graduation, would later come to be labeled Class S.

And this is where Takarazuka comes into the picture. Just like the school girls discovering their attraction to other girls at school, women in the audience at Takarazuka shows began realizing their attraction to women from seeing them presented as romantic on stage. It was no coincidence that a majority of those seeing Takarazuka shows and joining the actress fan clubs were also women.

Naturally, when something is popular, there are imitators. Takarazuka is no exception of course with plenty of musical theater companies trying to replicate their success with an all female cast. One of the earlier ones was the Shochiku Revue, a fairly successful rival theater that stuck around from 1928 to 1982.

Women romancing women on stage was now everywhere – and so was the “fear” that homosexuality between women was becoming normalized. In 1929 there was a rumour going around that Otokoyaku Nara Miyako was dating film actress Mizutani Yaeko that even made it into newspapers.

And then, in 1935, the news hit that two actresses from the Shochiku Revue, male lead actress Masuda Yasumare and female lead actress Saijo Eriko, had attempted a double suicide. The two actresses, who were merely 27 and 23 years old respectively, survived, leading to the two women being lovers becoming public against their wishes.

Masuda and Saijo had been a couple for a while, with rumours about their relationship coming out of them often going on trips and walks together. They were both Shochiku Revue’s top billed actresses and as such had the pressure of not creating a bad name for the company on them more than anyone else.

Lesbian lovers attempting to, or succeeding at, double suicides became an increasingly prevalent issue in Japan. And while lovers suicide between men and women have often been looked upon with sympathy, the same act between two women is seen as predatory. Rather than looking at homophobic rhetoric and the prevalence of arranged marriages tearing lovers apart, fingers are pointed at women playing men on stage “seducing” other women into the dangers of lesbianism.

But it’s not just lovers taking their lives that become a catalyst for people pointing fingers at Takarazuka. It’s also the issue of fans of their actresses falling in love with their ideal women on stage and upon realizing their love will never be accepted, would take their lives instead. These suicides would constantly show up in daily newspapers to the point where lesbian suicides were even getting spoofed in the press.

So naturally, Takarazuka finally retaliates over those pointing fingers at their company for promoting lesbianism. The owner of the company, Kobayashi Ichizo, insist that their theater does not deal with promoting homosexuality as an acceptable practice and puts a ban on the actresses receiving letters from fans to stop further love confessions being sent.

This wasn’t the first time Kobayashi had restricted actresses from being themselves. For example, he had forbidden actresses from using certain “male sounding” word when not being on stage. When Ashihara Kuniko’s fans started referring to her as “aniki”, the Japanese word for an older brother or older man one respects, Kobayashi had Ashihara pen a letter to her fans telling them to not use such language and that she, like all other actresses, were properly ladylike in her time off.

Actresses are also, at this time, required to be virgins and not date during their employment. Suffice to say, Takarazuka wanted to have full control of their actresses lives.

Now you know where Japan’s idol industry got those ideas from…

However, it has gotten a little better since then. These days, dating is allowed for less prolific actresses and they’re all allowed to accept fan mail again, many of them receiving thousands of fan letters in person throughout each production from their huge fan clubs. However, the events of the 1930s had made it clear that one should not talk about the subject of lesbians around the Takarazuka company.

The huge influence and popularity Takarazuka holds has allowed them to easily push a revisionist and sanitized history of themselves. Few books and documentaries on the company will ever mention the prevalence of lesbian fans or the horrors of the early 20th century. They do not talk about it and they expect everyone else to not talk about it either.

Lesbian author Hasu Sarah Tochiko took it upon herself in 2016 to try and unearth a little more about the company’s unspoken lesbian history, leading her to interview several former Takarazuka employees, most whom remained anonymous.

One who didn’t was Leonie R. Stickland, a teacher, translator and voice actress who worked at the revue and showed no fuss about sharing details – without naming names. Stickland talks about how basically everyone attending Takarazuka Music School were either a couple or had been part of a couple at some point and while there were some students who dated boys, the fact that a lot of the girls applying for the school had an interest in girls was commonly understood within the dorm building, but not spoken of outside.

Similarly, Stickland tells of a Takarazuka troupe leader who everyone within the troupe knew very well was dating a trans woman that she ran a bar together with. To quote Stickland;

“I know another couple who have been together for decades–again, not top stars, but very well-respected performers. Everyone knew that they were a couple. I suspect that a top star, whose popularity is seen to be in jeopardy from rumors of her same-sex pairing, might be told by the administration to be more discreet, or, if it were thought to be more effective, perhaps she and her partner would be placed in different troupes, so that they would hardly ever be in the same place at the same time! I have heard rumors about one pair who were apparently split up in that way, against their wishes.”

And then there’s Higashi Koyuki. A former Takarazuka actress who have since come out as a lesbian, held a symbolic marriage at DisneySea Tokyo with her partner Masuhara Hiroko in 2013 and finally became the first same-gender female couple to receive an official marriage certificate in Japan in 2015. (The separated in 2017)

Higashi confirms Stickland’s words on the revue, that there’s plenty of same-gender couples that everyone on the inside knows about but no one on the outside does. She explains that she knew she was a lesbian in early high school, but felt she couldn’t tell anyone as it was just not acceptable and at the time she had only ever met one other person who shared her sexuality.

Masuhara, her ex-wife, adds that upon Higashi coming out as a lesbian after her retirement, more complications arose. As some fans expressed concern about her coming out due to it possibly reflecting upon the sexuality of her fans.

“Some people already think Koyuki’s fans are lesbians because they like Takarazuka, and her coming out would reinforce this Image.”

And that’s the basic summary of Takarazuka’s century long history with lesbianism. It’s prevalent everywhere within the company, but it must never become known of as the company’s stance on the matter is that it in no way has ties to it whatsoever.

So… How exactly does this all apply to Revue Starlight then?

In the anime, the girls perform a theater production called The Starlight. A story about tragic lovers torn apart by fate. However, as mentioned before, all the girls play female roles – goddesses to be precise. The performance is about lovers who are all women, played by women. That alone is a very direct way of directly confronting Takarazuka’s heteronormative presentation despite an all female cast. And yet, it doesn’t stop there.

The performance itself reflects the events that transpire in Revue Starlight’s story, instantly coding all the actresses as their characters in the play. This also goes for each character’s relationship.

Revue Starlight differs from a lot of other series like it in that it strictly defines which characters are connected by the string of fate and which are not. Where as something like Love Live!, BanG Dream! or THE iDOLM@STER leave relationship details vague to allow fans to interpret matters as they wish and use the characters like pieces of a relationship puzzle – Revue Starlight does not.

Let’s begin by looking at Kaoruko and Futaba, who we briefly touched upon last episode. The two have known each other since they were children, with Futaba always being the one who looks out for the carefree and selfish Kaoruko. We first see confirmation of the two being more than friends in the prequel manga, Revue Starlight Overture, where Kaoruko gets worried that Futaba is going to break up with her due to being distant and busy a lot lately.

This is followed up on in the anime, where Futaba tells Claudine that she loves Kaoruko, but worries that she’s being held back as an actress by submitting to said love and not finding her own path forward. Kaoruko herself liken Futaba not spending as much time with her as before to Mahiru dealing with losing her love as well.

This all accumulates in a giant musical number where the couple’s jealousy and frustrations reach one simple conclusion. That they’re both acting the way they’re doing out of fear of losing each other. Futaba worrying that if she doesn’t improve as an actress she won’t have her chance to stand beside Kaoruko in the future and Kaoruko worrying that Futaba focusing on improving herself will lead to her running away from her.

It’s a simple story of lovers being torn apart from not talking to each other about their worries, eventually solved by letting their emotions ring clear on stage and reuniting the two even stronger than before.

And then we have the aforementioned Mahiru, who is in love with the main character, Karen, but never dared to actually tell her as much in their first year together. When Karen’s childhood friend, Hikari, show up and Karen’s behaviour start changing, she quickly finds herself cast aside by Karen. Things get worse as Karen doesn’t even notice Mahiru feeling bad and even start leaving her behind in the morning.

Mahiru’s jealousy over losing Karen to Hikari develops into an obsession where she finds herself trying to experience closeness with Karen in any way possible. She sniffs her pillow, she tries to feel the sweat on her towel and even tries to get an indirect kiss from her water bottle. Finally, she lashes out at Hikari for “stealing” Karen.

And if it wasn’t clear enough that Mahiru’s feelings for Karen were romantic love and not just a very deep friendship, her feelings are literally spelled out using the kanji for romantic love, “koi.” There is no room for reinterpretation here.

There’s more to Mahiru’s frustration than just her losing the girl she loves, she also feels inadequate to the other students and it’s through Karen’s reassurance that she shines that she begin to heal her worries. With her confidence restored, she declares that she still loves Karen but need to be assertive and not hide who she is any more.

Again, we have a fairly simple triangle drama, solved by conversation. Mahiru, Karen and Hikari live together and begin to get along all three instead of finding conflict in their relationship. Even if Karen were to not answer Mahiru’s romantic feelings, she’s able to move forward thanks to her newly found confidence.

Karen and Hikari are themselves a second take on childhood friend couples. With the two of them promising to reach their Starlight together as kids and Hikari then leaving for London for the next five years. Upon her return, Hikari act cold towards Karen until they’re able to restate their promise again.

In the narrative, Karen and Hikari serves as an analogy of Claire and Flora, the main characters of the play Starlight. Fated lovers who was torn apart, overcame all odds to reach their star only for one of them to be cast down in the end. Of course, the goal Karen has is to stop this tragic ending by letting everyone shine. A tragic love story turned happy, should she succeed.

The two remaining duos are Maya and Claudine as well as Nana and Junna, both sharing couple coding as well. Maya and Claudine are depicted with a near-constant sexual tension, with Maya taking the lead and Claudine willingly, but also begrudgingly, following it. This initially plays out like a cat and mouse game of Claudine trying to catch up to Maya’s skills and standing, but develops into a mutual understanding of where each other stand.

In episode ten, Maya is defeated by Karen, at which Claudine breaks down at the very idea that Maya, the women she adores and idolizes, could be defeated. She declares that it’s not Maya who have lost, but herself and only her. When one considers the fact that Claudine is the Musumeyaku to Maya’s Otokoyaku, this all makes sense.

A Musumeyaku covers for her Otokoyaku, as the latter risks the bigger fall. Just like how Saijo Eriko attempted to shift blame away from Masuda Yasumare in regards to their attempted suicide way back in 1935. Claudine’s reaction is no coincidence, as very little in Revue Starlight is. She is willing to put herself down if it means keeping Maya’s reputation clean.

But that’s when Maya tells her, in French, how she has not been defeated and that she still have Claudine by her side. Maya and Claudine share an intimate confession of love, with Claudine calling Maya “ma Maya” and Maya calling Claudine “ma Claudine” in kind. Again, this is text, not subtext. It’s spelled out right in front of us.

As for Nana and Junna, the conflict lies in Nana’s feelings of insecurity. The fear that happy moments come to an end consumes her and it’s through Junna, someone she’s supported and lived with since entering Seishou academy, she’s able to find safety and comfort. She realizes that she took Junna’s presence for granted and never properly deepened her bonds with her until now.

As Nana laments losing “her Starlight”, Junna comforts her by insisting the two of them and their friends will move onward with new brilliance. She starts quoting famous authors, to which Nana keep asking for more until Junna finally quotes herself, instilling Nana with the final bit of comfort needed to move on without fear. In Nana and Junna we see an important relationship beginning, whereas for the other characters we saw important relationships grow stronger or be repaired.

All of these relationships, the ones who are explicitly stated to be based in romantic love and the ones who stay closer to subtext, are defined character relationships that do not cross over between the other characters. The series doesn’t support the concept of the “rarepair”, to use shipping terminology, because each and every character has a defined counterpart, or two in Karen’s case.

However, some dismiss this element of this series and other series like it by arguing said text and subtext is not there to be read in “real” romantic context between girls. Often attributing the existence of male fans or writers as why. I want to tackle this angle as well, as I’m not fond of this mindset.

While it’s no doubt true that a lot of male fans do view lesbian-coded relationships as nothing but a fetishized roleplay for them to enjoy, to suggest this is the only reason such relationships exist is frankly ignorant. Countless women enjoy series like these, be it Revue Starlight or other aforementioned similar examples, and many of them specifically enjoy them because of these relationships.

There’s a reason over 43% of Love Live! fans in Japan are women and its biggest group of fans in general being girls age 15-19. These series and the fandoms that grow from them are not just “for men”, no matter the stereotype. Men may have been the intended audience originally, but without a sizable portion of women these series would never become the phenomenal success they’ve become.

Just like how Takarazuka is enjoyed by a mainly female audience who want to see women romancing women, the prevalence of toxic men in that industry and community doesn’t, and shouldn’t, devalue the content often created by and enjoyed by sapphic women. Be it yuri manga, idol anime or stage musicals – women are involved in creating these coded relationships and enjoying them, just as much as men are, if not more.

It’s true that Revue Starlight’s anime is directed by a man, Ikuhara’s protegee Furukawa Tomohiro, but to simply suggest that means the relationships in the series are created by “men” is to ignore writers Kaori Miura and Nakamura Kanata, who between each other have written the original stage musical, the manga and all the songs for the project, and director Kodama Akiko who directed the stage musical. This is a project with a high amount of female creative talent.

Bushiroad hasn’t been shy about supporting LGBTQIA+ people either. Their Wrestling outlet, New Japan, features the openly bisexual man Kenny Omega as a top billed wrestler, Revue Starlight has trans woman Sanada Reo as part of its main cast on stage and while I do not wish to risk putting unwanted labels on any voice actress involved with the project – more than one of the leading nine ladies have expressed that they’re attracted to women in interviews.

I bring all of this up because after a century of horrific homophobia within Japan’s musical theater scene leading to suicide and being cast out of society should you admit to being a woman attracted to women, Revue Starlight does something very important by not only depicting women romancing women on stage – while playing women – but to have all of them be romantically coded off stage as well.

In Revue Starlight, being a woman romantically involved with a woman does not have to lead to harm. All of them are offered a chance at ending a cycle of despair in favour of a happy ending. That’s why it’s so vital that all nine girls were lesbian coded from the very start and to me, that’s the kind of positive representation that instills me with hope. And whether you personally consider it to be good representation or not, it’s still a very important message to put out there after how long actresses and fans been ostracized for this very thing.

I would like to end this video a bit differently by highlighting a book I’ve been reading. Takarazuka: Sexual Politics and Popular Culture in Modern Japan by Jennifer Robertson. The book chronicles a lot of what I’ve talked about today, and more, with further sources from Japanese authors translated and contextualized. If you’re interested in the subject we’ve talked about today, I highly recommend reading the book itself.

I don’t have a copy to show you, because I read it digitally… Anyway, I hope you now understand why it’s so important for Revue Starlight to depict its actresses in a different light than Takarazuka. Next episode, we’re going to talk about… The Great Banana herself.


Sources and further reading:


2 thoughts on “Between The Revues: It’s All About The Lesbians

  1. Hi, I’m just wondering what is your source regarding the “more than one of the leading nine ladies have expressed that they’re attracted to women in interviews”? I read your comment below the video (regarding the identity) but didn’t want to ask this on the video as my real name is tied to it. Just curious as I would like to confirm it for myself.

    Like

    1. One of them mentioned it in an interview on Kaneda Tomoko’s Seiyuu Laboratory. The other one I know about made a social media post about it but took it down due to the stigma surrounding it, another reason why I didn’t name any names.

      Like

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