Shall I inform a contemporary story of ladies and a stage? Curtains unraveled to their far reaches, a grand staircase positioned within the again, the highlight basks on two figures: a sweeping-dress maiden performed by a lady, and an epaulettes-coat hero performed by one other girl. Both are from the Takarazuka Revue. The Takarazuka Revue is a well-liked Japanese all-female theater group based within the early twentieth century. Its theatrical adaptation of Rose of Versailles and different performs have been profoundly influential on the aesthetics and narratives of Japanese shoujo tales, these iconic settings of dress-wearing female ladies and crossdressing-masculine ladies cavorting gaily, gloriously, tenderly, and tragically on a Western-themed setting. Look no additional than Revolutionary Girl Utena, Revue Starlight, and the current Kageki Shoujo!! as proof of the Revue’s affect on anime and manga.

But alongside the melodramatic fantasies supplied by the all-female Revue to their primarily feminine fanbase exists drama within the backstage and the viewers. The hyper-competitive surroundings the Revue fosters and the precise physiological qualities the Revue calls for take unhealthy tolls upon its actresses. The seemingly progressive picture of an all-women stage and ladies enjoying each female and male roles in romantic plots hits the brick wall of custom and establishment, of males who as soon as and nonetheless run the present and society.

Ichizō Kobayashi and his Takarazuka Revue

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It is the post-Meiji Restoration interval within the Taisho period the place we decide on Ichizō Kobayashi, an elite man of his time. In the aftermath of the Meiji Restoration which restored the Japanese Emperor as Japan’s supreme head of state – a response to the Tokugawa shogunate’s capitulation to the West’s calls for to open Japan’s borders – a ravenous urge for food possessed Japan’s ruling male elite to undertake something and the whole lot Western. From tech and arms to garments and customs, the spirit behind this preliminary voracious starvation was to equalize Japan’s standing with the West through modernization. Gradually although, a brand new thought took maintain of this elite: Japan didn’t must be so indiscriminate with its Western studying. To these elites, Japanese traditions had been already superior in some ways, although these methods may very well be enhanced with choose Western improvements. For a lot of them, it was merely the West’s trade, army, and science that had been worthwhile sufficient to repeat. For Kobayashi, the founding father of the Takarazuka Revue, it was additionally Western theater.

Industry tycoon, theater lover, and propagandist official for the Imperial Japanese authorities throughout World War II, Kobayashi established the Takarazuka Revue for 3 causes: (1) to make cash and promote his companies within the metropolis of Takarazuka by drawing on well-liked Western music and dance developments; (2) to make the elements of Western theater he cherished, in distinction to the overly insular Kabuki theater world, accessible to everybody as healthful mainstream household leisure; (3) to propagate his traditionalist-nationalistic concepts about feminine gender norms by means of the car of mainstream theater.

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Japan’s Takarazuka Revue is so well-known for its peculiarity to star an all-female appearing core with crossdressers, in comparison with older all-male theater traditions, that you just may be misled into believing Kobayashi had feminist leanings. One of the older theaters, Kabuki, had its beginnings initially in feminine participation. The Confucian-influenced Tokugawa authorities later banned ladies from Kabuki and different theaters for violating public gender norms by means of their performances, which had been perceived to be sensual. Stripped of its feminine performers, Kabuki survived on its male ones, a lot of whom determined to crossdress and play ladies roles. It would not be till the Revue that Japanese ladies had been allowed to return to the general public stage as respectable actresses, and never solely as some stars amongst male ones. They, the formally named Takarasienne actresses, had been the one appearing stars of this particular Takarazuka Revue theater. The Takarasiennes had been divided into the musumeyaku, the maidenly female roles, and the otokoyaku, the crossdressing masculine roles.
Japanese tradition on the Takarazuka Revue’s founding and even as much as this present day has clear traces for what counts as female and masculine, and Kobayashi’s reasoning behind establishing the otokoyaku was not one among difficult these assumptions. To him, theater was not meant to supply individually liberating experiences for his Takarasienne. Instead, they had been socially reifying workouts to show them the way to correctly conform to conventional feminine gender norms carried over from Confucian-influenced Tokugawa instances to post-Meiji Restoration ones. They had been anticipated to change into good wives and mothers for the Japanese nation.

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Kobayashi was essential of the feminist considering that was imported to Japan from the West, of the Western-dressed moga ladies of Taisho having fun with themselves in public with out a look after conventional social obligations. So the Takarazuka Revue was partially conceived as a solution to reasonable what elements of Western tradition had been socially acceptable for Japanese ladies to undertake whereas educating them to their eventual social duties as Japanese wives and moms as soon as they arrive of age. Kobayashi noticed, notably in otokoyaku roles, the proper form of coaching for educating his yet-unmarried actresses in what males would need and anticipate of their ladies. He established the Takarazuka Music School as an actress pipeline to the Revue. Through it, he supposed not solely to coach his Takarasienne in Japanese and Western performing arts, but additionally to instruct them in homemaking talents that will make them extra enticing to males. He barred them as a matter of coverage from performing on the Revue as soon as they tied the knot with a person, a coverage that also stands lengthy after Kobayashi’s passing.

Nobuko Yoshiya and Class S

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Popular in the course of the days of Taisho and the Takarazuka Revue – and profoundly influential on Revue productions and shoujo tales even now – is the Class S style pioneered by Nobuko Yoshiya. Class S was an early type of ladies’ love story centered across the shut bonds of ladies in closed faculty settings. Concerning the query of how “close” ladies had been in numerous tales, Class S has notoriously supplied the choice of narrative ambiguity. Even if his push for an all-female theater troupe was an atypical endeavor, Ichizō Kobayashi‘s traditionalist angle in direction of ladies as wives and moms was typical of Japanese society on the time. Kobayashi by no means supposed to encourage ladies to fall in love with different ladies over males, however Class S components nonetheless pervaded the Revue’s productions. It bled by means of within the romances the Revue places on and the actresses it completely stars, and in Kobayashi’s understanding of the Revue as a form of faculty and the Takarasienne its all-female scholar physique. Class S tales within the Revue and elsewhere had been well-received amongst feminine followers, and social critics tended to miss Class S components extra due to their employed vagueness on the query of feminine sexuality.

The believable deniability of Class S to the feminine sexuality query wasn’t essentially a transfer of cynical revenue on Yoshiya’s half, even for those who may argue in any other case for a lot of subsequent writers. Yoshiya was a feminist and lesbian who started her writing profession with tales about ladies at school falling for different ladies earlier than experiencing the wrenching however normative end result of such love being unrequited. Living in a time when males like Kobayashi had been in energy, Yoshiya confronted the problem of the way to write affirmative tales of ladies love that drew upon her lesbian sexuality with out going through extreme backlash for it.

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The commercially profitable reply Yoshiya ended up on which shaped the premise of Class S (and yuri as an entire, extra of which might be examine in this article) was to put in writing about intimate relationships between faculty ladies which may embody refined strategies however in any other case excluded express mentions of lesbian romance and sexuality. Yoshiya’s formulation of Class S drew on trending Western sexological positions. Such positions revised (however did not overturn) Japanese feminine gender norms by re-characterizing feminine friendships as wholesome developments that needs to be inspired whereas reframing lesbianism as pure phases amongst ladies that they albeit ought to develop out of following adolescence. Through Class S, closeted Japanese lesbians may discover some validation within the queer subtext. Japanese social critics neglected Class S’s queerness extra typically due to its ambiguous existence within the overt textual content, and Japanese ladies usually appreciated the concept in Class S of sturdy and lasting (if solely platonic) feminine connections.

The Reality and Fantasy of the Takarazuka Revue

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Despite Ichizō Kobayashi‘s intentions to make the Takarazuka Revue an establishment of contemporary Western accoutrement however conventional Japanese spirit – the best establishment to coach wives and moms in addition to entertain households and the plenty – the very nature of an all-girls theater that features actresses who play male roles, in addition to its delivery at a time when Class S tales had been trending, difficult the truth of his grand imaginative and prescient. Some of the Revue forged chafed at being compelled to behave like Kobayashi’s best ladies off-stage, with some Takarasienne refusing to get married to proceed their appearing careers within the Revue. While some otokoyaku stress that their masculine roles are separate from how girly they’re usually, different otokoyaku lead much less historically female lives outdoors of performances by selection. The coverage of marriage resulting in everlasting severance from the Revue continues to be in impact, although within the years following Kobayashi’s demise, the Takarazuka Music School has phased out the extra direct homemaker sides of its curriculum.

The Takarazuka Revue’s at present majority feminine viewers interact with its actresses (and notably its otokoyaku) much less like fashions for a way ladies of society needs to be for males, and extra like fantasies by which they will escape from their society run by males. Otokoyaku don’t a lot mirror precise males of their kind and appearing as they venture the very best elements of masculinity onto their feminine followers. Otokoyaku share similarities with the idealized male protagonists of many shoujo tales, ones which are courageous and assured but additionally sort and delicate. Female viewers take pleasure in by means of the otokoyaku a masculinity that’s pure and chivalric and lacks these sullying qualities of aggression and oppressive impulses to dominate that too many actual males possess. Takarasienne are additionally required to maintain up disciplined physiques that promote the Revue’s particular fantasies, which for the otokoyaku embody tall statures and lengthy legs along with slim figures and quick hair. Takarasienne on the whole have physique photos they’re anticipated to take care of, and turning into otokoyaku for actresses is not possible until they lucked out on peak genes.

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Even having strayed from Kobayashi’s imaginative and prescient of feminine obligation, the Takarazuka Revue’s promotion of escapist fantasy has been criticized for stopping in need of actually difficult the patriarchal and conservative establishment. The feminine majority viewers escape into the Revue to devour photos of the idealized otokoyaku man – concurrently action-oriented in addition to emotively caring – time and again with out being impressed to demand the identical of the particular males of the society they’re escaping from. The Revue’s productions do not assist on this matter, as whereas the followers are majority feminine and the Takarasienne fully so, the Revue’s stage play scripts and company administration boards have been traditionally dominated by males, ghosts of Kobayashi’s affect who capitalize on consumable fantasies for revenue.

Princess Knight, The Rose of Versailles, and the Top Star System

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The first main influences of the Takarazuka Revue on shoujo manga and anime come from a minimum of Osamu Tezuka and Princess Knight. With the success of his prior works aimed toward boys, Tezuka was requested to put in writing manga and anime for ladies in his extra narrative-focused fashion. Shoujo in each mediums up till then was dominated by quick gags and edification classes, so for inspiration on the way to write for ladies, he drew from his recollections watching the Revue along with his mom. Princess Knight is the story of the heroine Sapphire, who’s technically a lady and a princess however presents herself as a boy and a prince because of magical and political circumstances. She crossdresses as a person and performs idealized elements of masculinity in public, very like how an otokoyaku clothes and performs on stage.

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Riyoko Ikeda‘s The Rose of Versailles appeared tailored for the Takarazuka Revue to leverage the strengths and attraction of its musumeyaku and otokoyaku, channeling them by means of the feminine characters of the maidenly privileged female Marie Antoinette and the gallant crossdressing masculine Oscar, each of whom take part in occasions main as much as the French Revolution. The explosive reputation of the Revue’s adaptation and the otokoyaku who performed Oscar and different male roles secured the Revue and its otokoyaku their locations as iconic fixtures of Japanese mainstream leisure tradition in addition to in shoujo manga and anime.

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The present iteration of the Takarazuka Revue’s Top Star System was formulated someday after its preliminary performances of The Rose of Versailles. The Takarasienne’s otokoyaku, essentially the most seen and well-liked actresses, compete to be chosen as Top Stars. The Revue at present consists of 5 troupes, and the otokoyaku Top Stars change into their most seen leaders, starring because the male leads of each manufacturing these troupes performs. The musumeyaku take part in an analogous system referred to as the Top Musumeyaku. Such techniques, instituted by the male manufacturing and company administrators of the Revue, have drawn criticism for selling an environment of poisonous competitiveness between actresses.

Revue Starlight, Kageki Shoujo!!, and Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revue Starlight, Kageki Shoujo!!, and Revolutionary Girl Utena are three newer anime that, to various levels, incorporate, have a good time, and touch upon the historical past, group, and aesthetics of the Tarkarazuka Revue. Revue Starlight and Kageki Shoujo!!‘s tales give attention to overviews of and criticisms towards the exacting and aggressive nature of the Revue – although Kageki Shoujo!! additionally takes pictures at examples of male privilege and abuse in Japanese society. Utena‘s narrative not a lot presents direct commentary on the Revue’s operations because it assaults the patriarchal oppressive gender norms nonetheless undergirding the Revue, and by extension, society.

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Revue Starlight is the story of Karen Aijo, Hikari Kagura, and the opposite ladies of her 12 months of their Takarazuka Music School-like academy, all of whom wrestle of their otokoyaku-inspired epaulette coats for and underneath the Top Star system. Negotiating by means of magical realism and metaphor, Karen fights to change into a Top Star duo together with her childhood pal Hikari. She encourages her defeated classmates to proceed striving for his or her goals, an effort that runs counter to the magic-metaphor system that strips ladies of their motivational shine to gas a singular Top Star’s upward climb. The anime retains the Class S components to an ambiguous stage, inserting Karen and Hikari’s relationship and others in a light-weight that may very well be seen as pure healthful romance whereas portraying classmate Mahiro Tsuyuzaki’s unrequited crush in direction of Karen as sensual, creepy, and unhinged earlier than disappearing proper after a resolved inner battle.

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Kageki Shoujo!! Is the story of graduated J-pop idol Ai Narata and Kabuki reject scholar Sarasa Watanabe turning into nice buddies and pursuing goals in a not-Takarazuka Music School. The anime focuses on the routines and challenges of Takarazuka trainees as they study to develop the required abilities and anticipated posture of the Takarasienne-esque roles they’re aiming for, with Sarasa set on turning into an otokoyaku and Ai, a musumeyaku. In addition, Ai and Sarasa additionally need to juggle their faculty lives with their traumatic previous ones, resurfaced recollections of abuse by males in Ai’s case and dismissal by techniques that privilege them in Sarasa’s. The anime retains its Class S components to an explicitly platonic stage, as Sarasa is revealed to have a boyfriend outdoors of the college and classmate Kaoru Hoshino is proven to have harbored optimistic romantic emotions for a boy from her days earlier than becoming a member of it.

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The Utena anime is a complete criticism epic of the conservative patriarchal forces nonetheless underlying the Takarazuka Revue, and is both a whole subversion of Class S or a realized achievement of the style’s promise. Utena is available in each a TV collection and a film, with separate however comparable storylines. In the broad strokes of each, Utena revolves across the tomboyish-acting otokoyaku-inspired Utena Tenjou and the sweepingly-dressed musumeyaku-inspired Anthy Himemiya of their prison-of-a-school. Utena enters faculty and performs various levels of masculinity in emulation of a boy she’s romantically taken with and searches for, in reference to Ichizō Kobayashi‘s authentic designs for otokoyaku.

Utena encounters Anthy, who’s being fought over as a prize and is abused and exploited by girls and boys performing domineering masculinity in a contest harking back to the Top Star System. Utena stumbles into the competition and fights, although out of concern for Anthy as an alternative of a need to personal and use her. A boy is later revealed to be the headmaster of the college, the organizer of the competitors, and one among Anthy’s worst abusers. Utena questions her curiosity in persevering with to accept love with a particular boy as her personal curiosity in Anthy grows past mere concern and will get in the way in which of her preliminary romantic quest. The film Adolesence of Utena makes that curiosity unambiguously queer as the 2 share a kiss whereas bare and driving off from the lessons of their adolescence into maturity.

The straight love was a fantastic teenage section, and the queer relationship was what advanced out of it.

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The Takarazuka Revue’s historical past and group are as difficult as its productions are emotive and well-loved. They have left a exceptional footprint on anime and manga, as celebrations of, commentaries on, and conversations with the Revue’s theater and values. More than simply being a bizarre outdated area of interest of Japanese society, it’s a residing mainstream establishment that continues, to this present day, to encourage new tales primarily based on it.


Social Scientist & History Buff. Dabbles in Creative Writing & Anime Criticism. Consider following him at @zeroreq011

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