Reviewby Leslie Mitsuko Tokiwa,
DVD 1: Welcome to the Kaleido Stage!
Directed by Junichi Sato, the grandmaster of shoujo, the first volume of Kaleido Star delivers heartwarming fluff without too many sugar calories. Sato's other works, which include Pretear, Princess Tutu, and Sailor Moon, all feature young female leads who, somehow or the other, discover that their world or loved ones are in danger and that they must use some unusual power to save the day. While Kaleido Star doesn't throw in any such astonishing plot surprises, what makes the anime engaging is just that – it's predictable.
In a time when insightful and thematically complex titles such as Evangelion, Wolf's Rain, and Ghost in the Shell are inundating audiences with metaphor and symbolism, a simple story about a girl who wants to be a circus performer is quite refreshing. After a rough time getting to the tryouts, 16-year-old Sora Naegino is grudgingly accepted into Kaleido Stage circus – a job she has dreamed about and trained for since she was a child. However, as member of the circus Sora discovers that it's not all she thought it would be, and now she must deal with rivals, training, and a weird little doll that keeps talking to her backstage.
With this simple premise as its base, Kaleido Star bounces along at a pace just fast enough to be engaging without actually getting anywhere. The first five episodes introduce the main characters and their vices and virtues, so that you really grow to like the characters you're supposed to like, and fast get annoyed with the divas and the brats. The selling point of this anime is the predictability of the plot; with likable characters, you want something bad to happen to them and then you want them to come out on top. And while Kaleido Stage delivers, somehow the characters always fall just short enough of the mark to make you keep watching to see them improve.
Considering that the last time a main character held a central position in a circus was in Gundam Wing, Kaleido Star brings a whole new look to the anime concept of a circus. Abandoning Barnum and Bailey's three-ring look, the anime's circus company Kaleido Stage more closely resembles the renowned Cirque du Soleil, whose original music, beautiful choreography and advanced acrobatics have appealed to international audiences. Gonzo Digimation, responsible for such groundbreaking works as Blue Submarine No. 6, Last Exile, and Samurai 7, brings Kaleido Star to life with bright colors and flowing animation.
Although the Japanese cast is mostly made up of relatively new seiyuu, all deliver a stellar performance. Ryou Hirohashi as Sora is energetic without being too sugary, and she is supported by veteran Takehito Koyasu as the Fool, a slightly perverted “spirit of the stage” who nonetheless gives good advice. The English cast and writers put a slightly different spin on some of the characters, with mixed results. Cynthia Martinez is a rougher, more forward Sora, and the part of the Fool was rewritten to exclude any expressions of perverted desire, such as replacing a line encouraging her to take a shower with merely a suggestion to “go relax”; One has to wonder if ADV is trying to clean up some of their dubs on the off chance they might be aired on cable. Overall though, the dub cast isn't bad, with the one possible exception being John Swasey as potential love interest Ken Robbins: when speaking slowly, Swasey has a tendency to start sounding like a sloth with a bad cold.
Quality of the dub aside, ADV has continued its tradition of aesthetic excellence in DVD design. The menus are easy to navigate and attractive, continuing the circus theme with an animated rotating ring. The first volume contains production sketches and clean versions of both the opening and the ending, and if all this and five episodes aren't enough for you, the case also contains a pamphlet of character profiles and a Sora standee, so you can have your circus and watch it too!
Overall, while not mind-blowingly original or awe-inspiring, Kaleido Star serves well as a cute, restful waypoint between series that make you think too hard. Fans of strictly shounen action or more mature plotlines should probably beware, but if you're looking for some nice ol' fashioned feel-good shoujo, Kaleido Star is probably just the thing you need.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : A
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Cute and simple
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