"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.
01 - My Amazing Stage Debut!
Vol. 2 - All Things Amazing and Small
06 - The Amazing Seal
Vol. 3 - Amazing Expectations
10 - Facing An Amazing Wall
Vol. 4 - Fall From Grace
14 - Mysterious Amazing Circus
Vol. 5 - Masquerade
19 - Amazing Family Ties
Vol. 6 - Reach for the Brass Ring!
23 - The Legendary Amazing Maneuver
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.