Movie: Boxed sets in anime are currently all the rage with all the major companies releasing older series in complete sets for reduced prices. Typically though, this means leaving off the extras that many real fans appreciate so the balance between buying a whole set cheaply and getting the complete package of value enhancing extras can be left up to the fans. Today's review of Kaleido Star: Amazing Collection is the latest title up for grabs in this marketing ploy and I have to admit that I wasn't overly enthusiastic given the premise until I read John's review of the series a year and a half ago (Welcome to the Kaleido Star) but my recognition that a complete boxed set is far more enjoyable in most cases since you're not left hanging at the end of each volume allowed me to push through and pick this one up. What I found was surprising since I tend to appreciate the hard science fiction titles a lot more than the series made for younger gals but this one was much like Angelic Layer with a young gal facing a series of challenges that eventually boost her to the center stage of life, beyond her initial dreams. The series focused on a young Japanese girl, Sora Naegino, who wanted to become a circus act at the popular Kaleido Stage circus. Leaving friends and family behind at the age of 16, she sets in motion the series of events as detailed in the series. Here's what the back DVD cover said about the boxed set:
"When Sora leaves Japan to join the circus family of the Kaleido Stage it seems like her life long dream is finally coming true. But Sora soon finds out the being a star involves more than gymnastics. First she must get past the circus rivalries that could shatter her dreams, and rigorous training for death defying shows! Along the way she finds friends, family and romance and a home away from home at the Kaleido Stage. Get ready to feast your eyes on the dazzling costumes, the high flying extravagance, and the unrivaled glamour of the Kaleido Stage!"
I'll admit that the series sounded a bit like it was solely designed for a young girl audience but I gave it a chance since I've enjoyed such series in the past. What I found was a rich tapestry of elements woven into a larger than life story that rivaled any other look at the circus since Big Top Pee Wee. I'll offer some insights as to the story after I provide a breakdown of the initial DVD releases (the boxed set was frightfully boring in terms of not providing any text on the story and reducing the number of DVDs to five from the original, extras included, six discs) along with the box excerpts from ADV Films:
Vol. 1 - Welcome to the Kaleido Stage!
"Sora is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary dream -- she wants to be a Kaleido Star
The Kaleido Stage is a circus extravaganza with death defying stunts, flying trapeze artists, and magical clowns. The top performers of the Kaleido Stage are a handful super acrobats known as Kaleido Stars. When sixteen-year-old Sora Naegino arrives in San Francisco with little more than her dreams in tow, she has a chance encounter with mysterious man who immediately recognizes her potential for the stage. Sora can't believe her luck when the stranger turns out to be Kalos, owner of the Kaleido Stage. But things are never really that easy, and Sora will have to turn cartwheels to get past the power of a Kaleido Stage diva named Layla.
Will Leila sabotage Sora's chances at fulfilling her lifelong dream? And who is the phantom fool taunting Sora backstage?
Prepare yourself for high flying excitement, and jaw dropping beauty as you enter the world of the Kaleido Stage."
01 - My Amazing Stage Debut!
02 - My Amazing and Lonely Challenge!
03 - The Amazing Distant Stage
04 - Try Hard and You'll Get An Amazing Chance
05 - My Amazingly Distant Family
Vol. 2 - All Things Amazing and Small
"The fool turns over "The Hanged Man" in the normal position. A card that indicates trials or possibly sacrifice. And most definitely trouble to Sora.
Sora hopes a new mascot for the Kaleido Stage will bring her good luck, but the tide quickly changes and Sora finds herself in hot water. When Sora auditions for a part in an aquatic show and ends up in the hospital, it not only leaves her paralyzed with fear, it may also be the end of her Kaleido Stage career.
And as Sora becomes falls in love with her hero Yuri, Ken grows fonder and fonder of Sora. Meanwhile Leila will do everything in her power to show Kalos that Sora could never take her place on the Kaleido Stage.
Sora is walking a tightrope – will she soar to the stars, or have her dreams of being a Kaleido Star destroyed for good?"
06 - The Amazing Seal
07 - The Amazing Girl Who Doesn't Smile
08 - An Amazing Star Even In Tough Times
09 - My Amazing Challenge For the Lead Role
Vol. 3 - Amazing Expectations
"Layla, Kaleido Stage's biggest star, gets her chance to shine on the silver screen. Could this mean the door is now open for Sora to become the Kaleido diva? Nothing is ever certain in showbiz, so say tuned for a high seas adventure as Layla and Sora battle it out in Kaleido Stage's newest and most exciting production."
10 - Facing An Amazing Wall
11 - Anna's Not So Amazing Father
12 - An Amazingly Hot New Production
13 - The Amazing Competition Calls Up A Storm.
Vol. 4 - Fall From Grace
"Just when Sora thinks she's getting a break from the Kaleido Stage, Kalos demands she star in a traveling circus while the rest of the crew get R&R. Sora's in for a whole different breed of foes as she takes an ex-Kaleido Star determined break her spirit. Then it's a bizarre love triangle when a record company executive shows up to sweep away Sarah. Kalos' past is coming back to haunt him; someone is plotting against him. The Fool turns over the death card and the Kaleido crew plans a mutiny. Could this mean the beginning of the end for Kaleido Stage? This one will keep you guessing with every temptacious episode! Plots Thicken and Pulses Quicken – in the most exciting volume of Kaleido Star yet!"
14 - Mysterious Amazing Circus
15 - The Diva's Amazing Love
16 - An Amazing Sinister Rumor
17 - Fire it up! Amazing Mia
18 - Yuri's Amazing Trap
Vol. 5 - Masquerade
"Now that Kaleido Stage has a new owner and the cast has been scattered to the winds, Sora, Mia, and Anna find themselves homeless and unemployed. Can they find a way to perform on stage again? Or will they fall victims to the evil plot of a rival?"
19 - Amazing Family Ties
20 - An Amazing Change From Zero To Hero
21 - The Amazing Mystery Star
22 - The Amazing Resolve Beneath The Mask
Vol. 6 - Reach for the Brass Ring!
"Layla's ability to see the Fool can only mean one thing – she too has been "chosen." But as she teams up with Sora to start training for the 'Legendary Great Maneuver,' the Fool draws the Upside Down Empress card which foretells certain doom. Everyone who has tried this maneuver in the past has died while attempting it. Added distress abounds in the form of Yuri's media coup, Charlotte's cooking and Layla's cover-up of a very serious injury. As Yuri fights to hold on to Layla, Sora fights even harder to win a place as Layla's partner. But will Layla live to see the Legendary Great Maneuver through?"
23 - The Legendary Amazing Maneuver
24 - The Amazing Intensive Training Continues
25 - An Amazing Bond
26 - An Amazing Comeback
Okay, the same 26 episodes were present in the boxed set, although forced onto the five discs at the expense of the extras, and the story line was far easier to follow than if the volumes were being released one every couple of months. Essentially, the growth of a youthful gal seeking her dream at all costs to star in a circus production that amounted to winning the Olympics in terms of talent was the impetus here. As the political intrigue mounted between ownership of the circus, the personality conflicts between the performers in the pressure cooker workplace where the slightest slip could cause permanent disability or death, and even the slightly played love interest between Sora and Ken allowed for the major threads and minor threads to offer up an interesting story here.
While not my preferred type of anime, I suspect the replay value will be solid on this one two for the manner in which seemingly minor events and occurrences became important later on in the soap opera type of progression the episodes showed. I wasn't overly interested in a few aspects of the show, most notably the character of "The Fool" (the doll like spirit of the stage that only a few could see and hear) and a few of the dubbed voice actors seemed to play their roles younger than I'd have liked but I still thought the Kaleido Star: Amazing Collection was worth at least a rating of Recommended if not more (especially as a value packed set). I might've appreciated it more if the extras had been left intact or at least offered up on a bonus disc included in the package but the show itself was well worth checking out if you're into this kind of anime series.
Picture: Kaleido Star: Amazing Collection was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was made in by director Junichi Sato. It was very colorful, crisp and clear, and the minor issues with the picture previously reported (including banding and aliasing) weren't readily noticeable except on rare occasions. Younger girls will probably love the way the show looks (based on past experience with other shows of a similar nature) and find no fault with it. I saw no compression artifacts in the nearly eleven hours I was watching the show so someone handling the mastering of the DVD set was on the ball here.
Sound: The audio was offered up with the usual choice of the original 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese track or the enhanced 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English language dub. As with a great many shows in the past couple of years, the dub had superior separation and dynamic range, especially in the music and sound effects while the voices on the Japanese track were typically acted slightly better in most cases. The lead vocal track on the dub (Cynthia Martinez as Sora Naegino) wasn't as bad as John thought but it sounded as if she played it as a ten year old instead of the 16 year old character called for in the story. This may sound like nitpicking but the dub directors, David Del Rio and Chris Hawley, should have caught it early on and had the talented gal adjust the vocal to a more appropriate age. She's playing a role and they're responsible to make sure she gets it right so I fault them (especially David since he's done such a great job in other series) for this aspect of the show.
Extras: In order to offer the series as a set at a lower price and not cheese off the fans that already bought the show, ADV Films apparently decided to ditch the extras that included commentary tracks, artwork, clean openings and endings and inserts. There were some trailers but that was pretty much it.
Final Thoughts: Kaleido Star: Amazing Collection offered up a charming story of a teenage girl following her heart to pursue a dream of joining the circus against all odds. There were a great many anime clichés observed this time but they were often softened by the creative insights of the cast and creative crew, making for a wonderfully interesting show that took all of a handful of episodes for me to get into. More could've been done with Jonathan the Seal (who seemed present solely to sell stuffed animals) or a few of the bit players but I have to hand it to those involved for making such a pleasant show. Check it out and I think you'll see how it transcends the medium for the target audience but keep in mind that it was a quality show all the way around.
If you enjoy anime, take a look at some of the recommendations by DVDTalk's twisted cast of reviewers in their Best Of Anime 2003 and Best Of Anime 2004 article or regular column Anime Talk