Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Production Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 17 December 1971 (USA), 30 December 1971 (UK)
  • Genre: Action
  • Director: Guy Hamilton
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
  • Writer: Richard Maibaum

The Bond: Sean Connery returns for a one-off encore. George Lazenby dropped out after one performance, and in the chaos that ensued, United Artists paid Connery a record UK£1.25 million (UK£20 million / US$32 million in 2012 currency). The result is a performance that's duller than his older work, although it does fit the feel of the detective-style story that the first two-thirds of this movie is. Fun Fact: Much of this money went to form the Scottish International Education Trust. 2 out of 5.

The Girl: Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), diamond smuggler. A feisty type, and I'd like her more but for how she mucks things up every once in a while. Still, she doesn't know any better, and at least she's not as useless as Mary Goodnight, whom we'll see in a few films' time... Fun Fact: She was the first American Bond Girl. 4 out of 5.

On the other hand, we also have gold-digger Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood), who is by my call the worst Bond Girl ever. Drowned in a pool. 1 out of 5.

Other Allies: Felix Leiter (Norman Burton) the CIA agent in his fourth appearance.

Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean), an aerospace entrepreneur, held under house arrest by Blofeld.  Blofeld then assumes Whyte's identity and pretends to lock himself in his hotel's penthouse, a plot point inspired by the antics of Howard Hughes, while using the Whyte industrial empire as cover to build and launch his doomsday weapon.  Rescued by Bond and the CIA3 out of 5.

The Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray) -- now with hair! -- the head of SPECTRE. Fun Fact: Charles Gray, previously Mr. Henderson in You Only Live Twice, starts a long-standing Bond tradition of actors who play characters who are killed off, only to be re-cast in another film. His escape ship is crashed into a building by Bond, but he kinda, sorta survives4 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith), a pair of ambiguously gay assassins, prone to finishing each others' one-liners. Lame, but somehow enjoyable.  One is lit on fire and thrown off a boat, and the other is blown up, both by Bond.  3 out of 5.

Bert Saxby (Bruce Cabot), Whyte's right-hand man who's been duped into working for Blofeld. Is not given a lot to do and leaves no impression.  Shot by Bond and the CIA.  1 out of 5.

The Gadgets: 007 uses fingerprints to pass as Peter Franks, and a grappling hook system stored in his cummerbun to climb up to the roof of the Whyte House. Blofeld uses a voice-modifier system to speak as Willard Whyte over the phone; with the CIA's help, Bond does the same to pose as Bert Saxby.  Low-key, but effective.  In a throwaway scene, Q also uses a miniature magnetic device to rig a bunch of slot machines and win big.  3 out of 5.

The Locations: Most of the movie takes place in England, the Netherlands,  United States (Nevada), and Mexico (Baja California). A montage in the pre-credits sequence features Japan, Egypt, and other locations, all of which were likely shot on soundstages.  Fun Fact: The Whyte House hotel featured in the film is actually the Las Vegas Hilton, currently known as the Westgate, with a penthouse added on top via matte-painting for long shots.  Second Fun Fact: The Circus Circus hotel also makes an appearance as a setting; the owner was a big James Bond fan and requested its inclusion.

The Theme Song: Performed by Shirley Bassey. Quite funky and, considering the Fun Fact that she was told to perform as if she was singing about a... "disco stick", quite seductive. No wonder it was sampled by Kanye West for "Diamonds From Sierra Leone". 4 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: Motifs include diamonds (natch) and low-light shots of women. Rather boring. 2 out of 5.

The Novel: The film and novel share some of the general structure and theme of diamond smuggling, but differ for the most part. The satellite laser plot is gone from the book, and Blofeld is replaced by Jack and Seraffimo Spang of the Spangled Mob as the villain. Instead of the Netherlands, the first act takes place in Saratoga Springs, New York, where Bond and Leiter investigate horse-race fixing and first discover Kidd and Wint.

The Plot: The movie starts with Bond on a worldwide revenge quest, seeking out Blofeld for, presumably, having his wife killed in the last movie. He meets up with him in a plastic surgery clinic, where another man is having work done to match Blofeld's appearance (now with hair!). Bond kills him and the real Blofeld. Cue opening credits. Back in England, Bond receives a briefing on a rash of diamond smuggling in South Africa, and is dispatched to Amsterdam to impersonate a smuggler, Peter Franks. There, he meets Franks' accomplice, Tiffany Case, and takes the diamonds, but not before the real Peter Franks shows up and is killed by Bond.

The three of them fly to the United States, and meet up with Felix Leiter, to whom Bond informs that the diamonds are hidden in Franks' corpse. Bond takes the body to a funeral home, where the diamonds are taken out and Bond is paid in $50,000... and a live cremation, courtesy of assassins Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint. But he is saved by a mister Shady Tree, because the diamonds in Franks' corpse were fake (switched out and planted by the CIA). In Las Vegas, Bond calls up Leiter to bring the real diamonds, and hangs out in the Whyte House casino, meeting a miss Plenty O'Toole. He spends the night with her and Case, working out a plan to hand over the real diamonds.

Monitored by Bond, Leiter, and the CIA, Case picks up the diamonds in the Circus Circus casino, but loses her tail and takes the diamonds for her own boss. Catching up with her at her house, they find Plenty dead in the pool, which inspires Case to cooperate. With her help, Bond tracks the diamonds to an aerospace lab. He sees them being used in a laser-equipped satellite, but blows his cover and outruns the lab's guards and, later, the Las Vegas Police. That night, Bond climbs up the Whyte House hotel and breaks into Willard Whyte's penthouse only to discover... Blofeld. With another double, in fact. Bond kills the wrong Blofeld, and is gassed on his way out.

Waking up in the desert, Bond gets back and calls Blofeld under disguise, learning the whereabouts of the real Willard Whyte. Bond, Leiter, and Whyte try to track down the satellite, but it's already in orbit, being used to destroy American, Soviet, and Chinese nuclear targets, with Washington DC next on the menu, pending a ransom. Bond and Whyte deduce Blofeld to be operating off an oil rig, and Bond is dropped in to sabotage the operation. With all said and done, his plan to switch the satellite's control tapes is accidentally foiled by Case, but Leiter is on hand to lead an air support squad. Bond foils the plan by crashing Blofeld's escape sub into the control building. Bond and Tiffany return to the UK on a cruise, fending off Kidd and Wint along the way. You are now free to turn off your TV.

There is great potential in the first two-thirds of this plot, I'll tell you that. The way Bond follows the smuggler's pipeline, going from one lead to another and outsmarting his opposition wherever possible, would serve well for a more hard-edged detective story, a la the original novel. And when Bond and Case unwittingly serve the purposes of the villain, they take responsibility and scramble to fix things. But then the laser satellite comes along and, while it's not a bad idea per se, it doesn't fit with the image the rest of the film set up. Or is it just me... At any rate, the campier elements of this film foretell of dark times ahead for the franchise, especially with the SPECTRE saga drawn to a close. Maybe switching out Bond's actor yet again will spice things up...? 3 out of 5.

The Call: 60% (C-)

IchigoRyu will return in
Live And Let Die

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Film Review: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
  • Publisher: United Artists
  • Studio: Danjaq / EON Productions
  • Release: 18 December 1969
  • Genre: Action, Romance
  • Director: Peter R. Hunt
  • Producers: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
  • Writer: Richard Maibaum

The Bond: George Lazenby. An unknown actor and model from Australia. (Fun Fact: He's the only Bond actor, to date, not from the British Isles.) While Lazenby handles the emotional turns required by the script quite well, he lacks assertiveness in many of his other scenes, and there are a few moments where his world-famous one-liners were obviously -- and poorly -- dubbed in post. All things considered, I would have to call Lazenby my least-favourite Bond actor, but I can't say I hate him as an actor. 3 out of 5.

The Girl: Countess Teresa "Tracy" di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg, The Avengers). Daughter of mob leader Marc-Ange Draco. One of my favourite Bond girls, I really appreciate her personality strength and assertiveness, evident in her self-destructive tendencies early on. Marries James Bond, only to be shot and killed by Irma Bunt5 out of 5.

Other Allies: Marc-Ange Draco (Gabrielle Ferzetti), leader of a Corsican mafia. Wants Bond to marry his daughter Tracy in order to knock some sense into her after her suicide attempts. His desires to desires to keep her daughter under control might, out of context, appear uncomfortable to viewers from a younger generation. 3 out of 5.

Shaun Campbell (Bernard Horsfall), Bond's accomplice in Switzerland, doesn't do much before he is captured and killed offscreen by Blofeld. He does have a scene, which is more poignant in the book, where he is captured and brought to Bond, who must deny knowledge of his partner to keep his own cover. 2 out of 5.

The Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Salavas, from Kojak). The change to Telly Salavas results in a villain with more of a presence. Survives, despite Bond's best efforts. 5 out of 5.

Other Henchmen: Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), Blofeld's wife. Not much to say about her except for a rather unfortunate tangent down in the Novel section. 3 out of 5.

The Locations: Portugal, England, and Switzerland.  Fin Fact: In real life, Blofeld's mountain base is a revolving restaurant named Piz Gloria, and is located atop the Schilthorn mountain in central Switzerland.

The Gadgets: Not much to speak of. In the lawyer's office, Bond uses a clunky, huge safecracker-plus-document copier, which stands out compared to other, svelter safecrackers used in You Only Live Twice and Moonraker. 1 out of 5.

The Theme Song: The third instrumental Bond theme, this time composed by John Barry. There's also a second, unofficial theme, "We Have All The Time In The World" by Louis Armstrong, which plays during Bond and Tracy's dating montage. 5 out of 5.

The Opening Credits: The motifs include clocks, hourglasses, and footage from the previous Bond films. Interesting concept -- it ties into the aforementioned Armstrong song -- but the poor production values take me out of it. 3 out of 5.

The Novel: This outing was, once again, a faithful transition from print to screen. One point of note was that the book of OHMSS was followed by You Only Live Twice, where Bond avenges Tracy's death by killing Blofeld as well as his wife. However, this didn't happen in the movies because Irma Bunt's actress, Ilse Steppat, died days after the premiere of the OHMSS movie. Why she couldn't have been replaced is suspicious, considering the fact that this was after the movie where both the protagonist and antagonist had their actors replaced. But, as it stands, this is one unfortunate truth Bond fans have had to live with.

The Plot: Our movie starts on a beach in Portugal, where Bond rescues a woman, Tracy di Vicenzo, from drowning herself in the ocean, and fights off some random attackers before she drives off. Cue opening credits. Bond follows her to a casino, where she plays baccarat without the money to pay her bets, only to have him bail her out, and they spend the night together. The next day, Bond checks out with an armed escort which takes him to meet her father, mob boss Marc-Ange Draco. He makes a deal: he'll pay Bond £1 million if he marries his daughter, but Bond re-negotiates the offer for some intel on Blofeld. Back at MI6, Bond announces to M his intention to resign from Her Majesty's Secret Service, but M meets him halfway and gives him two weeks' leave.

Bond embarks on a dating montage with Tracy, then swings by a lawyer's office in Bern to nab some documents relating to Blofeld. Turns out he's investigating his claim as Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp, so Bond impersonates a genealogist and visits his supposed allergy clinic on top of a mountain in Switzerland. His time is spent investigating Blofeld's family tree, getting tail with the patients, and discovering their hypnotherapy treatments. But his true identity is discovered (apparently, he tried to get Blofeld out of the country so he could be arrested), and Blofeld issues his ultimatum face-to-face with Bond. The plot: trick the patients into dispersing viral agents back home, killing entire strains of plants and animals. The price: immunity from all past crimes, and recognition of his title. And he told this to Bond so the British and UN authorities would believe him. Well played, my good sir.

But Bond manages to flee the compound, and a ski chase ensues. Reaching a village at the foot of the mountain, he tries to shake his tail, when who should he meet but Tracy. They flee via car and manage to shake their pursuants just as a snowstorm hits, and are forced to hunker down in a barn for the night, where Bond proposes marriage to Tracy. The chase resumes in the morning, but this time Blofeld is on hand to trigger an avalanche. Tracy is engulfed, only to be rescued and abducted by his crew, but Bond escapes. M refuses to send reinforcements to take down Blofeld's operation, so Bond asks Draco for help. They raid the clinic, rescuing Tracy and disabling the evil plot. Bond chases the villain on bobsleds; he sticks the villain up in a tree, left for dead. The movie ends with Bond marrying Tracy... except Blofeld is alive, and he and his wife do a drive-by on the newlyweds, killing Tracy. You are now free to turn off your TV.

I applaud On Her Majesty's Secret Service for trying something new with its plot. Bond's conviction to take down Blofeld is a personally-driven goal, as he wants to finish the job he's spent the better part of a decade working on. And his relationship with the girl is a serious romance instead of the usual throwaway pleasure, thus making their marriage - and her death - that much more poignant. On the technical side of things, this film has dated less gracefully than other early entries in the Bond series; undercranking is frequent, and some of Bond's one-liners were very obviously dubbed in post. But all in all, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a hidden gem in its franchise; it's a shame it hasn't gotten as much exposure in the TV marathons and such. Maybe it's because of the Bond actor, I don't know. But guess what - we've got Connery back for our next outing! 5 out of 5

The Call: 85% (B+)

IchigoRyu will return in
Diamonds Are Forever

Monday, March 5, 2012

Anime Review: Kaleido Star

Kaleido Star

  • Studio: Gonzo
  • Publisher: Funimation (USA)
  • Network: TV Tokyo (Japan)
  • Air dates: 3 April 2003 - 27 March 2004 (Japan)
  • Episodes: 51
  • Directors: Jun'ichi Sato, Yoshimasa Hiraike

This article was updated on 7 November 2014.

Riddle me this: Have you ever heard of the anime series Princess Tutu? It's supposed to be this awesome magical girl-type show which takes the roles of classic fairy tales and turns them on their head, brilliantly combining the elements of dance, fairy tales, and classical music into a genre-bending experience. There's just one problem... when I said dance, I meant ballet. Now I'm not the world's most masculine guy, but I have to draw the line somewhere, and considering that I already identify as a Lil’ Monster, Brony, Moonie, and... whatever a Totally Spies! fan calls himself, that's saying something. Now, I strongly believe that guys should be able to enjoy girlish things and girls should be able to enjoy… guy-ish things without being labeled a traitor to their sexuality, but… I think I’m gonna have to work my up way to Princess Tutu. Not that I’d try to review it anyway; apart from my aforementioned misgivings, there’s also a fantastic review on the subject done by JesuOtaku way back when, and with the knowledge and insight she exhibited therein, there’s no way I could one-up her. On the upside, its director, Junichi Sato (also the director of Sailor Moon), also created another series – one that should only make you rip a tiny tear into your man cards instead of shredding them up completely. Oh wait, I just said I don't believe in "man cards". Anyway, enter Kaleido Star.

Our series stars Sora Naegino (No, not that Sora. Not that one either.) (EN: Cynthia Martinez, JP: Ryo Hirohashi), a teenage Japanese girl who emigrates to America to join the Kaleido Stage. What is Kaleido Stage? It’s part circus, a little bit musical theatre, a little bit magic show, and so much more. In other words, it’s Cirque du Soleil on drugs. And the drug is anime. (Seriously, is Cirque do Soleil really the only example Americans can recognise!? I guess that just goes to show the stranglehold the Ringling Bros. racket has on our country’s market.) In the first episode, Sora spends her first day in America getting lost, getting her legs checked out by some pervert, and getting her luggage stolen. She gives chase on some roller-skates – think the skateboard scene from Back to the Future on steroids – again, the steroids are anime – and as a result, she catches the thief, but ends up missing the Kaleido Stage auditionfor her efforts. This comes to the displeasure of its current star, Layla Hamilton (EN: Sandra Krasa, JP: Sayaka Ohara), who won't let her try out, for the sole purpose of her being a little bit late. But it turns out the assumed pervert from before is really the founder of the circus, Kalos Eido (EN: Rick Burford, JP: Keiji Fujiwara), who puts her in their show at the last minute. Despite a rough start, and another dismissal from Layla, Kalos intervenes and lets her stay on as part of the Kaleido Stage cast. But Layla intends to put Sora through the ringer before letting her share her spotlight. Sora must push her body to the limit, and rely on the friendship of whomever she can manage, in order to survive.
Sora has talent, but that alone can only go so far in the world of Kaleido Stage.
The series is divided into arcs of five episodes or so, each focusing on Sora's attempts to master a certain act. Whether it's on the trampoline, tightrope, or trapeze, no matter what the circumstances, Sora tries her darndest to prove herself to people such as Layla and the manipulative Yuri Killian (EN: Illich Guardiola, JP: Susumu Chiba). Despite the occasional bout of sexual tension with characters such as Yuri, Sora never shows any romantic interest to speak of with any of the boys. Her raison d'etre is performing to entertain and/or inspire the audience. She is, above all other qualities, selfless, and in the hands of a lesser writer this would run the risk of portraying her as a pretty little perfect Mary-Sue. But her idealistic desires are used effectively, clashing with the harsh realities forced upon her by her peers. Sora is not immune to being comsumed by the metaphorical darkness, but she always has a way of bringing the light of hope back into play.

Yeah, the drama can get heavy throughout this show, but comic relief comes in the form of Fool (EN: Jay Hickman, JP: Takehito Koyasu), the self-professed "Spirit of the Stage" and our exposition fairy. Fool can only be seen by people who are true stars of Kaleido Stage, or on their way to becoming such. This leads to some… intriguingly realistic reactions when Sora first lays eyes on him and, instead of accepting him right off the bat, thinks she’s lost her mind. But once his presence settles in, he becomes a living barometer of Sora's psychological state. If she loses her ability to see him, then you know trouble’s going down. He also presents the audience, and occasionally characters, with fairly obvious foreshadowing in the form of fortune telling, either of the tarot card or astrology variety. And to round out his character, he has a running gag of making perverted suggestions to Sora, for which he either gets locked in a cupboard or punched into the sky, Team Rocket-style, for his endeavours.

I would say this kind of humour is inappropriate given the context that surrounds these scenes, but A) given the state of such context, I could use a break in the tension every once in a while, and B) all this is handled rather tastefully. In fact, whilst the show isn’t shy on the actual fanservice, it’s also done to a tasteful degree – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – but it even makes sense in the context of the show itself. Think about it – the work of a circus acrobat demands a high range of motion that won’t be hampered by an inconvenient costume, and plus, for the shows themselves, you’d also want costumes that pique the audience’s interests. What better way to accomplish both than, say, a leotard, or if you’re really lucky, something that bares the midriff? Throw in some choice stretches with camera angles that put the focus on certain choice body parts, and badabingo – fanservice you don’t have to feel guilty about! ...Did I mention the guy who created this also worked on Sailor Moon? And no, even the males aren’t immune to the fanservice stick.

The only major character who elicits a "meh" reaction from yours truly would be a mister Ken Robbins (EN: John Swasey, JP: Hiro Shimono). Ken apparently has a weak heart, precluding him from being an acrobat, so instead he got a job running the shows behind the scenes, controlling the set changes, special effects, and what have you. From the very first episode, he becomes one of Sora’s best friends, and I guess the closest thing she ever has to a love interest. But apart from the occasional bout of moral support, he does practically nothing else in service of the plot. Heck, even Sora’s other friends each get an episode devoted to exorcising the metaphorical demons of their backstories, but Ken? Not so much!

The second season mixes it up with two rival performers: Leon Oswald (EN: Mike McRae, JP: Takahiro Sakurai), a loftier-than-thou trapeze veteran whose backstory involves a dead sister, and May Wong (EN: Hilary Haag, JP: Mai Nakahara), an envious ice-skater who’s gunning for Sora’s spotlight. Sora’s conflicts, especially with these characters, highlight the struggle of performance versus technical skill. While Sora does have the goods, she is unable to nail everything that May, Leon, and others are able to pull off. Yet their style is cold and aloof, as if they don't even recognise the audience's existence, whereas Sora takes pleasure in making at least one of her fans smile. It really makes you think of which side of the performer-versus-technician debate is really better. If the decision were up to me, I’d say there are benefits to both approaches. A character who can pull off moves perfectly and effortlessly is awesome in his or her own right, even if -- or perhaps because -- their personality is so cold and aloof. As for the other side of the argument, it reminds me of that starfish fable. As long as the character can make a difference to even just one person in the audience, then the performance, warts and all, will have been worthwhile. So what side does Kaleido Star take in this argument? Well, let’s just say the main character is a "performer" more than a "technician".

Also, even though the conflicts in Kaleido Star are non-violent in nature, I don't think I've seen any antagonists who filled me with as much rage as Yuri and Leon. See, there was this one time when... Well, without wishing to spoil... I don’t know if I can go through with this. Folks, let me put it to you this way: I’m a huge fan of The Simpsons. But there are some episodes I just can never watch again. Because sometimes, unfair things happen to the main characters and they don’t get any decent justice for it. And I bring this up because the same is true for Kaleido Star. In an attempt to give the viewer a taste of the emotions Sora goes through, the series is rife with bittersweet moments. For example, there’s a bit where her parents visit Kaleido Stage, only for her to flub her act.  But then, her stepdad survives a heart attack, and they both have to head back home before they can see her act perfected. And that's only on the first DVD! There are similar moments here and there throughout the series, but there was one episode from season two which… I’m not gonna spoil it all the way, but suffice to say, it was so depressing, that even to this day it’s given me some form of anime watcher’s PTSD.
The Kaleido Stage productions are just as stunning for real-world viewers as for its in-world audience.
It is worth going through all that just to watch the finished acts. Like the superhuman feats of strength and spirit showcased in other genres of anime, the routines here are based in reality but throw in the right pinch of exaggeration and magic that only the medium can provide, to create the perfect spectacle. It also helps that they brought on the multitalented circus performer Atsushi "Dio" Kobayashino, not that "Dio" – as a special advisor. (Fun Fact: A character in one of the filler episodes was named Dio in his honour.) (Second Fun Fact: Ironically, the character Dio uses a whip, even though his namesake quit that act ever since accidentally injuring an assistant with one.) The end result is that the writers and animators know their stuff; they know the ins and outs of how each of the apparatuses are used, how the acrobats must train themselves to use them, and they also know where they can take creative liberties to create the perfect animated spectacle. Let me put it to you this way: if they made an OVA which was nothing but one full-length Kaleido Stage performance, it would be like the COOLEST thing ever!

Thankfully, the animation is up to the task of bringing it all to life where it counts, doing sweet justice to the many performace scenes. Even if the other scenes get the short end of the budget, such as some training sequences relying on a series of still-image overlays to show action, the animation quality never dips below comfortably competent even then. As for the voice acting, the Japanese dub has got the goods, with Ryo Hirohashi's Sora packed with the enthusiasm so inextricably associated with the character, albeit never crossing over the boundaries of being "sugary". The English version, whilst by no means being of 4Kids caliber, has a few more misses. In her take on the lead role, Cynthia Martinez does keep much of the emotion of her character intact, but sounds far too young and, dare I say it, annoying for a lead character. Ironically, the reverse is true for Serena Varghese as Rosetta Passel, the young diabolo champion who joins the cast a few episodes in, who sounds too old and wooden for someone her character's age. And rounding out his status as a "meh" character, John Swasey's performance as Ken is downright derpy. I do like how the English actors for Yuri and Leon did their respective Russian and French accents, but other than that, I can't completely recommend the English dub.

And then, there's the soundtrack. You may not think the soundtrack can make or break an anime, but it can. And in the case of Mina Kubota's score for Kaleido Star, it makes the show. The lighter scenes use cheery woodwind melodies, the more melancholy moments bring in solo horns or pianos, and the circus performances bring the whole orchestra together for an epic musical climax. In fact, I doubt that certain scenes would have had half the dramatic impact if not for the music scored for them. The same cannot be said of the theme songs, however, which are pretty much your standard female-fronted J-pop fare. If I have to pick a favourite among them, I'd choose "Tattoo Kiss", used during the second season, because unlike the others its melody at least has some texture to it, starting in a minor key only to crescendo into a major-key climax.

In the case of Kaleido Star, I do see a couple of flaws here and there. Some of the more emotional scenes are just too hard to sit through for some viewers, myself included, and of course the English dub's a little hit-or-miss. But let me put it to you this way: I don’t know if I'll ever raise a family. But if I do so, I would show this to my hypothetical children. Sora Naegino is just such a great role model for anyone who has goals for their lives. It's true that outside circumstances may put a damper on those plans, but with enough diligence and the right attitude, she can power throw anything life throws at her. Now that, more than anything I could say about the animation, the music, the storylines ‒ which are all fantastic by the way ‒ is the greatest compliment I could give anything. But even if Kaleido Star's problems are enough to dock it some points in the end, well, that's why I invented the Dragon Award modifier -- to celebrate those works which do something so amazingly and uniquely good, that I simply have to recommend them despite any minor flaws. So, if you can steel yourself for a bit of heartbreak, you're in for a fantastic treat for both the eyes and the heart. And hey, if it gets you turned onto Princess Tutu, so much the better! I won't tell.

+ Superbly well-written characters.
+ The story is moving and even inspirational.
+ The circus scenes are well-animated.
+ The soundtrack complements the show's moods perfectly.
- Some episodes may be too heart-rendingly bittersweet for some viewers.
- The English dub is a little hit-or-miss.

Acting (English): 3 Fools out of 5
Acting (Japanese): 5 Fools out of 5
Writing: 5 Fools out of 5
Animation: 4 Fools out of 5
Visual Design: 5 Fools out of 5
The Call: 95% (A)