Mike wonders aloud which anime would be a good fit for the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Jan 19th 2006
Kaleido Star New Wings
DVD 1: Eclipse of the Star
Just as she was about to reach the top, a slew of new obstacles are tossed in front of Sora on her way to being a star of the Kaleido Stage. May Wong, a viciously competitive new recruit who vies both for Sora's place in the spotlight and the attentions of the handsome Leon Oswald, threatens to undo all of Sora's hard work and find herself in a leading role.
After many months of waiting and nearly interminable bellyaching by the show's fans, Gonzo's shojo drama Kaleido Star returns to the stage with New Wings, which includes a whoppin' five episodes of the second season. Was it worth the wait? Well, if you loved the first season, yes. If you didn't, there isn't anything new here that's going to change your mind on the show. It's basically the same thing, with a few new characters and plot devices.
Well, let's be fair here; this disc doesn't really have five episodes from the second season on it. The first two are extended recaps of season one, narrated by The Fool; if you've seen the first season, these are completely skippable. The new material starts with episode three, which starts out immediately after the first season ends. We're introduced to Sora's new rival, May, a colossally driven and fairly nasty girl who gives our heroine a run for her money on the Kaleido Stage; also joining the cast is hunky Asian performer Leon Oswald, who more resembles a Barbie doll than a competent circus performer.
It's an interesting plot device, to be sure, but it's straight from the shojo drama playbook; Kaleido Star has never been wildly original in terms of storytelling and really, nothing's going to happen that you won't see coming a mile away. That said, though, the production values and the writing on this show are good enough to propel it past the usual fare. In spite of the fact that it's all fairly routine, Kaleido Star manages to be an entertaining and enjoyable diversion; the new characters, combined with Sora's growth, add enough to the storyline to breathe life into it for a second go-round. Sora comes off as much more confident and willing to stand up for herself, something that she was sorely lacking in the first season. It makes her character far more enjoyable to watch and much easier to identify with. May Wong is your typical "mean girl" who plays the black-hat villain; if this were a serial western, you'd be hissing at the screen and throwing tomatoes. Sure, it's all just soap opera convention, but it's a heck of a lot of fun.
The best thing about Kaleido Star is, far and away, the amazing animation and production values. The circus scenes are wildly original and sometimes breathtaking; the animation quality hasn't dipped at all in the second season. Character designs remain distinct, albeit a little generic (the new characters, May and Leon, are particularly bland looking). In short, if you were worried that the series wouldn't look as good as it used to, put your fears to rest. Gonzo obviously dumped as much time, money and effort into this season as they did the previous.
There are two language tracks on this disc, and for the most part, they're basically interchangeable. The English dub has a tendency to sound a little too sincere at times, walking right up to the line between “enthusiastic” and “overacting” but never really crossing it, save for a few poorly-delivered lines. Hilary Haag does an excellent job as the spiteful May Wong, and Cynthia Martinez returns to voice Sora. Martinez does an excellent job developing the voice along with the character; she sounds older, and wiser. That said, a handful of the English performances are missteps. It's harder to find flaws in the Japanese, so those of you who find yourself nitpicking English dubs might want to stick with the show's native language.
It's been a long wait, but for fans of the show, Kaleido Star New Wings should prove to be worth it in the long run. ADV has shown a considerable amount of commitment to a series like this (one that admittedly has something of a limited audience in America) and has put together a nice initial release. Everything that was great about the first season is back, and the writing has matured along with the show. It might not be the most groundbreakingly original or unique series in the world, but for what it's worth, Kaleido Star remains effortlessly entertaining.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Great animation, good character development.
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