Kageki Shojo!! The Curtain Rises is one of the manga that I’ve been the most excited about reading this year and I am so pleased to report that the series more then met my expectations. Kumiko Saiki’s art is lovely and I found the story to be fun, emotional and heart-warming, all at once!
The Kouka School of Musical and Theatrical Arts is a prestigious institution that trains young ladies to be performers in the famous, all-female Kouka Acting Troupe. Only a very select few are granted entry to the school each year and, once accepted, the curriculum is intense and the competition amongst the potential performers is fierce, but, for these young ladies, the prospect of becoming a shining star in one of the Kouka Theatre’s dazzling productions makes all the effort worth it. Watanabe Sarasa is a new recruit and this peppy and big-hearted young lady is confidant that she’ll become a top star and someday play Oscar in the Kouka Theatre’s production of The Rose of Versailles. Watanabe is tall and loud and not at all what people typically imagine when they think of a Kouka Theatre actress, but she has star power and Watanabe won’t let anyone tell her that she can’t achieve her goal. She’s also determined to become friends with her roommate, the aloof, former-idol Narata Ai, but Narata doesn’t want anything to do with her, or anyone else for that matter. Narata enrolled in the Kouka School so that she could be in an environment without any men and she isn’t actually passionate about the theatre and wants to have as little to do with other people as possible. Will Watanabe manage to coax her out of her shell? Or is there no place for friendship in a cutthroat environment like the Kouka School?
Kageki Shojo!! The Curtain Rises is a school-life drama that focuses on a group of talented young girls who are chasing their dreams while also struggling with self-esteem issues, past traumas and coping with the stress of the high expectations being placed upon them. There are plenty of light-hearted and humorous moments in the manga, but there are also some very dark moments too. Some of the issues tackled by this series are quite serious and might be upsetting for some readers, including topics like eating disorders and sexual assault.
Narata was molested as a child by her mother’s boyfriend and most of the people she’s tried to talk to about it haven’t taken her seriously. She’s understandably distrustful of people and frightened of men, apart from her uncle, the one person who’ been supportive of her. The Kouka theatre seems like the ideal place for her to escape to, but, even when she gets in, Narata can’t take any joy in her success and has no idea how to handle the overly friendly Watanabe, who instantly takes a shine to her and is eager to become best buddies.
Watanabe’s perpetual cheerfulness is a shining light in the series and she always sees the best in people, making her the ideal person to help Narata start to open up and learn to form bonds with others again. Watanabe and Narata are very different, but that makes it all the more satisfying when Watanabe manages to win Narata over and I found both of these girls to be completely loveable and adorable.
The Kouka school is competitive and, even once they graduate, the girls will all be rivals vying for the best parts in the theatre productions, but that doesn’t stop the main first-years from becoming friends and supporting each other… most of the time. There are some conflicts and cattiness amongst the main cast of girls, and at least one manipulative girl who’s willing to stoop to some pretty nasty tactics in order to keep her position secure, but I found Watanabe and Narata’s relationship to be very touching and I enjoyed the focus that the series puts on female relationships.
Not everything about this series is perfect, however, and I have mixed feeling about how the series handled the storyline where one of Watanabe and Narata’s classmates, Yamada Ayako, develops bulimia after being ordered to lose weight by her dance instructor. I’m not against the inclusion of this storyline, eating disorders and body image issues are something that a lot of young women struggle with and it makes sense that these issues would be even more common in an environment such as the Kouka School. I also felt that the portrayal of how Yamada developed bulimia was fairly realistic. My issue is that, while the teacher who criticized Yamada and ordered her to lose weight, without giving her any kind of guidance on how to do so in a healthy manner, I might add, was chastised by one of the other instructors, it felt like the manga was suggesting that it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for her to have behaved this way towards her student. The instructor tries to justify her actions at a staff meeting by saying that the girls need to get used to that kind of criticism because, as performers, they’ll be in the public eye and will face a lot of harsh scrutiny in the future, and I was perplexed by the fact that no one at the meeting points out how nonsensical this argument is.
Saying that you have to verbally abuse someone so that they’ll be used to abuse when other people abuse them later, isn’t a rational argument. As teachers, they can and should be bolstering the girls’ confidence and teaching them coping skills so that they can be better equipped to handle criticism and body-shaming when they encounter it. Luckily, at least one of the teachers seems to care about the girls’ mental well-being and tries to encourage and help Yamada, but I still felt that the dance instructor was let off the hook and I would have appreciated it if her messed-up reasoning had been more directly refuted by the narrative.
Despite my issues with Yamada’s storyline, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this series. The manga ends in a rather inconclusive spot, but this is because it is a prequel to the main series, Kageki Shojo!!, which I am very happy to report was recently licensed. I’m looking forward to learning more about Watanabe’s backstory in the sequel and hopefully some of my concerns surrounding Yamada’s storyline will eventually be addressed.
Just like its leading ladies, Kageki Shojo!! The Curtain Rises has star power and this shining gem of a manga shouldn’t be passed up. I recommend this series to shojo manga fans and anyone who’s interested in the theatre and the real-life Japanese theatre troupe that this series is clearly based on: The Takarazuka Revue.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10
What did you think of this manga? Are you a fan of the Takarazuka Revue? Let me know in the comments!
You can find more information on this series at Seven Seas Entertainment’s website.
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