We begin this series by meeting its lead character: the joyfully exuberant Sora Naegino. She aspires for one thing and that is to be able to audition for and join the Kaleido Stage. To her it represents magic and a thrill to excite and entertain an audience while following her dream of performing amazing acrobatic stunts. She misses the audition though! Whoops! Sora's persistence nonetheless leads her to her chance to audition and prove her skills. She receives the opportunity from the stage's owner, Kalos, who sees something in her the others simply can't seem to grasp.
Meanwhile, Sora is visited by a mysterious (and rather tiny) spirit named Fool who haunts Sora's room and claims she is capable of performing a dangerous acrobatic maneuver that only those with the spirit of the stage found within can risk accomplishing. Can Sora perform this special maneuver?
As we follow along the path of Sora's journey, viewers also get a chance to meet the other Kaleido Stage performers and learn that some of them will befriend our heroine Sora while others will offer friendly rivalry. The biggest rivalry comes from Layla, who is considered the greatest performer in the troupe and is the biggest star. Sora doesn't let that get in her way and seems constantly determined to not only succeed as a performer for Kaleido Stage but also to accomplish all of her goals throughout the series (including befriending Layla and not merely competing with her).
Junichi Sato is clearly an incredible director to have crafted such a beautifully told story. His previous work also includes Sailor Moon. This series has the same sense of wonderment and joy enjoyed by fans of that series. You grow to care about the characters in a way that is surprisingly heartfelt and absolutely genuine. If you thought the concept of this series would not be able to necessarily hold your interest for 26 episodes, think again, as he proves naysayers wrong in that regard. I was mildly hesitant at first, but over the course of this first season I became increasingly enthralled by the story and the journey to the point that I am greatly anticipating seeing where things may head in season two.
The animation is breathtaking to behold. The character designs are cute and effective. Everything from the look of the stage to the acrobatic performances looks incredible and will not disappoint even longtime anime fans.
Music lovers will be pleased to know that the orchestral score by Mina Kubota is one of the best I have heard in a series. It's romantic in the best sense and recalls some the most important works done in classical music history while being uniquely creative in its own way. This series displays the sheer brilliance of the composer.
This first season is an amazing accomplishment in anime history. How I missed out on the series for so long is a bit of a mystery. I had heard about the show back when it was first released by ADV films and had seen a handful of the first episodes, but for some reason I had never continued in viewing the rest. I can say with absolute honesty that I have no idea why that happened. I enjoyed it then and after viewing it now (on this excellent Funimation release) I feel I can appreciate the superb qualities that construct this great series even better than before. I suspect I am not alone in overlooking this gem. I would strongly encourage any anime fan to visit this magical series. Kaleido Star is one of the most optimistic show's I've encountered and it never fails to be entertaining as well!
The audio is presented in both English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and the original Japanese stereo mix. The English dub is perfectly serviceable. However, I must say that I feel the voice actors did not bring the same level of depth to the characters as the original Japanese cast did. The translation also seemed to take a few more liberties than usual for an American adaptation, although if this is the desired listening experience, it will still do the job. There is also little surround activity and while it sounds a little fuller in comparison to the Japanese stereo mix, my preference went to the original dub for its superior VA.
Funimation presents this series in its OAR of 4:3 (full frame). It is a rather pleasing presentation and captures the richness of colors quite well. The animation is wonderfully represented by the DVD's and despite 6 to 7 episodes being presented on each of the four discs I did not notice any compression issues.
The only extras included are textless songs, a few trailers for other Funimation releases, and a commentary track on a single episode by English cast members Sandra Krasa (who also served as the dub director) and Cynthia Martinez. Unfortunately, the included commentary track has got to be one of the worst I have ever had the misfortune of hearing. During the commentary, the pair rambles on while being ridiculously goofy and making jokes that are in poor taste. They never once seemed to truly address the important aspects of the episode or the series as a whole. By the time the commentary was over I was irritated and upset more than anything and I feel this commentary was a disservice to a great show. I would strongly suggest fans simply skip this extra altogether. I disliked its inclusion to such a high degree as to lower the score on the extras. I am constantly disappointed by barebones anime DVD releases but I would rather get nothing at all over something so poorly done.
Kaleido Star is one of the best and most entertaining anime series I have ever seen. In some ways I would even go so far as to say it surpasses director Junichi Sato's work on Sailor Moon. I would not hesitate to recommend this series to any anime fan. The reason I loved it so much is due in part to it capturing the essence of what it means to never give up and to always believe in your dreams. That is a lesson that shouldn't be forgotten and this series seems to understand why it's important to believe in yourself and what you are capable of achieving. As someone who dreams of one day making films, it was particularly meaningful. I suspect many others will feel the same way no matter the dream or ambition.