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.