Every since she was young, Sora has wanted to join the Kaleido Stage, a world-renowned performing troupe. Traveling to America (yes, America!) alone, she auditions for the cast and, through a series of unexpected circumstances, is accepted into the troupe. The story follows Sora as she experiences the joys, sorrows and hardships of striving to be the greatest performer of all ... the Kaleido Star!
Kaleido Star has been jokingly classified as a "magical girl" show by some fans, and that isn't quite far from the truth. The story focuses on a young girl bestowed with some ability (in Sora's case it's nothing magical - just incredible acrobatic ability), with a mascot (more on that later), as she experiences the ups and downs of her life as a star.
Naegino Sora is quite an interesting character, if not rather magical girl ... ish. She has the determination to succeed, a touch of naive innocence, the courage to stand up to what she believes in and the ability to pull through the challenges in her life. Right from the start, Sora takes centerstage as we fall into step with her character, and thankfully, they couldn't have picked a better lead.
Joining the cast of the Kaleido Stage (by accident - literally), Sora encounters a very diverse selection of people. Most notably are the famous pair Yuri and Layla, who are both accomplished performers, and as the story will eventually reveal, have complex backgrounds to their characters. There is the owner, Carlos, who is what Mr. Miyagi was to Daniel in Karate Kid - he strives to teach Sora valuable lessons about life and being a star, but they are not always obvious at the start, and Sora needs to learn them by experience (and building her character in the process). Along the way, she befriends a host of other characters that influence her while being changed by her as well.
The plot is what impressed me the most as I began to watch this series. Each episode has some theme running through it, and shows how Sora and her friends face the challenges of life in a performance troupe and how their characters develop along the way. While some other shows running over fifty episodes long suffer from having too many "episode-of-the-day" plots, the great thing about Kaleido Star is that almost none of the episodes feel like they're filler bits. Every single event has importance to the greater storyline, and characters undergo changes all the time (for better or for worse). In addition to that, it doesn't always focus on Sora's character, but also involves the future of the Stage and many, many plot twists. Some of the other characters also experience major changes, and most of them have a back story that is revealed as the show goes on. It's a commendable effort considering the fact that I've watched about half of the series by now and the plot hasn't bored me one bit.
Though it is mainly a drama series, it does have frequent comedic moments, and a lot of those involve Sora's "mascot" character - the Spirit of the Stage : Fool. He is the visible "presence" of the Kaleido Stage, and can only be seen by people who have been "chosen" by the Stage. About the size of Sora's hand, Fool's specialty is fortune-telling (which obviously foreshadows events in the series), but the hilarious thing is that he is a total pervert. The scenes where he appears and tries to get Sora to take a bath, or sets up some plan to peek at Layla's bathrobes are enough to make your stomach hurt from laughing. Fool is all the comedy relief that Jar-Jar could *never* hope to be, and eventually Sora catches on to it and usually ends up tying him up or stuffing him in the closet (or in one case even trapping his hair under the TV). If there's any totally misunderstood mascot anime character, it's him.
If you pay attention to the credits, you'll notice that Gonzo Digimation (Last Exile, Vandread) had a hand in making Kaleido Star. Surprisingly, the art quality (especially the character design) isn't quite as consistent as you would expect, and the characters aren't really detailed themselves, but when you consider the length of the series and the overall look of the title, it isn't too bad. When it comes to CG work though, Gonzo pulls through again and again with great visuals (although a bit out of place here).
The only problem is that most of the story is geared towards a younger audience. Topics like friendship, sacrifice, hard work and believing in yourself are recurring themes throughout, and this warm-fuzzy-feeling type of anime might not appeal to older fans, who might be looking for something more intellectual or mature. That doesn't mean that older fans can't enjoy Kaleido Star too, because a good dose of warm-fuzziness to make it through the day is just what the doctor ordered.
All I can say is that I really enjoy watching Kaleido Star. It manages to draw you into it's story, and you begin to feel like you're "there" with Sora, experiencing her joys and sorrows, laughing when she does, crying when she falls, and cheering when she gets on her feet again.
Who says there isn't any magic? If you can feel the warm fuzziness in your heart - the magic's right there.
A wonderful plot with excellent story progression, Kaleido Star is the light for those moments when the clouds are gloomy and the sky is dark. The stage performances sometimes border on the absurdly impossible (like a swaying tightrope swordfight in the rain), but it's simply magical (think Disney). Drop a star if you don't like simplistic titles like these. — Enoch Lau
Recommended Audience: This title is mainly for the young ones, so content is clean. Aside from the very dangerous stunts that the performers do (which in some cases can *not* be attempted at home, kids), there is hardly any material to object to. It also teaches valuable lessons to children.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Partial (25/51)
Kaleido Star © 2003 Junichi Sato • HAL • GDH / Kaleido Stage • ADV Films
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