Review by: Brenda Gregson
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $39.98 US
Running Time: 650 minutes
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now
If you dare to dream then dream big.
It’s a beautiful thing to have a dream but there is dreaming about doing what you want and there is chasing after the dream until you make it a reality. Sure, it’s not easy and yes there will be obstacles in your way but good things happen to those who are willing to go the distance for the dreams as we see in the case of Sora Naegino in Season 1 of Kaleido Star.
Spanning 26 episodes, Season 1 finds the bright-eyed and upbeat Japanese acrobat named Sora finally getting off the plane in California’s fictional city of Cape Mary. She has come looking for Kaleido Stage, one of the city’s biggest entertainment attractions that somewhat resembles Cirque du Soleil. With the aid of a helpful police officer – who Sora calls Mr. Policeman throughout the series – she finds the Kaleido Stage but ends up being late to the auditions.
As fate would have it, one of the people she met in the streets happens to be the man in charge of Kaleido Stage who goes by the name of Kalos and ends up giving her a chance anyway. It also helps that a cute guy named Ken (who happens to be the stage manages) is also watching your back. Unfortunately, not everyone likes the fact that Sora is given this chance as all the female performers – particularly the star of the show that Sora admired for a long time … Layla Hamilton.
When a performer is injured, however, Sora gets her chance to be in the show and ends up being noticed by everyone despite her amateur attempt. Sora is the type who sticks to her guns, though, and as a result some of the girls that were badmouthing her have become her friends such as the perky Mia and the unintentionally funny Anna. Then there’s Miss Sarah, the Dorm Supervisor, who is like a mother to all the performers living in Kaleido Stage’s dorm rooms. Still, Sora’s most trusted advisor happens to be the “spirit of the stage” named Fool who can only be seen by performers who are serious about performing.
With the support of her new friends, Sora takes on new challenges as Kaleido Stage introduces new shows with different acts that Sora enthusiastically wants to attempt. While we witness her many mistakes, we – much like Sora – learns something from each blunder. At one point, when Sora is given the job of passing out glow sticks to children in the audience, she learns that her stage is everywhere. Sora learn from other performers’ mistakes as well, such as the Diablo champion that is asked to be in the latest production of “Cinderella” only to be fired by Kalos for being too preoccupied with showing off her skills and not entertaining the audience.
Despite a few failures and setbacks, Sora’s efforts are noticed to the point that she gets the lead in the production of “The Little Mermaid.” It is here that she find out that being lead performer has its own advantages and many disadvantages and – when she takes a tumble and is too frightened to swing again – she learns that the show really must go on and everyone takes a tumble or two in this business.
Half the fun of watching this series, though, comes in watching Sora herself. She’s the kind of girl whose high-energy personality makes her fun to watch. Sure, she often pokes her nose where it doesn’t belong but her intentions are noble. Sadly, she’s also the type of girl who takes the blame for everything including mistakes that aren’t really her fault. We can make a drinking game out of the number of times that Sora takes the blame or the numerous times she gets cruelly chewed out by everyone. Nobody but her small circle of friends (that also include a baby seal named Jonathan and a little girl named Marion) believes in her … not even her own father.
Yet at the same time we are uplifted when Sora does triumph over the negative comments that are hurled at her often by either Kalos, Layla or the catty girls who are jealous of her. It’s rare to find an anime series that genuinely inspires without coming off as cheesy or preachy. Even the comedic elements feel genuine so it’s always a real hoot when Sora shoves Fool into a dresser drawer or tries to swat him away while others wonder if she’s gone insane.
The series also has a collection of characters that aren’t one-dimensional and actually add something to the story. We discover that Anna’s father, a failed stand-up comedian, has walked out on Anna when she was young and now resurfaces. Then there’s Miss Sarah whose friendship with Kalos might actually be a romantic one. Finally, there’s the handsome and talented Yuri, who sets in motion a plan to take Kaleido Stage from Kalos and pulls it off.
In the later half of the series, Sora and her friends find themselves starting their own troupe that is composed of performers that Sora has inspired. Things get even more interesting when Yuri makes an effort to destroy Sora’s troupe as Sora is now joined by Layla … the very woman that didn’t approve of her. In an interesting twist of events, Sora and Layla partner up to perform a trick to win back Kaleido Stage from Yuri. The final moments of Season 1 are truly unforgettable.
Director Junichi Sato, best known for his work on Sailor Moon and Princess Tutu, has a knack for bringing out the magic in his settings. California, in his eyes, is surreally colorful, tranquil and just plain magical where the police are cheerful and the ocean is sparkling blue. Even Kaleido Star’s shows are something else as his acrobatic scenes are handled beautifully.
Season 1 of Kaleido Star is an inspiring and delightfully satisfying series that is every bit as energetic as the main character. Junichi Sato has once again managed to capture our attention and make us feel for the characters as they chase their dreams and make them a reality. With so much that happens you’ll find yourself not wanting to look away. If Season 2 is anything like Season 1 then we are so there.
DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Ever since she was a child, Sora dreamed of performing for Kaleido Stage in California so – now that she’s older – she heads out to America to audition. Once she’s accepted, though, she finds that life as a performer is oftentimes grueling and filled with obstacles but with good friends and a rival that slowly begins to believe in her, Sora is determined to make her dream a reality.
VIDEO QUALITY: A
Beautifully animated with all the flashy and colorful pomp of a circus spectacular, the series not only feels like a dream but looks like one too. Junichi Sato re-imagines California as a magical place so even the setting is eye-catching.
AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The voice acting is excellent when it comes to the original Japanese voice cast with Ryou Hirohashi handling Sora wonderfully. Then again, I do love the way Cynthia Martinez makes Sora even livelier in a good way but Luci Christian just doesn’t quite nail that British accent. The score is fantastic and the second opening theme song (“Yakusoku no Basyoe”) and closing theme song (“Bokuwa Kokoni Iru” by SOPHIA) are great.
The fourth disc contains all four textless opening and closing theme songs as well as a few FUNimation trailers. There’s also an audio commentary track for Episode 25 featuring Cynthia Martinez and Sandra Krasa (ADR Director and the voice of Layla) that is worth a listen mainly because we can see why Cynthia was cast as Sora … since she seems to be just as spirited and energetic as Sora.
Like its main protagonist, Season 1 of Kaleido Star aims high and succeeds in not only entertaining but also reminding us that anything is possible if you are willing to chase your dreams. The series also makes us feel what Sora feels and that is a rare and beautiful thing for an anime series to pull off. We are definitely looking forward to Season 2.
Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment