Kaleido Star: New Wings Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, January 17, 2006



What They Say
The world of Kaleido Star continues to turn in this new series set under anime's favorite big-top! The circus drama continues with more jealous divas, tempermental artists, and dangerous stunts!

The Review!
The performers at Kaleido Stage return to build something new post-Layla only to find that some of the new performers aren't all that interested in the same goals.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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. The series takes advantage of the latest tools available and presents a very vibrant and colorful show. While the series has settled into what looks to be the standard feel for it as opposed to some of the really high quality pieces that kicked it off, the transfer maintains a really solid presentation, with great colors, no cross coloration and practically no aliasing during panning movements. This just looks fantastic.

Packaging:
Starting off the new season, the cover art comes across beautifully with this volume as it has a very detailed and colorful illustration of Sora that stands out well against the black background that has sparkles throughout as well as the Kaleido Stage symbol. 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 black and sparkle feeling with a good summary of what the disc contains as well as some good shots from the show itself. The discs extras and production information is clearly listed as is the standard technical grid along the bottom. The insert is in mini-poster mode with a four panel foldout that has a great looking image of Sora in her performance outfit striking a pose.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
The extras for this volume are pretty basic but the kinds that we've come to expect from the series with the opening and closing sequences in clean format and a round of production sketches. One new extra is a "A Day In the Life Of" piece where voice actress Serena Varghese is followed around a bit in her daily routine at home and school with a follow-up at the recording studio. Dub actor fans will enjoy the piece a lot.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Kaleido Star in its first season was one of the best things we saw back in 2004 and going through 2005 without the second half of the show was a fair bit of torture. The second half finally made it back on the schedule though and arrives just two months after the first season released a priced down box set, making it a perfect jumping on point for new folks since the volume count was started back at one.

Getting back into the show is surprisingly easy even with the long break between volumes but the opening volume can be both a plus and a minus depending on how you're coming into it. The first two episodes on the release is a big recap of the series to date, a standard practice for a show of this length during its airing since they want to give the animators some time to get ahead as well as provide an easy jump on point for new fans. With the time between the volumes it's a plus for those that don't remember it well as it covers the high points right and gives most of the drama enough scenes to get the impact through. For those that don't care for recaps though, it takes a five episode disc and brings it down to just three new episodes and a very fast watch after all this time. It's simply a mixed bag depending on how you're going into all of this.

The initial premise of the second season is that now that Layla has moved on and all the other changes that happened after she and Sora performed the legendary great maneuver, there isn't much of a draw to the Kaleido Stage anymore. Sora's intent on doing all that she can to bring in people but the general public has the feeling that if Layla isn't there then there isn't any real reason to go. Sora and the majority of the performers that are still there are all looking forward to being able to bring the life back to the Stage, being able to make their mark there now that Layla is gone. But Kalos has things in mind for bringing folks in and that's not exactly going to plan.

One of his initial changes is that he's been able to bring in Leon, a very attractive and mysterious man whose abilities on the Stage make Layla look like an amateur and he does it all with ease and none of the hidden efforts that we saw with Layla. Leon's entire sense of style about performing and what he does is completely different from Layla's as well and that means he's vastly different from Sora. When Sora's usual antics come up just before the first performance, he walks off the stage with the intent never to return and Sora puts her all into trying to save the show. This is where their fundamental differences come in as he explains, in very small words, that the audience is there for him while she believes that they are there for the audience and to make them happy. Sora's need to please overrides everything else though and she still insists that she can be his partner and that he cannot leave because Kaleido Stage needs him in order to survive.

The other area that changes things is that the latest round of auditions has gone on and a new group of students are in the mix now. Most of them are basically faceless folks as they aren't the focus of the storyline as we saw in the first season but one of them stands out among the rest, a Chinese girl named May Wong. She's come to be the next big star on the Stage and has such a big attitude about it and her abilities that she can't believe someone like Sora accomplished what she did. Sort of similar yet opposite of Leon, she verbally abuses Sora at times while Sora simply tries to be friendly to everyone. Sora and May end up in competition over time for the role of Mina Murray in the latest production of Dracula and Leon has them compete for the part which has both of them pushing their limits.

When watching the core cast of characters from the first season interact and work through their problems and training sessions, the show has a really good sense of energy and vitality to it as well as the kinds of challenges that were prevalent throughout earlier episodes. Sora's efforts to make the Stage work are very in character and while her friends don't get as much time as before they have some good bits as they find their new place in the scheme of things. The best character that's returned though is Fool who simply has the best lines of the show. His antics, always adding a bit of a raunchy touch to things, give the show a nice edge at times but he also gets to work the role of being the sage of the Stage with his view of how it's all working with the three characters that are all looking for the same thing but in different ways.

That said, this was an incredibly frustrating volume to watch simply because after years of watching as much anime as I have, I've found a pair of characters that I simply don't like at all and am close to actually saying I hate them. Leon's attitude towards everything and the way he goes about in minimizing Sora's time at every chance he gets or trying to get her to quit is just badly done. Most people have seen people like this come into the workplace and they always cause problems with the flow of things but often there's someone in management above there that can smooth things out over time. In Kaleido Star, that's Kalos who earns the title of "Kalos the Uninvolved" with how he lets these new people run roughshod over the troupe that brought the Kaleido Stage to such heights before. His management style has always been different but this time around he's just seeming like anything that someone say should be done must be done and lets them do it.

May Wong is just as bad with her badmouthing of Sora and her intent to get her kicked out of the Stage. She has some amusing moments with it when she does the whole dog barking kind of attack on Sora but at the same time it just feels so wrong. If Sora or anyone else had done that at the start of the first season, Layla or some of the others in the class or existing performers would have shut them down faster than you could believe. May however is allowed to go on the attack constantly, to the point of pushing around other performers, which again allows us to call Kalos the "uninvolved" as it does the dorm mother who has just a few brief scenes with some cute meow meow moments. Watching May throughout the episodes is just annoying though and much like Leon, I cannot wait for her scenes to be over so we can get on to more interesting material. I can see the approach being used and how they're trying to challenge the existing performers but the character simply makes me want to skip past her scenes since she is so far just a one note character.

In Summary:
The return of Kaleido Star is a welcome event but the first volume has left me with some mixed feelings based on the direction that it looks to be taking. Since we skipped the recap episodes as the show is fresh in our minds the release was also pretty short but that's far less of an issue than the storyline bringing in characters that are just plain mean. There's a lot of good material still to be found here and the core cast of characters are what will be keeping us coming back. The release overall is pretty solid though and fans of the show will definitely be happy to get this show back in their hands.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Production Sketches,Serena Varghese Featurette

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



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