Tezuka Osamu, the “God of Manga,” is famous for many innovations in comics and basically influencing the entirety of the manga industry we see today. His techniques for cinematic paneling, use of comics to tell long and drawn-out stories, as well as breadth and depth of topics basically helped define manga as we know it. Even the comics that tried to reject Tezuka’s methods were still a reaction to Tezuka’s work.
One technique Tezuka introduced is something referred to as Tezuka’s “Star System.” Tezuka grew up in Takarazuka, home of the Takarazuka Revue theatre where an all-female cast would give stage performances. Much like actors in a play, Tezuka’s characters would assume different-yet-similar roles across the manga he created, like Orson Welles playing Kane in Citizen Kane, Harry Lime in the Third Man, and Unicron in Transformers. However, the “Star System” concept never really caught on among anime and manga creators and remains something generally unique to Tezuka. “Generally,” I say, because I can think of at least one relatively recent example of the Star System in use.
My-HiME came out in Japan in 2004 sporting an almost all-female cast and telling a story of love and betrayal and summoning a mechanical dog to shoot ice shard bullets. Around the time it ended, there was news that a sequel was starting up, and that it would star a new main character instead of the titular Mai, pictured on the left. Instead, the protagonist would be the girl on the right, Arika, and to emphasize this point the last scene of the last episode of My-HiME shows Arika, like a hint of things to come. What people did not expect, however, was that the “sequel” to My-HiME was anything but a direct continuation of the story. Released as My-Otome (also sometimes spelled My-ZHiME), Arika’s story took place on what seemed to be alternate Earth completely different from My-HiME. Arika’s world had a sort of techno-medieval vibe, and in the story male characters were de-emphasized to an even greater extent compared to the previous series. The most interesting thing though, is that the characters of My-HiME were re-cast as new characters, similar yet different, without any explicit acknowledgement of who they were previously, not unlike actors in a new television series. Here in anime, Tezuka’s Star System manifests itself.
My-HiME’s Kuga Natsuki on the left, My-Otome’s Natsuki Kruger on the right
Anybody who sees the My series is sure to acknowledge that the show is designed to sell to a certain audience and to push figures and posters and all sorts of goodies on the demographic of guys who think anime girls are hot. Fanservice is not a stranger to My-HiME, and the re-using of characters from My-HiME in roles for My-Otome may seem like just an attempt to draw in the same audience who fell for the girls the first time. However, when you think of the characters a little less like actors and a little more like actor-idols, and incorporate the concept of (pop) idol worship, then the My-HiME Star System really shows itself as a modern, 2000s adaptation of Tezuka’s technique.
Incidentally, stars (the literal kind) are a common motif across the My series. It is the source of power for characters in My-HiME, and My-Otome was originally going to be titled “My ☆Maid” (pronounced My Star Maid). Whether this was a conscious reference or not, though, I can’t really say.