Kaleido Star

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Story

As the saying goes “true friends are those who will help you hide the bodies” or in this case “will watch  soggy shoujo anime with you”. With this in mind, both Chii and I embark on another marathon, sharing in the pain of what we thought would be mediocre fluff. Instead, I found bubbling excitement as each instalment of the circus melodrama contained within Kaleido Star loomed closer. Unfortunately, entertainment is subjective and my feelings were not echoed by my partner in crime...

The show starts out with a highly predictable “clumsy young girl overcomes the odds to become a star, with a little romance in the mix” plot-line. With a groan from Chii, I steeled myself for 52 episodes of drudgery. How many times are we going to have to see the token bishounen swing into action to save the day? Will there be a moral tale at the end of each show? Will we care? Answering its critics, Kaleido Star soon demonstrates why you should give all anime a fair chance – the ugly caterpillar shakes off its cocoon and took flight as a fascinating butterfly. A hesitant start gives way to an unusual twist and a lovable hero becomes a detestable adversary – a fragmented circus cast are thrust into increasingly reckless routines with wavering loyalties.

In building up convincing relationship and highlighting the invetable conflicts that flow from these interactions, the show treats each supporting to character to some back story. The exploration of the past and resulting drama does become a little tiresome, especially when compared to the high-flying trapeze action. However, the constant presence of either a new epic challenge or an antagonist-you-love-to-hate gives the show a must-see feeling that becomes strangely addictive. A shock twist in the second half sees Sora’s resolve waver due to the introduction of new competitors, Leon and May – adding conflict to the ever-present excitement.

Whilst cutesy and comical at times, the writers masterfully build up the tension with “will-she-won’t-she” scenarios. Using the comical Spirit of the Stage and his pack of tarot cards to predict the future, the viewer comes to frequently expect the worst and see the heroine fail – even if we all know this never happens in a family friendly title. The tingling apprehension is unmistakable as Sora performs her cunning stunts, and keeps me coming back episode after episode with a smile on my face.

Chii’s corner Kira!!!!!!! this is vomit inducing zomg uber gay


Animation

Kaleido Star does not reflect its supposed focus on the fluidity and grace of acrobatics in its animation. Bland character designs are routinely recycled and their jerky movements look more like broken clockwork robots when compared to the elegance of real-life gymnasts. Slow motion shots are used ffrequently, giving time for the performer’s inner monologue. That said the backgrounds exploit a rich and luxurious colour palette; from the deep azure blue skies to the sparkling golden tent of the Kaleido stage, the variation and design of costumes are also impressive. The typical Gonzo dabble with CG isn’t as garish as some more recent productions, such as Blassreiter; however, when used sparingly it surprisingly fits with the tone of a delicate shoujo title.

Chii’s corner - Uhhhg the animation is so ugly lol


Sound

Bouncing into action with an upbeat track, the background melody meanders along, before finally crashing into the safety net with a god-awful J-rap monstrosity that feels out of place. Redeeming itself a little with the second opening, the tempo is raised and sounds similar to a camp Eurovision entry. Slow violins accompany the moving and emotional scenes, whilst the excitement of the circus is echoed in an electrifying big top melody. I know there is a huge fan-base for the Kaleido Star soundtrack, but my natural aversion to J-pop stops me from appreciating this.

The beauty of a dual audio series is getting to sample the quality of both Japanese and English voice acting. For me, Kaleido Star is definitely a show that should be watched in its native tongue. The subtitles reveal how different the scripts became during translation, and how many jokes have been toned down to suit a family orientated audience. For the most part, the Japanese seiyuu are ample but ordinary. However, the characters that are mildly annoying become grating when voiced by whiny Americans. With the very British Sarah sounding more like an extra from Austin Powers and Sora being vocalised by a whiny brat, the laughable performance verges on the comically bad.

Chii’s corner - I have it in English! It's SO BAD! hahaha


Characters

With the feeling of a cast you’ve met before, there is a generous helping of stereotyping and typical anime traits. The star of the circus, Miss Layla, is a stuck-up bitch that plays the perfect rival to the up and coming heroine Sora. As detestable as her personality is, I couldn’t help but like her cold and competitive side that pushes the rest of the troupe into giving their best. She is given a reason for her distant attitude, and her unsurpassable skills are shown to be earned through hard work instead of just being “there”. The mid-point of the series sees this pliable blonde undergo a lot of development and soon elevated to the position of a courageous and lovable staple in Kaleido Star – dare I even say one of my favourite female characters ever?

As the main female protagonist, Sora also undergoes considerable growth in the first few episodes. Starting out as an ambitious, but clumsy acrobat, she soon transforms into a bubbly aerialist. Even though I initially found myself cheering the dozy bint as she ate mat for the tenth time, I found her determination contagious and was soon on the edge of my seat for her next death-defying stunt and wanting her to land it perfectly.

One of my favourite parts of the show was the varied supporting cast. From the comically perverted spirit of the stage, Fool, to the unreadable stage leader Kalos, each acts as a support for Sora’s growth by proposing additional challenges. The second half of the season features Leon “the Grim Reaper” who stirs up the troupe with his selfish personality and May who becomes Sora’s personal challenge and biggest adversary. Again, the initial sense of cliché had me thinking “here we go again”, but the writers develop the characters and add some unexpected twists that had me reaching for the remote's next button in desperation for the next episode.

Chii’s corner - What is the point of the bitch? I'm so tired of such a cliché character I want her to fall on her head


Overall

Feeling like a cross between Princess Tutu and Battle Athletes Victory, Kaleido Star takes a while to come into its own – but the wait is worth it. With an entertaining journey, the show is ultimately nothing but camp fun designed for those looking to sit back and enjoy without having to figure out any plot complexities. I honestly expected to dislike the sentimentality, especially with Chii’s running critique of crudeness, however Kaleido definitely disarmed and then grew on me. As the conflicting comments can contest, this is a love or hate show that will not appeal to everyone, but I definitely enjoyed a heart-warming tale.

Final words of wisdom from Chii - (KiraRin) Chii, bad news, I'm giving it an 8 (Chii) You have brain cancer (Chii) You make kids in Africa cry

8/10 story
6/10 animation
6/10 sound
8.5/10 characters
8/10 overall
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Great story Line about how dreams can come true with dedication and never giving up. I did not like how it ended though, there should have been another season, instead of a weird animated children bubble animation that does NOT continue the store. There was NOT enough romance. It could have been better but its a great one to watch for inspiring reasons. 

8/10 story
8/10 animation
8/10 sound
9/10 characters
8/10 overall
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All I can say is that Kaleido Star is one of the most under-rated, under-appreciated animes of all time. This anime came to me by accident, and I'm thankful for that miracle today.

This is an awe-inspiring anime that is made to inspire you to follow your dreams and never ever give up! Sora is an amazing role model, and through every challenge she faces, you are there, wanting to cheer her on.

The story itself I really enjoyed. The pacing is great and plot twists make it exciting to see what happens next. The animation isn't the best you've ever seen, but I do appreciate the animators for making the characters bend in real form rather then making them look like floppy sock puppets or stiff stick figures. The music can get repetitive, but it's still puts you at the scene of a huge theatrical circus. On a personal note, if you are a fan of dubbed, consider a switch for this anime. The English Sora is a bit on the loud and obnoxious side, rather than confident yet sweet side.

The real magic of this anime, is not only the performances, but it's the characters that will inspire you. Everyone one of them are well-rounded. They all have their own stories, uniqueness and qualities you can appreciate. You may even come to find yourself liking the snooty brats who are always jealous of Sora, because no one is truly evil, just misunderstood.

No matter what your feelings are on this anime, give it a few episodes and begin to realize what I am saying.

"You may never think that watching someone else achieve their dream would give you the courage to accomplish your own, so let yourself become inspired to follow your dreams with all you have!"

9/10 story
9/10 animation
8/10 sound
10/10 characters
9/10 overall
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Story

Naegino Sora wants to be the top star of Kaleido Stage, an entertainment group. While Kaleido Star has a very basic, not to mention cheesy, premise, it managed to keep me on the edge of my seat throughout all fifty one episodes. Kaleido Star's story is paced and structured very well. It is what I call "semi-episodic," in that it balances single episode stories about daily life in the troupe with multi episode arcs that progress the plot. In addition, there were very few times when I could confidently say Sora would succeed in her attempts at a new manuever or an audition/competition. Even when I was sure she would win, the show still made the scene very dramatic and exciting to watch.

Kaleido Star is made up mostly of backstage/behind the scenes drama, that feels realistic (for the most part). There are hints of romance here and there, but unfortunately, no major couples are ever established in the story. I would have appreciated a conclusion to the romance aspect of the show, or have had no romance in it at all. I also wanted an explanation to the Spirit of the Sage, Fool, a minor character who only a select few people can actually see, but one was never provided.

My first reaction to the summary was that it would be a typical shoujo anime with excess fluff and the usual cast of stereotypes. That thought was proven wrong within an episode. 

Animation

Animation is good overall, particularly during performances. Colors are vivid and motions are fluid. Character designs are nothing special, but they fit the personalities of the characters. The only thing that bothered me was that they kept reusing the scene of Fool Drawing a tarot card when he told fortunes. It would have been nice to see it from a different angle once in a while.

Sound

It seems like a lot of people either like opening one and dislike opening two, or vice versa. I personally like both, in addition to my favorite opening (#3). OP1 was a happy jpop song that fit the happy mood of the first half of season 1. (Season one's first half was made up of simple conflicts, like trying to take care of a seal Sora found on the beach, or trying to perfect a role in a show.) OP2 feels more serious than OP1, which is appropriate, because the second half of season one takes a more serious tone and has a much more significant conflict, with dire consequences should Sora fail. OP3 (imo) is perfect. I won't go into more detail than that to avoid spoilers.

The endings are not that memorable.

Background music is used frequently throughout the series, helping to set moods, express feelings of characters, and dramatize performances.

Sora and Layla (the star performer when Sora joins Kaleido Stage) were voiced well, but others were of average quality.

Characters

Instead of focusing on just one or two characters (*cough* Naruto, Sword Art Online, Kannazuki no Miko, many visual novel adaptations and harems *cough*) Kaleido Star provides back stories and lets the viewer get to know many members of the cast. I found myself hating some characters initially, and loving them by the end.

Sora's development is very evident. I'd expand on that, but there would likely be spoilers, so I won't. I'll just leave it at: She went through a lot, learned from her experiences, and became strong. It's a typical pattern of growth, but one that works well with the plot.

Overall

Kaleido Star is one of my favorite anime, and there were few moments when I wasn't having fun watching it. Just remember to watch it subbed. The dubbed version for this anime isn't that good. This show does almost everything right and I'm tempted to call it a masterpiece. If it had a conclusion for the romance, I probably would.

ON A SIDE NOTE: Don't ignore this anime just because it has little romance. It's worth watching and I would recommend it to male and female anime fans of all ages. In other words, don't be like my anime watching friends, who only watch an anime if it has romance in it.

8/10 story
8/10 animation
7.5/10 sound
8.5/10 characters
8/10 overall
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Every rule has its exceptions and even GONZO occasionally made good anime. In this particularly case, it did it right for using very little of their notorious horrible CGI, as well as sticking to telling a story for the family instead of heading for shallow fan service and aimless adventure.

Kaleido Star is the story of Sora, the archetypical high spirited, golden hearted girl who aspires to become the best acrobat in the world... Yeah, it couldn’t get any cheesier. Still, presentation is everything and even the most overused premise can produce miracles if it’s done with love and care. So yeah, it is expected to see Sora trying her best, continually training to improve, failing, getting up and trying again until she succeeds. The magic lies at HOW she does all that by interacting with others. The rest of the circus troupe all have their own ways of doing their work and each one of them provides a different side to what is going on behind the scenes. We have all sorts of stereotypes here as well, from the cocky rival, to the uncaring professional, to the dreamy fool, to the mascot animal. Although everybody is 2D in the beginning, along the way they all show their inner thoughts and develop by interacting with Sora, as so does she. For a family show, that is a very hard thing to find. Nobody is too simple or frozen in his mindset; constant rearranges and tactics are needed along the way and they must adapt and improve or just fade away from the publics’ uncaring sight.

Even without the very good character colorization, the show is still very good in its presentation. The production values are good as one should expect from GONZO and since the use of 3D is minimal, they look awesome. Having the main setting of the show to be a circus, you can just imagine what a dreamy and colorful place it will be with its dozens of different attractions, its acrobats and clowns and trained animals. The animators did a great job at transmitting the excitement of a circus performance, the crowd’s reactions and the vividness all performers poor into their work. It is also much more interesting at seeing the preparation for every act, how they organize it, plan it, change it along the way, how they train in specific tasks and the hardships they encounter along the way, never without their personal problems being in the way as well. It is very good at showing you that circus performers are still people with their own strengths and weaknesses and not just cold superhumans, doing gimmicks to please the mindless crowd.

Yet even that is part of the show. Eventually everything is done for the entertainment of the on-lookers and the performers take pride in planning for an act that will amaze them after months of hard training. I was very pleased to see how they all just want to please the audience as means to prove their worth, to gain their love and affection, to show their talent through their applause. It eventually is all about having the support of the people all around you and not training solo on some mountain just so you can beat the crap out of any opponent (the norm of most motivational shows).

The show even delves a bit in the darker areas of showbiz and presents cases were rivalry gets to the point of performing as a cold hearted way to fame and glory and not as means to entertain and have fun. It shows how fellow performers can become your enemies or just get in the way of your talent. The cases where people are disappointed, mentally crushed, or even physically injured provide a far more humane side to the show, making them all to feel like normal people who sometimes stray away from their dreams or lose interest and go for the money.

The show does not forget to be just entertaining either with its numerous light and comical moments. Sora and her troupe keep on making all sorts of silly acts and blunders and there is even an invisible spirit that offers both a metaphysical aspect to the show by revealing the mentality of the performers, as well as making a very good comic relief by turning to a sleazy peeping tom every time it gets the chance. All that don’t ruin the rest of the show’s atmosphere as they are in balance with its more serious aspects. They add to the anime, instead of taking out because of unneeded dead time comedy or ecchi.

The show is not exactly a masterpiece but is very close to one. For example, the story is to the most part light and eventually it doesn’t end in any solid way. Sora doesn’t even get to first base with the guy she likes, the spirit’s past remains a mystery, Layla’s comeback in the second season was too convenient. All that can be excused since this is a family show but it is true that it could be far better if it tried to close on its substories in a better way.

Oh well, that is just too much to expect from GONZO. It did it right this time and I applause them. To bad they didn’t learn from it and later on kept doing their horrible cold character, bad CGI, aimless fan service shows.

And now for some excused scorings.

ART SECTION: 8/10
General Artwork 2/2 (nicely looking)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (flashy circus)
Animation 1/2 (basic)
Visual Effects 2/2 (lots of lights)

SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (silly but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)

STORY SECTION: 6/10
Premise 1/2 (basic)
Pacing 1/2 (rather slow and uneventful)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 2/2 (nothing far-fetched)
Conclusion 1/2 (cheesy)

CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (rather cheesy but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)
Catharsis 1/2 (overblown but it’s there)

VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Historical Value 1/3 (still remembered by some as an interesting title)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little context)
Memorability 3/4 (generally easy to have a reason to remember it)

ENJOYMENT SECTION: 9/10
Too simple and slow at times but with really good presentation.

VERDICT: 7/10

6/10 story
8/10 animation
7/10 sound
7/10 characters
7/10 overall
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