[Anime News Network] “A History of Takarazuka Revue Influences in Anime”

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Non-management: I’ve always been fascinated by the intersectional synthesis of cultures, which partly explains why I find the Taisho period such an aesthetic delight. Western culture meets Japanese , and the result is a delightful mixture of melting pot and patchwork. The Takarazuka Revue is one example of this, a Japanese interpretation of largely Western theater that started during Taisho. The Revue is thus a fairly unique form of theater that, to this day, draws in large audiences as mainstream form of theater and entertainment. Also fairly unique about the Revue is its all-female acting cast, which partly explains why those large audiences are mainly female. All the acting roles are filled by women, and most peculiarly, even though many of those roles are gendered male and female, the actresses fill in for both the women and men parts. Part of the women dress and act girly for the female musumeyaku roles; the other part crossdress and act masculine for the male otokoyaku ones. The Revue gives a special touch to the the otokoyaku’s performance of masculinity, illustrating an idealized form of their male models that their female audiences prefer over more naturalistic portrayals — cruder, ruder, lewder, more insensitive, aggressive, and domineering. The otokoyaku are the most recognizable faces of the Revue today.

The alternative portrayals of masculinity in the Takarazuka Revue that are put on by women are ironic, considering the origins of the Revue are from a founder and man who very much wanted the women in his theater and larger society to act their more traditional place: as good wives and wise mothers for the Japanese nation. His actresses were supposed to learn their social duties while making him money on the stage, then leave the stage for a man and children and never come back. Even the otokoyaku were expected to conform, their performance of masculinity originally intended as a means for them to understand their male models before joining them in the household as proper spouses. The actresses and the audience have long struggled with the Revue’s patriarchially conservative legacy, with many eventually imagining a theater space separate from the founder’s original vision, one where they can find personal enrichment in — men and society be damned. This particular reinterpretation leaves little theater space for reform though, as the Revue is periodically critcized for being escapist about men and society rather than progressive and revolutionary about pushing both into treating women more equitably.

In both its outer aesthetics and internal conflicts, the Takarazuka Revue has influenced the narratives of many anime, among them Revue Starlight, Kageki Shoujo!!, and Revolutionary Girl Utena. To different degrees, anime has incorporated and celebrated the Revue’s pageantry and female-transgressive opportunity, and also commented on and criticized the Revue’s masculine-coded competitiveness and heteronormativity. From real history to recent anime, the article linked below is an abridged history of Takrazuka Revue Influences in anime.

But anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

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Shall I tell a modern tale of girls and a stage? Curtains unraveled to their far reaches, a grand staircase positioned in the back, the spotlight basks on two figures: a sweeping-dress maiden played by a woman, and an epaulettes-coat hero played by another woman. Both are from the Takarazuka Revue. The Takarazuka Revue is a popular Japanese all-female theater group founded in the early 20th century. Its theatrical adaptation of Rose of Versailles and other plays have been profoundly influential on the aesthetics and narratives of Japanese shoujo stories, those iconic settings of dress-wearing feminine women and crossdressing-masculine women cavorting gaily, gloriously, tenderly, and tragically on a Western-themed setting. Look no further than Revolutionary Girl UtenaRevue Starlight, and the recent Kageki Shoujo!! as proof of the Revue’s impact on anime and manga.

But alongside the melodramatic fantasies offered by the all-female Revue to their mainly female fanbase exists drama in the backstage and the audience. The hyper-competitive environment the Revue fosters and the specific physiological qualities the Revue demands take unhealthy tolls upon its actresses. The seemingly progressive image of an all-women stage and women playing both male and female roles in romantic plots hits the brick wall of tradition and institution, of men who once and still run the show and society… READ MORE