Kaleido Star

Kaleido StarType: TV Series + OVA
Episode Count: 51 + 3
Genre: Drama / Comedy / Fantasy
Vintage: TV: 2003; OVAs: 2004 / 2005 / 2006

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 22 Jul 2009

Grade: A+

Shoujo master Junichi Sato knocks one out of the park with this remarkable series.

Plot Summary
Sixteen year old Sora Naegino has come to the United States from Japan to fulfill her dream and join the famous Kaleido Stage – a theatrical circus akin to the real life Cirque du Soleil. She makes her way to the facility, only to discover that she has missed the auditions. The show’s star – and Sora’s inspiration – Layla Hamilton tells Sora to go back home; if she can’t make an audition on time, how can she expect to be prepared for a show? Heartbroken, Sora sets out to return home. Before she can leave the circus grounds though, she is invited by one of the stagehands to stay and watch that night’s show as a guest from backstage before going home. Sora’s luck turns sour when she accidentally injures one of the circus members just before showtime. To Layla’s protests, The circus organizer, Kalos, tells Sora to take the place of the injured cast member on the stage that evening. So begins Sora’s journey to becoming a true Kaleido star.

The Review
Once again, an unexpected series has snuck up behind me and completely blew away my expectations of it. Director Junichi Sato proves once again that he is one of the masters of shoujo drama with Kaleido Star.

One of the first feats accomplished by Kaleido Star is that it actually has two endings. Originally it was slated to be a standard 26 episode series. During the show’s run, an extension was green-lit, much to Sato’s delight. However, The finale had already been written, and the show was too far along to change the story. Two recap episodes were produced to buy the production team time to get the extension ready. The series continued on to its second phase, and somehow they managed to pull off the feat of one series having two dramatic and impactful endings. After the show’s first ‘ending’ (and two recap episodes), a new storyline is introduced along with some new characters. The second half also has the subtitle of “New Wings”.

The story definitely has the makings of a shoujo drama. Sora is the energetic and plucky heroine with a nearly unbreakable spirit who gains friends and support during her ordeals. The show has an animal mascot, and there are even fantasy undertones to the story. It’s almost a Magical Girl show without the magical girl. Sora’s trials and experiences as she tries to become a star of the circus play a major role, as do the relationships she builds with everyone around her.

One curious thing about the series is that you almost have to pretend that all of the characters have Babel fish in their ears. Sora is the only Japanese character, and the series takes place on the west coast of the United States, yet everyone speaks the same language (Japanese in this case) and there is virtually no language barrier. Further making things interesting is a character from France who joins later on. There are a few scenes that take place in either the USA or France (and even Japan) where the language barrier is touched upon, but you just have to take it as a reality for the show that nobody has any problems understanding one another. All of that said, picking over the language issue does virtually nothing to cast a negative light on the series. It’s just a curious element to the show that I thought was interesting.

The story is very engaging and dynamic, and accomplished the feat of getting an emotional reaction out of me on several occasions. That’s when I knew that Kaleido Star was going to earn a perfect score; when a show reaches into my soul and grabs me, then I know that I have found a special kind of story. At that point I was fully immersed into Kaleido Star‘s world, and everything that the creators set out to do to engage the audience was a resounding success as far as I was concerned.

Kaleido Star is firstly a drama, though it has comedy in almost equal measure. The two sides of the show complement each other quite nicely, as the series takes you through the entire range of emotions over its 51 episode run. Sora is one of those characters that you can’t help but root for, so watching her ordeals over the course of the series is enough to draw you right into the story. This is such a well-constructed series that it makes me wish that the Kaleido Stage was real so I could go see a show with Sora and company performing. That makes it very easy for me to recommend.

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