Series Review - Kageki Shojo!! (2021)
Definitely the most slept on anime of 2021, Kageki Shojo!! quickly became one of my favorite new series.
Based on the manga by Kumiko Saiki, Kageki Shojo!! is a slice-of-life drama series that sheds light on the tremendous stress performance art students experience.
The series follows the loud and proud actress-aspirant Sarasa Watanabe and her quiet, more emotionally stunted roommate Ai Narata. Despite her easygoingness and bubbly personality, Sarasa quickly finds herself on Ai’s bad side due to her just wanting to be left alone due to her past experiences with other people.
Ai is a former pop idol, and was forced to leave her idol group due to how she responded to an overly physical fan.
Kageki Shojo is not afraid to explore darker and gross subject matter, and Ai’s story is particularly representative of this. The subject of the show can make it difficult to watch at times, but I still believe it is important that it is shown despite this.
However, Kageki Shojo clearly paints these acts as gross, while also showing that people can grow from these experiences, no matter what side of the situation they were on. Ai’s realization that people can grow and be better is incredibly important to her arc and her friendship with Sarasa, and is what hooked me on the series.
That is not to say Sarasa is not equally as captivating as a character. Her endless enthusiasm could have easily made her seem annoying. However, she uses her seemingly energetic attitude to hide her deep rooted insecurities over whether she’ll be able to become an accomplished actress. Her dream to play Lady Oscar in the Rose of Versailles appears out of her reach due to her physical build, being the tallest student in her Kouka class.
Sarasa and Ai’s friendship is the heart of the series. Their character growth, and the way they affect their other classmates in the process, represents the strength of Saiki’s writing, as adapted for the anime.
The color pallet for Kageki Shojo gives it this softer feel. The art direction from Hiromichi Tanigawa (Magic of Stella) and color design by Yasuji Sakagami (Gleipnir, Just Because!) feel right at home in a series about theater, while contrasting the darker subject matter the series tackles.
Part of what makes the series stand out among other slice-of-life anime is its colorful and vibrant character designs. Sarasa’s hair appears like a cloud during a subset, with its poufy texture and green highlights at the ends. Character designer Takahiro Kishida (Haikyu!!, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind) brilliantly adapted Saiki’s original designs.
Director Kazuhiro Yoneda (Gleipnir, Yona of the Dawn) brought this heavy stylization to all of the performance heavy scenes, bringing this gravitas to each character. However, that never outshines their weaknesses as well. Even before we see the backstory for each character in their focused episodes, we get an idea of their weaknesses or trauma from the subtleties in their animation by the team at Pine Jam (Gleipnir, Gamers!).
Dubbing a series with some heavy musical performances is no easy task, especially when accepting the challenge of dubbing the insert songs themselves. Yet, the team at Sound Cadence rose to the challenge. ADR director Marissa Lenti (Arte, Adachi & Shimamura, ) and lyric adapter Amanda Lee (ACTORS: Songs Connection, Show by Rock!! Mashumairesh!!) adapted those scene beautifully for the English dub.
Of course, much of the dub’s brilliance is due to its script writing and translation by Bonny Clinkenbeard (Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Fruits Basket), Emily Neves (The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent, Snow White with the Red Hair) and Jessica Cavanaugh (Shadows House, Golden Kamuy).
Siv Ryan’s Sarasa Watanabe captured all of the energy present in the character’s animation and writing. However, Ryan particularly shined in Sarasa’s more vulnerable moments. It is one thing to be able to be loud and energetic, it is another to put emotion and nuance behind that energy, and Ryan accomplished that with such grace.
However, it was Xanthe Huynh (Vivy - Fluorite Eye’s Song, Appare-Ranman) performance as Ai Narata that hooked me on Kageki Shojo’s english dub. I am an absolute sucker for characters that have trouble emoting (as evidenced by me having written two articles on this character archetype that you can find here and here), so I was naturally drawn to Ai the second she appeared on screen
The softness of Huynh’s voice, combined with the character’s clear purposeful detachment from emotion, had me intrigued. However, it was her performance in episodes 3-5 that left me speechless. My heart ached and my eyes were dry from the tears I shed by the end of each episode, mostly due to Huynh’s performance as Ai.
However, she is far from the only voice actor to leave me feeling this way. Megan Shipman’s (Adachi and Shimamura, Dr. Stone) voice work as Ayako Yamada, particularly her musical performances, was nothing short of perfection. However, it was her scenes alongside David Wald’s (SK8 the Infinity, Fairy Tail) flamboyant Onodera that really got my tears flowing, whether from laughter, sadness or both.
Amanda Lee’s (Zombie Land Saga, Show by Rock!!) own performance as Kaoru Hoshino, the resident perfectionist among Kouka’s first years, managed to stand out as well despite the power of the performances around her. To me, Kaoru was the first time Lee has managed to come into her own as a voice actress. I could no longer hear the singer I had become so familiar with through YouTube. I am excited to see where her talent goes from here, both as a voice actress and as a lyrical adapter.
Corey Pettit’s (Asteroid in Love) Sawa Sugimoto receives the short end of the stick when it comes to the main cast, being the only character to not receive a full episode dedicated to her specific story. However, that did not stop Pettit from turning in an incredible performance. Sugimoto’s level-headedness contrasts with the rest of the main cast’s more electric personalities, a trait Pettit presents through her deeper, stern, yet confident voice. It isn’t until the finale of the season that we see that confidence falter.
The other performances that stood out to were those of Monica and Natalie Rial (Chika and Chiaki Sawada), Kayleigh McKee (Sei Satomi), Bryn Apprill (Hijiri Nojima), River Kanoff (Mamaru Ando) and Kestin Howard (Mikiya Kitaoji).
I knew going into Kageki Shojo that it would end up being a hit for me, but I never expected to fall in love with it as much as I have. The amount of depth given to each character within thirteen episodes is astounding and I only wish it had received enough attention for more of the story to be adapted. You can watch Kageki Shojo!! subbed and dubbed on Funimation.