Judge Sandra Dozier admires the amazing restraint shown by these series animators, who manage not to constantly push the adorable seal mascot into the faces of viewers whenever possible. He actually shows up only in water scenes—go figure!
Our reviews of Kaleido Star: Season One (published December 12th, 2010), Kaleido Star: Season Two (published January 23rd, 2011), Kaleido Star: Volume 2 (published December 23rd, 2004), Kaleido Star: Volume 3 (published October 28th, 2004), Kaleido Star: Volume 5 (published December 16th, 2004), Kaleido Star: Volume 6 (published January 13th, 2005), Kaleido Star: Amazing Collection (published June 22nd, 2006), and Kaleido Star: Volume 1 (published October 14th, 2004) are also available.
Step right up and be amazed, ladies and gentlemen!
Kaleido Star is an optimistic anime that doesn't get too saccharine in its storytelling. It's an anime about having dreams and not letting anything stop you from seeing them come to fruition, but the message is that along the way there is plenty of hard work, lessons to be learned, and a great opportunity for growth. In the world of Kaleido Star (an essentially unrealistic world that is nevertheless firmly rooted in reality) conflict means character growth. For this reason, Kaleido Star avoids the trap of being too gauzy and ethereal for its own good.
Lead character Sora Naegino travels from Japan to the United States to see if she can perform on the Kaleido Stage, a dream of hers since she attended a show with her parents when she was a child. She is traveling alone, which is scary enough already, and her first experience after her arrival is to get lost and then to have her suitcase stolen by a thief. She ends up chasing down the thief, impressing a stranger who later turns out to be the owner of Kaleido Star. Even though she is late for her audition (having been taken to the police station after recovering her bag), he puts her on stage that very night, untested and unrehearsed. She does her best, but her performance is less than stellar, and the star of the show, Layla, is furious that she was even allowed on stage. Sora is no more popular with the rest of the Kaleido Stage troupe, all of whom had to go through a grueling audition to be allowed to train for an eventual performance.
Despite this rocky start, she does make a few friends. 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 to her as well as an invaluable source of comfort and advice. She 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 when she sees a tiny man walking around and talking. 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 the two interact, and this provides much of the comic relief in the show.
In Volume Four, Sora is off to perform in a traveling circus, even though the rest of the troupe gets a well-deserved break. Ken goes along as her manager and to offer his support. It turns out the circus is a small operation, with a lazy rehearsal schedule and a tightly knit crew that fights like a family would. One of the lead performers is an ex-Kaleido Stage veteran who doesn't welcome Sora's presence at all. When Sora returns to Kaleido Stage, she is caught up in a drama between dorm supervisor Sarah and owner Kalos and a planned exodus by one of the most valued members of the Kaleido Stage. There is plenty of drama in this volume, and it ends up with Sora's world being turned upside down, plunging her head first into a new set of challenges that she will have to overcome. Although the episodes become kind of grim toward the end, there's plenty of humor in the earlier episodes, especially when Ken feels a love story between Sora and another young performer in the circus show is "completely unnecessary." Speaking as her manager, of course.
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 nicely. There's a standard set of extras, plus the palm-sized "standee" insert that has been a regular in all the Kaleido Star releases. Although light on extras, the series stands up by itself rather well, with a well-turned English dub and no re-used animation (other than a few shots of Fool reading cards for Sora and brief segments for repeat performances) in this tightly paced, fresh storyline.
Kaleido Star has the right 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. I found myself identifying with the way she was able to recognize her success, make it the core of her strength, and use it to help her overcome her 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.
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