When I first received the DVD of Kaleido Star, I was pretty excited. I had heard good things from friends and the series is made by the director of Sailor Moon and Princess Tutu. I had liked Sailor Moon back in the day, and knew that Princess Tutu was good as well, so I certainly had my hopes up.
Then I looked at the box. It was...very girly. Very sparkly, in a way. I cringed a little, always erring more on the side of shonen shows than anything else. I started to doubt. Would this show be a little too frilly for me? Would I taken in by the story of circus performers? Could I handle that many high-pitched voices?
I popped the first DVD in and braced myself. Would I enjoy this show that so many had spoken so highly of? Read on to find out!
Title: Kaleido Star, season one
While watching Kaleido Star, I really did try to put aside my own typical anime preferences. I tried to understand the plight of the main character, Sora, and just how desperately she wants to be a Kaleido Stage performer. In fact, her motivation was really quite touching, though later it came to be insufferable. And by later, I mean about fifteen minutes into disc one.
The main character, Sora, experiences a fairly stereotypical story of a girl pursuing her dreams who, of course, misses her audition for the circus by happenstance and yet is miraculously admitted for no apparently logical reason. Sora spends the majority of the first half of the season going through various challenges in order to prove herself to the rest of the company, convincing them that she does indeed deserve a place on Kaleido Stage. All of this might have been quite endearing to me, had it not been repeated every five minutes. In fact, if Sora said something about making her dreams come true i.e. "If we just try hard, I know we can do it!" again, I may have had to gouge my own eyes out, Oedipus style and gnash my teeth in agony. I literally heard these phrases every few minutes, whether from Sora herself or from the friends she gradually gets throughout the course of the series.
Unfortunately, the fact that Sora is so determined and knowing that she must succeed in order for the show to go anywhere really kills any suspense that these death-defying circus acts may have created. Simply by virtue of the show's structure, you know that for there to be any plot progression, Sora must come out okay on the other end, and so instead of waiting with baited breath, I simply became bored waited for something in the plot to crop up which would cause any actual doubt in my mind as to whether or not everything would turn out all right.
The voice acting is both cause for celebration and despair. The Japanese dub is wonderful, or as wonderful as I can tell not speaking the language. The voices have emotion, and lines are delivered with true skill. You can tell that the voice actors are really putting forth some effort. Even if I couldn't stand the majority of the plot, these actors helped me get through the first few episodes with relative ease.
Then I switched to the English dub, and the heavens opened up an fiery rain descended upon the lands. Okay, so that didn't happen, but it was still bad. So bad. Lines that are supposed to be delivered with feeling and real emotion are read so flatly it's as if you handed a sheet of paper to a high school student and said, "Here, read," without any preface. One of the biggest offenders is the English voice actor for the character Layla Hamilton, who often delivers lines like "My.father.never.comes.to.see.any.of.my.performances" nearly as flatly as Microsoft Sam. And to make it worse, Ken, the slightly dorky boy interested in Sora sounds like he has a constantly stuffy nose. While I normally dislike Japanese dubs more (mostly due to high-pitched girls) in this case, the reverse was true. Although Sora and most other female characters' voices were very tolerable in Japanese, the English voices for the girls are whiny, loud, and generally annoying. If you watch this show, please, please, watch it in Japanese, I beg you.
I sat through the entire show quite disappointed, though in the second half of the season, things did pick up slightly. By the fourth disc, Kaleido Stage was actually encountering a problem that wouldn't just be solved by a lot of practicing a maneuver. Well, sort of. That still happened, but at least the stakes were higher this time around. By mid-season, ownership of Kaleido Stage begins to change hands, causing dismay amongst the company and a desperate attempt at getting the ownership back in the right hands. This time, there was a chance of Sora's endeavors not succeeding. At least this part got me slightly more interested.
The one good part I liked about the plot overall was the character of the Fool. Fool is a magical little doll-like character who can only be seen by those who have the spirit of the stage, and of course this means Sora. Fool often reads Sora's tarot, informing her of when she's going to encounter hardships and when she'll succeed. The best part of Fool is his pleading for Sora (and often her friends) to take a bath and let him watch. This causes Sora to tie up or otherwise incapacitate Fool before bathing. It was one of the few truly humorous parts of the show that I really appreciated.
Overall, I don't suggest Kaleido Star. I wanted it to be better, I really did, and I kept hoping it would pick up. And while it did get marginally better by the very end, it still wasn't enough for me to recommend this show. I still have season two to review, so I'm hoping that with a new director and at least some progress in Sora's character, the next season may just be better. I guess we'll see.
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