Kaleido Star Vol. #01 (also w/box) (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Saturday, May 08, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, May 11, 2004

What They Say
The Kaleido Stage is a circus extravaganza with death defying stunts, flying trapeze artists, and magical clowns. The top performers of the Kaleido Stage are a handful super acrobats known as Kaleido Stars. When sixteen-year-old Sora Naegino arrives in the U.S. with little more than her dreams in tow, she has a chance encounter with mysterious man who immediately recognizes her potential for the stage.

Sora can't believe her luck when the stranger turns out to be Kalos, owner of the Kaleido Stage. But things are never really that easy, and Sora will have to turn cartwheels to get past the power of a Kaleido Stage diva named Layla. Prepare yourself for high flying excitement, and jaw dropping beauty as you enter the world of the Kaleido Stage.

The Review!
The latest Gonzo series takes the Cirque de Soleil and gives it an anime makeover.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. That mix is a standard stereo one and it sounds quite good with both the music and ambient sound effects making good use of the forward soundstage. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout with a number of scenes using some solid directionality to get things accomplished. We spot checked the English track and liked the clarity some of the sound effects gained from it as well as the music itself coming out a touch fuller.

Originally airing in 2003, Kaleido Star's transfer here is done in its original full frame aspect ratio and is one of the most colorful looking TV transfers I can think of seeing in the past year. The series takes advantage of the latest tools available and presents a very vibrant and colorful show. The first episode must have had a good budget as the fluidity of the animation in it is simply amazing and the colors for it are almost eye-popping. After the first episode it does settle down a bit into more common ground, but the transfer maintains a really solid presentation, with great colors, no cross coloration and practically no aliasing during panning movements. This just looks fantastic.

The front cover for the opening volume provides a very good shot of Sora in one of the outfits she wears while performing as well as Layla in one of her more famous outfits and poses behind her, both set against a pale purple backdrop and various little bits of color here and there. It's a good looking cover that highlights the costumes well, but I had really wished for the Japanese cover art or a reversible cover for it. The packaging does a good job of listing the volume number on both the cover and the spine as the back cover only provides the episode count, not the episode numbers or titles. The back cover continues the same color for the background as the front does bit it fades into the performance ring as it fills the area. There's a good summary of what to expect and a few shots from the show and of the menus here. The included insert is a two sided four-panel piece that has the main characters and their basic data as well a short paragraph biography for them, covering the main six characters we see during these opening episodes. Also in this volume was a small cute little cardboard standee of Sora.

The main menu is a well animated piece that has various pieces of imagery from the design of the show rotating in the background while the foreground has a static circle that has extensions out to the selections. The episode selections all have a small animation bubble next to them as well. It's a hard menu to really describe since it's not using much in the way of actual pieces from the show but more of a design feel from the Kaleido Stage itself. One of the softer instrumental pieces plays alongside it, though far too short since it recycles very quickly. Access times are nice and fast and the navigation is relatively easy once you move around a bit.

With five episodes on the first volume, the extras are light and it's not too surprising. What we have here is the standard volume extras we'll see for the whole series probably with the opening and ending sequences presented in their clean format as well as a video gallery of production artwork that's both black and white and color.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When Kaleido Star was announced, there was the usual interest since it was another in a line of Gonzo series that were getting a lot of media attention at the time. For US fans, it had the added element of having some financial interest in it by ADV Films itself, so the license for it was pretty much secured before the first episode even aired. The series was ambitious in a time when most are still doing the thirteen or twenty-six episode runs by talking up it's fifty-one episode plans. This made some folks a bit nervous since Gonzo's other series, Final Fantasy Unlimited, didn't quite make its entire run and got shorted a fair amount of episodes.

Another area that made it interesting right from the start is that the concept seemed to be centered around an anime version of Cirque de Soliel, a sort of circus/performance extravaganza event showcasing all sorts of things. Not many shows have done much with this kind of concept and all the early promotional material that came out was quite vibrant and filled with a wide variety of costumes and designs. It looked shiny and it looked set to take the time to really tell a story, provided it was able to reach its entire run. Thankfully, the show did finish out its fifty-two episode run just two months prior to my writing this. So knowing that we're in for a number of discs and a lengthy story, I was already very keen for the show.

Kaleido Star opens with a young woman named Sora coming into made up city in California to take part in the open auditions to become a part of the Kaleido Stage. Kaleido is a performance event that's located just off the bay in its own space that looks like a stylized circus tent and filled with lights and colors. They put on their own versions of various stories and plays, such as the Romeo & Juliet event that's going on now. Kaleido Stage is hugely popular all over the world and people travel from far and wide to see it, such as Sora's own experience seeing it when she was a little girl on a trip from Japan with her parents. It's left such a strong mark on her that she's wanted to join it ever since. Her parents were against it though, but she managed to convince them to give her one shot to go out and try it. If she fails, it's back to Japan and probably a very ordinary life for her.

Her arrival in the country is fairly amusing as she tries to find her way around with the guide book and can't seem to get anywhere near Kaleido Stage. When she stops to ask at a newsstand for directions, she gets freaked out from the guy next to her who starts feeling up her legs and looking at her approvingly. But before she knows it, her suitcase has been stolen and she's racing off after the thief. This sequence is just rich in animation with so much going on and so much activity in normally bland areas. Her chasing the thief shows off her natural talent quite well as she races, skates and then leaps in front of him and takes him down. Of course, the situation ends up with her being taken in by the police thinking she's a young runaway, so her day goes from bad to worse as she misses the audition.

While she does eventually make it to Kaleido Stage, she missed the actual auditions and the head diva of the group, Layla, won't give her an inch in still trying out since she's trying to prove her point about how important timing and responsibility is for someone in this kind of environment. Sora's obviously upset about it since it's a once a year chance and she's blown it. She gets some comfort from the young stage manager named Ken who had tried to help her out. Showing her the show going on from the back stage, Sora ends up in the right place at the right time after causing an accident that injures one of the cast members. She's shocked to find out that the guy at the newsstand is actually the owner of Kaleido Stage and tells her to get changed and take over that part, thereby letting her get her audition live in front of the audience.

As expected, Sora ends up getting into the group (though she botched her performance, she managed it well all things considered). Her entry into the group is something that causes quite a commotion among everyone, particularly those that just passed the actual auditions. It also goes over very poorly with Layla since she's simply not impressed with this amateur. So Sora finds herself in the unenviable position of having just about everyone hate her (except Ken who is all doe-eyes over her though she is of course oblivious to it) and Sarah, the "dorm mother" that's actually one of the most gifted singers in the group. Throughout the first five episodes, Sora is forced to prove herself over and over that she's capable of being there even though her circumstances weren't normal.

And as it goes along, she does pick up some friends and allies. Two of the girls who were originally against her, Anna and Mia, both realize that they were partly responsible for some of the troubles as well as realizing that Sora's really working hard to achieve things, she's not being given everything on a silver plate. Layla continues to not acknowledge Sora for the most part but ends up in various challenges with her while her partner Yuri ends up rescuing Sora a few times. Add in a few mean girls who are just out to spread gossip, the love-struck Ken, a cop who becomes Sora's biggest fan and a number of other secondary cast members and you get a good mix of the cliché cast for something like this. Since it's very early in the series and only Sora and maybe Mia really get any time to shine, that's not a problem since the secondary characters only serve to set up situations for Sora and not actually become players in them for the most part, so they don't overwhelm things. The focus is clearly on Sora here and her early friendships.

One of the strangest elements of the show is a character named Fool. He's about a foot tall and dressed in a strange outfit that includes having a playing card of some sort over one eye. He introduces himself to Sora in her room as the Spirit of the Stage that very few people can see, and she's lucky enough to be one of those people. Sora freaks out over this and can't believe he exists, especially since nobody else sees him. Fool makes his presence in most of the episodes after the introduction by displaying a tarot card that offers up some challenge that Sora will face in order to progress further in the group. He also hangs around with her a lot in the hopes of convincing her to take a shower or a bath so he can watch.

Fool is a hard character to explain since his delivery is done in such a deadpan mode for the most part. The character really won us over quickly, mostly due to the beautiful delivery of his lines by Takehito Koyasu. There is simply something about this mans voice that gets us intrigued in all of his roles. What makes this one more amusing for me is that his character sounds much like the one he portrays in Final Fantasy Unlimited and I'm convinced that Fool's music for Kaleido Star is the same as it is for Final Fantasy Unlimited. He just seems to be strangely out of place here but he fits in perfectly. Sora's reactions to him at first are great but it only gets better as she deals with him as part of her routine more than anything else.

Kaleido Star is a great looking show. It's the kind of show that really works more towards how people build confidence in themselves and have to work together as a team to overcome their obstacles while also placing interesting challenges to them in how they must think about their work. The emphasis that they are part of a team is strong as well as that they're there for the audience, not that the audience is there for them. There's a solid grounding being placed for most of them, though it's hard to see that it's taken root with some of the existing folks like Layla.

With it taking place in America, we get some of the fun of watching the Japanese interpretation of things US related, such as geography and mannerisms as well as numerous Western derived names. We do get more of a variety in character designs though, especially for background characters, which is pretty rare. The designs for the characters overall are very good with only a few of them really looking like some of the standard Gonzo molds. While there is a fair amount of animating on the cheap by keeping most of the clothes simple, when the characters do get out into the stagelight, the budget goes up a great deal and we get a great show. But these are also done judiciously so as to not overwork the budget and allow the series to run out to its planned end.

In Summary:
Kaleido Star had me mesmerized since I first saw the trailer for it just over a year ago and it's held me since then. While there are some typical clichés to be found in a series like this, particularly the opening episodes, there looks to be a lot of interesting places for it to go as it moves forward. The main characters are all engaging and fun to watch, well design and well animated. The concept is a lot of fun and gives the writers plenty of room to play with designs and styles, pushing Sora into all sorts of new situations. While I'm not hoping for it to drag out, it looks like the show is definitely moving at its own pace and is intent on telling the story their own way. With Junichi Sato as the director, I'm looking forward to seeing what he's got in store for us and I cannot wait to get my hands on more. This show simply flew by. Very recommended.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Production Sketches

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98/39.98
Running time: 125
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Kaleido Star