Thursday, February 10, 2011

Underappreciated Anime - Kaleido Star

Kaleido Star
Director: Junichi Sato
Animation Studio: Gonzo
Co-produced by: ADV Films
USA Distributor: Funimation
Original run: 2003-2004
Episodes: 51
Ending OVA: Legend of Phoenix ~Layla Hamilton Monogatari~

You can buy the amazing two seasons here:
Season 1
Season 2


Layla Hamilton and Sora Naegino
Have you ever had dreams that you thought were impossible to attain? Dreams and ambition cannot be attained without hard work and persistence. This universal theme is explored in Kaleido Star through the eyes of Sora Naegino in one of my favorite anime series of all time, Kaleido Star. It is a shoujo anime made by legendary Anime Director Junichi Sato (Sailor Moon, Princess Tutu, Magic User’s Club, ARIA). It is an epic 51 episode anime and a couple of OVA’s about Sora Naegino and her journey to reach the top of the circus. Kaleido Star has a rich cast of characters, great production values, an amazing musical score, frenzied pacing, along with lessons of hard work and persistence that we could all learn form.

We are introduced to Sora Naegino who goes from Japan to a fictional city in the United States called Cape Merry (some have speculated that it takes place either in Hawaii or California, we are not sure). The reason why she goes all the way to America is to join a circus troupe called the Kaleido Stage, in a circus tent not unlike that of the famous real life circus troupe Cirque du Soleil. Sora has starry eyed dreams of joining the circus, but arrives late for the auditions. The star of the show Layla Hamilton stops Sora from trying for the audition. Out of pity Ken Robbins, the stage manager of Kaleido Stage gives Sora a tour and she due to a rush of judgement, she becomes a stage replacement. She fumbles on stage at first, but encouraged by an audience member she finishes strong. After the performance, Lalya chides her for her poor performance. Sora runs away but finds out that she joined the circus.

The cast of characters in the series is one of the best, and one of the most likable. For season 1 and 2 we have strong international cast from all over the world. Sora Naegino is our Japanese girl who is strong and determined. Sora works hard and tries her best at whatever she does. She is very inspirational and a very likeable lead character. The opposite of Sora Naegino is American Layla Hamilton, and the current Kaleido Star. She is a seasoned performer in Kaleido Stage with a strong work ethic and an enormous presence. Layla is very passionate about what she does, and because of that she initially comes off as very strict and unbearable. She eventually develops into one of the most memorable characters in anime history. It is guaranteed, you will hate Layla the first time you meet her, but by the end of the series you will adore her. Sora becomes friends with Mia Gulliem from Holland and Anna Heart from America. Sora’s dorm manager is the diva of Kaleido Stage, British singer Sarah Dupont, an interesting character in her own right. She is the extremely beautiful and capable singer, but in her off time she practices martial arts and is quite the Japanophile. The head of the Kaleido Stage is a Brazillian guy named Kalos who used to be a street performer. He is the Guy Laliberté of Kaleido Stage, with an equally important hand in its development. Rosetta Pascal a French Diabolo genius plays a small role in season one, but becomes a lead character in season two. In season two you are also introduced to May Wong and Leon Oswald. I can’t really say much about Leon except he is the most unlikable character in the series. May Wong is a Chinese-american former figure skater who is Sora’s main rival in season 2. May is vicious, determined, strong, and better than Sora in every possible way, the most difficult rival. May is like Layla in that she is initially unlikable but grows to be an amazing character.

Sarah, Anna, Sora, Mia, and Layla

As you can see, the cast of characters are very well developed and extremely likable. The story that holds it together is as good as the cast. Season one is about Sora’s journey to the top and the many challenges of getting there. Sora is a hard worker and you always cheer for her, but things happen out of her control (like in real life) that pushes her far beyond her capabilities. Let’s just say that halfway through season one a huge plot twist happens and completely changes the dynamic of the storyline. It pushes it from a good series to an excellent series. Season two is about Sora and what she does to stay at the top. As we all know, it is much easier climbing to the top than it is staying there. The story starts off with a couple of flashback episodes, which I absolutely hate. When the flashbacks stop, the story starts off in a somewhat darker tone, which is very jarring considering that Season one had one of the best (and happiest) endings in the Anime medium. Thankfully halfway thorough season 2, the writers of Kaleido Star remembers what made the franchise so great and move it back to the pacing of the original story. It ends with a very satisfying ending that does make you feel very good about people and human nature.

Since Kaleido Star does take place in a circus, the animation is very fluid and the production values are excellent. Kaleido Star doesn’t have the silky smooth animation of a Studio Ghibli film, but for a regular TV show it is above the norm when it was released in 2004. The series has a very bright color palette, showing very vivid colors in most of the scenes. Vivid colors in the scenes are a strong positive in the franchise, because it deals with some dramatic and serious issues. The vivid colors are a reminder to the audience that Kaleido Star doesn’t get really dark in its storytelling. The music in Kaleido Star is very memorable. It is a soundtrack done with a 10 piece band, similar to a standard Cirque du Soleil show. It has many pieces that remind you of a traditional circus. Kaleido Star’s music is very energetic during the training sequences, it really does inspire you to go out there and do something. On the slow sequences, the music is appropriately absent or plays in the background in a reduced volume. You will remember many of the amazing songs long after you watch the anime, it is very memorable.


A good story can’t relate to the audience unless it has memorable themes and lessons, Kaleido Star is full of them. The major theme of the story that encompasses both seasons is that you cannot achieve your dream without hard work. Throughout the story, Sora is constantly challenged by people that expect more from her. Instead of running away or doing it halfway, she goes at it with her all, with so much determination. Sora learns the lesson that we all learn in life, even if you give it your all, you can still fail. Instead of being deterred, she picks herself up and continues to push herself. As she puts in her all, with so much determination, she starts winning over people who doubt her abilities and skills. The second major theme in the story is the idea of family and the role of family in life. In the story of Kaleido Star, family plays an important role in the characters. Layla Hamilton joined the circus because she it was her happiest childhood memories with her mother and father before her mother died. She performs in the circus with the hope of being closer with her father who has used his executive level work to mask his sorrow of his wife’s death. Sora’s parents died when she was younger, and she was adopted by her uncle. She is unsure if her adopted parents really think of her as family. Rosetta has a mother who was a workaholic and she pushed her daughter. Throughout the series you see countless examples of family and how the role of family pushes and motivates each of the characters. Kaleido Star has many more of them, but I can’t really delve in depth with it without completely spoiling the best parts of the series.

Kaleido Star mixes the joy of the circus with the drama of daily life. The result of it is one of the my favorite anime series of all time. This anime is great because it is almost universal in the themes it develops. The franchise can be watched by all ages and it will appeal to everyone from age 5 to 105. I always found it strange that Kaledo Star does not have more fans since it can appeal to anyone, even if they don’t like anime. It is a masterpiece that will motivate you to try your best and work your hardest. Kaleido Star is one of the rare anime series out there that will leave an indelible positive impact on your life. If you need motivation to get your dreams, Kaleido Star isn’t that far away.

Season One Box Set
Season Two Box Set

2 comments:

Grasses said...

true man, loved this anime

akiharu tsukiyama said...

esta muy buena xD :)