"O Fool, go forth believing that what awaits you in the end is applause!"
What They Say:
When Sora leaves Japan to join the circus family of the Kaleido Stage, it seems like her life long dream is finally coming true. But Sora soon finds out the being a star involves more than gymnastics. First she must get past the circus rivalries that could shatter her dreams, and rigorous training for death-defying shows!
Along the way she finds friends, family and romance, and a home away from home at the Kaleido Stage. Get ready to feast your eyes on the dazzling costumes, the high flying extravagance, and the unrivaled glamour of the Kaleido Stage!
What We Say:
For the purpose of this review, the Japanese 2.0 audio soundtrack was used. The stereo track was clean and balanced. The voices were all very easy to hear and understand. While the Japanese track was suitably loud, the English audio track was distinctly louder. For those wishing to switch back and forth, you might want to make sure the volume is adjusted first. The music used was rather nice and helped set the scene. Certain pieces introduced a great deal of trepidation while sweet melodies gave rise to hope.
Supplying the voice for the 'Spirit of the Stage' was the venerable Koyasu Takehito. Well known for his portrayal of bishonen characters, he lent that air of suaveness to the character of Fool. As a character that should typically demand respect, it became increasingly hilarious when he'd end up tied up or in other awkward situations. Without Mr. Koyasu, I do not think the character of Fool would have turned out so well. It's the contrast between the confident bishonen/spirit of the stage and the occasionally lecherous and sometimes comedic, that gave Fool an added depth of character. Sora's actress is wonderful in her role as well. When she felt the disparity of the situation at hand, she was able to communicate that through the way her voice sounded as well.
Originally airing between early 2003 to late 2004, this series transfer went relatively well aside from a few issues. In general the colors were all very rich and brilliant. There was no noticeable interlacing aside from the ending text credits during part of the first season. Some of the intensely dark scenes such as those in the Grand Canyon arc produced slight halos on our system. This was probably due to mpeg compression issues. There was also one case of a driving scene being flipped during episode 5. This series boasted quite a few impressively created scenes. In some cases, Gonzo's CG effects were able to smoothly combine with the animation to create more depth in a dramatic performance scene.
The full series came housed in a compact season box about the width of three traditional DVD cases. The outer box utilized the thick chipboard commonly used on most of ADV's boxed releases. It featured cover art of Sora, Layla and the ever fiendishly mischievous Fool. Both Layla and Sora wore matching outfits. On the back of the box, Sora and Rosetta are wearing complimenting outfits while holding onto the same trapeze. All the artwork on the box is as bright and bold as the series itself. Inside were 5 double hubbed thin pack transparent cases. The artwork on them was nice and they all featured various female members of the main cast on both front and back. The DVDs were kept snug inside the cases and were very easy to take out as well. The DVDs themselves sported the same compass-rose design of stars within circles that is seen on the first season menus. They varied in background color. The volume numbers blended in well and were graced with a single feather that stretched from the bottom to the right side.
The main menu for all of the first season disks featured a static image of multiple stars within each other inside of a circle. The background color varied for each volume. Along the outer edge, each episode was easily accessible via a small image. The second season utilized various images for their main menu. All the volumes had a secondary language menu.
There are technically no extras aside from the first OAV which is included in the 52 episode count.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ever since she was a young child, Sora has dreamt about becoming part of "Kaleido Stage" and perhaps even a "Kaleido Star." In order to accomplish this difficult task she must overcome a long set of challenges and people, as well as herself.
Sora Naegino was a bright and chipper young lady who always had a smile upon her face. She tended to be a very honest yet somewhat stubborn person. Occasionally, she could also become a bit reckless as well. At first Sora didn't have an easy time at Kaleido Star. Despite having arrived to the initial auditions late, she had still been allowed to join the troupe. As if almost adding insult to injury, her peers had also viewed her performing on stage so early as her being a favorite of the Boss. In testament to her character, Sora worked hard to overcome that stigma. As a result, she slowly but surely gained the acceptance of her peers. Two of her first friends aside from the stage manager named Ken, were a pair of girls named Anna and Mia. Anna was a bit of a character. It seemed that in almost every thing she needed to add some bit of comedic flair in order to feel completely at ease. Mia's talents laid in another direction though. Not only did she have the ability to choreograph a routine via computer simulation, but she was also a budding writer. Together, these three would always serve as a support group for the others depending on what was happening. Whether it is a girls' father, or someone's ability to perform, the most important thing for the other two would be to lend their support to the other. The aforementioned Ken was an interesting character. He was a very kind and gentle young man who wanted to participate in Kaleido Star, but could not due to a weak heart. Obviously taken with Sora from the start, he was constantly trumped or interrupted whenever he wanted to do or say something special to Sora. He always supported and encouraged Sora in her endeavors, even when it dealt with the specialized training that Sora would have to endure later on. If anyone could claim to be the main stars of the current stage, it would be Layla Hamilton and Yuri. Already well known for her "Golden Phoenix," Layla has the ability to emotionally move her audience. She is constantly struggling for perfection and meets challenges head-on. After acknowledging Sora's place at Kaleido Star, they slowly form a friendship over the course of the first season. Yuri is a bit of an unknown quantity during the first half of season 1. Aside from always being able to save Sora in the nick of time, not much other than his closeness and devotion to Layla were known.
There was also a sprite named Fool who said that he was "The Spirit of the Stage." Apparently he was only able to be seen by a few select people that were destined for the stage. Sora was the first in a very long time to be able to see him. One might expect such a magical being to be above certain human ailments, but that wasn't the case here. From almost the start, Fool had proven that he had a very healthy appreciation for the female form. He constantly tried to get Sora to take a bath, and tried to take advantages of other situations to see her in a more revealing nature. Aside from his slightly lecherous tendencies, he also had the habit of reading Sora her fortune at certain points in time. At those times, he'd take the opportunity to give a piece of advice to go along with it on how she might change a negative fortune to a positive one. These mainly tended to serve as an expositional type tool, as they naturally foreshadowed events to come. While it may not seem that Sora paid much attention to the card readings, she does prove differently later on.
The relationship that Fool and Sora have is a strange one. Normally, if some magical creature came up to a young girl and stated "I am the spirit of the Stage" or something similar, then said young girl would be impressed beyond all means. This would then lead to the magical being becoming some sort of mentor for the person and showing them the ways of the force so to speak. Initially Sora was a bit taken aback by him and believed it all to be unreal. Due to Fool's very nature the situation didn't stay that way for very long and rapidly did a 180. Instead of revering him, she constantly ties him up and shoves him into various drawers and places in her room. In one instance early on, Sora takes a short trip to another Circus to become part of their troupe for a while. After a trying performance that is different from everything she is used to, she was very gladdened to see Fool appear and even hugged him for a brief while.
Kaleido Stage is a place where amazing acrobatics, songs, and stories meld together to form wonderful plays that bring smiles to the faces of the old and young alike. Sora dreams of being able to inspire others the way she had been awestruck at a performance of 'Alice in Wonderland' as a child. Most of the first season dealt with Sora trying to find her own place in Kaleido Stage. Whether it was finding a seal a home, a re-envisioning of a timeless character, or returning someone's smile, she set out to bring a bit of sparkle and wonder back into people's lives. As she grew more into her own, it became apparent that there was another group which had different plans for Kaleido Stage. This became the foundation for the last story arc leading up to the attempt at the 'Legendary Maneuver.' As such a perilous stunt would demand, the training for it was treacherous.
After the events of the first season, things swung back full circle as Sora was once more alienated. Her troubles came in the form of a talented trapeze artist called Leon and a young recruit named May. Self-styling herself as Sora's rival, May greatly disliked Sora mostly out of pure jealousy. Even if Sora had been able to perform up at the level that May felt she should be at, she still would have had a hard time forgiving Sora for Layla's departure from Kaleido Stage. Leon was a slightly similar story. An aloof and solitary young man, he earned the name "King of Death" for his habit of burning through partners. In his eyes, Sora was a "luke-warm" person who needed to improve her skills to be able to become his partner. The fact that she wasted her time on "frivolous pursuits" like the Children's Show infuriated Leon all the more. With this being the current climate, Sora spends most of the season struggling to find herself. Her dream is still mostly the same; to become a "Kaleido Star" and spread the same joy and happiness she experienced as a child to others. Yet whether she'll be able to take Layla's path or create her own is to be determined.
The last episode contained in this set is actually an OAV which focuses mainly on Rosetta and Fool. This special takes more of a 'fan-service' approach in the camera angles it uses. Aside from that, there is a great deal of story here that could have easily inspired a mini-arc of its' own. Out of the many paths that could have been taken, the one that it chooses does lead to tying up most of the loose ends from the end of season 2 rather decently.
Kaleido Star is what you might expect if you took a small part of the wondrous performance and storytelling aspect of the 'Circ du Solei' and meshed it together with a shoujo anime. With the animation being done by Gonzo, it was truly a visual treat and animated very well. Although Gonzo is known for their love of Robots and Mecha there is no hint of it here. Instead they make occasional use of their cgi effects and marry it with wonderful 2d animation to help bring an added sense of depth and reality to certain stage sequences as well as other situations. A dream child of 1st season director and creator Junichi Sato, he was able to bring his vast longtime experience with shoujo and mahou shoujo anime center stage with this production. Kaleido Star has done an excellent job of bringing the hallmarks of "shoujo anime" into the series. It features a solid cast of main characters complete with their own histories, interesting stories filled with drama and heart, and quite a bit of action too. The only place where it momentarily faltered was at the beginning of the second season. It seemed perilously close to a 'reset' of sorts. This was due to the fact that Sora's character was taken back to virtually square one, despite all that she had overcome in the first season. They did ultimately make it work with the end result of making Sora seem more human.
All the marks of a traditional Shoujo anime are here. It is a charming story-driven drama filled with great character development and action as well. One of the nice things about Kaleido Star is that most of the main and supporting cast have their own background stories. With slightly over 50 episodes, this series had a lot of opportunities to do this for both seasons. The animation produced by Gonzo was as visually stunning as what people have typically come to expect from them. Their blending of CGI and 2d animation was visually stunning and allowed for a better feeling of depth in many of the Kaleido Stage's performances. A rare gem that is able to combine 'good looks' with strong substance, it's definitely a must-see for anyone wanting to watch a great story.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
106" 16x9 DaLite HC Screen, Panasonic PT-AX100U LCD Projector 720p native, Sony PlayStation 3 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, Sony STR-DE835 500W Receiver DD/DTS, Klipsch Reference System (RB-61, CS-52 and RS-42) speakers, Sony SA-WMS5 100 Watt powered subwoofer.