ADV Films // 2004 // 125 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // October 28th, 2004
Step right up and be amazed, ladies and gentlemen!
I was initially turned off by the Kaleido Star previews I saw. The trailers played like a cotton-candy version of a high-concept carnival show that at best might be a Cirque de Soleil ripoff, and at worst might be a parody of same. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the actual series bore no resemblance to the stuffy, fluffy story I was expecting. (The moral of this story, kids, is not to put your all your eggs in one basket when it comes to marketing.)
Kaleido Star is an optimistic anime for people who have dreams and want to see what it's like to make your dreams happen. Sora Naegino, the teen heroine of the story, dreams of performing in Kaleido Star, an acrobatic performance show that she saw with her parents when she was a child. Her path to realizing this dream is not an easy one, and sometimes she has to suffer for her art. At first it looks like things are being handed to her, but once she is knee deep in a situation, she has to work extra hard to make sure that she not only succeeds, but succeeds brilliantly.
Sora travels by herself from Japan to the United States, where Kaleido Star is located. When she gets into town, she has a scuffle with a thief, who takes her bag, and ends up chasing him down to get it back. A mysterious man, who initially spooked her by commenting on her strong leg muscles, witnesses the whole thing. Later, it turns out that this would-be creep is the owner of Kaleido Star, and he gives her a break by putting her in the show sans audition. This move does not make her popular with the other students, who have all gone through grueling auditions, but she does make a few friends that she counts on for support. Of course, she also has a rival in the female star of the show, Layla, who cannot understand how a rank amateur like Sora could be allowed on stage.
Kaleido Star is heavily influenced by the Japanese ideals of conflict improving character. From the physical challenges of tuning her body to perform on stage to the more personal challenges of her peers harassing her and making her feel like an outcast, Sora grows because of the conflict she endures and triumphs over. Along the way, she makes friends and gains allies as she becomes a more well-rounded person. It's a positive, strong message that is not heavy-handed or moralized to death.
Athleticism and doing your best are important in order to succeed on the Kaleido Stage, but friends are also just as important. Sora is immediately befriended by people who make a difference in her life and give her self-confidence to keep going. Mr. Policeman, the kind-hearted cop who helps Sora after her bag is taken, is her "Number One fan," always coming to her shows. Then there is Ken, the teenage stage manager, who falls for Sora when they meet for the first time but has trouble telling her how he feels. Blonde, blue-eyed Ken has a weak heart and can't perform on Kaleido Stage, so he applies his natural leadership abilities behind the scenes. He isn't your typical boy-in-love character and doesn't lose his cool around Sora to the extent that he can't do his job: He can be hard on her when he needs to be, and he is a mentor and invaluable source of comfort and advice. Sora also makes friends with a couple of her peers, who recognize her fighting spirit and are drawn to her.
Finally, there's Fool, a living doll who calls himself the "Spirit of the Stage" and can only be seen by Sora, who thinks she is going mad at first. Traditionally, anime characters are all-accepting of mystical foot-tall living dolls and spirits, but Sora does what the rest of us would do -- she questions her sanity, then tries to bat Fool away. It's hilarious to watch Fool come onto the scene, all serious and breathy-voiced, trying to dispense cool-sounding wisdom and advice, only to have Sora wrap him up and hang him upside down in an effort to deny his existence. Slowly, she comes to accept Fool, but she never listens to him as studiously as he would like her to, and she doesn't think twice about treating him roughly if he does anything she finds objectionable. Fool tells Sora that she can see him because she is destined to be a star performer, the only one who can perform a difficult maneuver that only Fool can teach her. He acts as guide and mentor, when he isn't being locked in a cabinet, and patiently weathers her skittishness until she becomes more comfortable with his presence.
In Volume Three, Layla has departed Kaleido Stage in order to star in a motion picture. This gives Sora and Anna a chance to shine in a new production of The Little Mermaid. However, Sora's desire to mimic Layla in every way is not going over well with the audience or the producer, who insists that Layla be brought back. Sora is not sure what to do to make things better, and she goes to her friends for help. We also get a peek into Anna's past and her childhood when her father comes into town. Anna has to work through her feelings of abandonment in their relationship in order to heal. Meanwhile, being a film star doesn't seem to suit Layla, who refuses several enthusiastic offers of more starring roles. She returns to Kaleido Stage for a confrontation, both onstage and off, with Sora.
Kaleido Star has beautiful animation, with stage performances given heavy drama and light effects that look great onscreen. Accordingly, the show has a good-looking transfer that gives us a good depth of color and a clear print. Sound quality is also high, with a clear, robust transfer and an English dub that takes advantage of the surround sound by letting offscreen character voices travel between channels as they come onscreen or leave the frame. The standee insert is palm-sized and cute, but nothing to write home about. The bios help to flesh out the characters a bit and give quite a bit of background information about them. I didn't feel any of this additional information was too spoiler-heavy, but fans who want to be surprised might want to avoid reading them until they've watched the episodes. English voice actors once again work their magic, and Cynthia Martinez turns in an interesting performance as Sora, with higher-register, more muted vocals than in previous roles.
What I liked best about Kaleido Star was its attitude: Sora succeeds because she recognizes what she has done well and what she needs to work on. She may go out on stage and miss her final cue altogether, plummeting to the net. Instead of seeing this as abject failure, however, she instead focuses on the middle of her performance, which was difficult to achieve and hard won. She sees her success there and vows to work on the finale. Through challenge comes character. This is an excellent message that anyone can benefit from -- recognize your success, make it the core of your strength, and use it to help you overcome your failures. Sora doesn't always perfectly overcome the challenges that she faces, but she never backs down, and gradually she earns the respect, if not the good word, of the others involved.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
* English (signs only)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Character Standee Insert
* Production Sketches
* Character Bios
* Official Site