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"Some day, Layla, the whole world will come to see the performances of that little girl. I assure you."
Kalos Eidos

The last clear memory that young Sora Naegino has of her deceased parents is the time they took her to an extraordinary circus called the Kaleido Stage, a few months before their deaths in an accident. At age 16, Sora graduates from junior high and decides to try going to the auditions for the Cirque Du Soleil esque Kaleido Stage in San Francisco Cape Mery, USA. So, with the reluctant blessing of her adoptive parents, she goes to America to seek for her dream...

But it won't be easy. After an incident involving the theft of her luggage, Sora arrives late to the audition and is told to go back home and wait for the next round — a year later. However, when a performer is unexpectedly hurt, the owner Kalos Eido tells Sora to cover for her. Main Kaleido Stage star Layla Hamilton wonders if Sora is really cut out for it and challenges her to either perform Layla's trademark move, the Golden Phoenix, or go back home; Sora trains hard with the help of two other recruits (Anna Heart and Mia Guillem) and the company's stage manager (Kenneth "Ken" Robbins), and though she doesn't fully accomplish it, her determination convinces Layla to let her stay. Ever since then, Sora has to struggle extra hard to fulfill her dream: to become the Top Star of the Stage...

Kaleido Star (カレイドスター, Kareido Sutāa) is an anime series co-produced by Japanese studio Gonzo Digimation Holding, Korean studio G&G Entertainment, and American distributor ADV Films. The series was created by Junichi Sato, who also directed the first season, and written by Reiko Yoshida. The second season, Kaleido Star: New Wings, was directed by Yoshimasa Hiraike. Famed Japanese circus performer and Cirque du Soleil veteran Dio Kobayashi was a special adviser to the production; a character within the show was named "Dio" in his honor.

In short, take the sparkly costumes and cheery optimism of a Magical Girl series, remove a good part of the magic except for the Fairy Companion and have everyone try to break the spirit of the main character at some point and to different degrees. That's Kaleido Star.

Tropes used in Kaleido Star include:
  • Abusive Parents: Leon and Sophie's step-parents
  • The Ace: Deconstructed through May Wong (along with Tsundere Sue), just like Sora is a deconstruction of the Purity Sue.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: At the beginning, almost everyone thought Sora got her spot by sucking up to Kalos and treated her like crap.
  • Anime Theme Song: And several, over the course of its two seasons.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Layla on Yuri, later May on Sora.
  • Ascended Fangirls: Sora, Layla, May, Hannah and Barbara were Kaleido Stage fangirls before being recruited.
  • The Atoner: Kalos Eidos, who's blamed himself for the death of his old friend Aaron for years. Later, Yuri Killian, Aaron's son, who once tried to ruin Kalos's life out of revenge but saw the light very harshly.
  • Badass Bookworm: Mia Guillem is a Kaleido acrobat who also writes her own scripts and invents new tricks for the stage.
  • Better Than It Sounds Anime: It looks like your typical slice-of-life shoujo, but it's captivating once you get into it.
  • Big Fancy House: Layla's mansion.
  • Bifauxnen: Anna Heart has many fangirls for her boyish looks and roles. Two of them, Hannah and Barbara, actually manage to become her partners in the second season.
  • Bishonen: Leon Oswald, Yuri Killian
  • Blooper: Anna and Mia's costumes change mid-conversation in one episode.
  • Boke and Tsukkomi Routine: Sora brings some typical manzai comedy props as a gift for Anna. She immediately tries to rope Ken into a B & K routine. Ken is not amused.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Marion, in her first episode.
  • British Accents: Sarah, in the ADV dub, has a generic fake upper class Brit accent
  • Broken Bird: Layla, but she gets better.
  • Break the Cutie: Sora is the butt of lots of bullying in the first season, until she proves she's more than Kalos's protege and has her own worth as a performer. And in the second one she's also the target of ridicule and lectures for her rose-tinted vision of circus life and her own self-esteem problems.
    • Also, a terrible Break the Cutie process made Leon Oswald the cruel, bitter person we meet. He gets better.
  • Break the Haughty: "Yes, May Wong, you can skip the hard work part and become a star almost from the beginning while acting like a Spoiled Brat... but be ready to lose everything as soon as you drop your guard, re-starting from scratch."
    • Also, "Yes, Yuri Killian, you can try buying the Kaleido Stage to punish the guy you blame or your dad's death and be an asshole while doing so, but get ready to have Sora and Layla fighting back and completely pwning you."
  • Butt Monkey: Apart from Sora? Ken is this in regards to his crush on Sora and Anna's stage antics. A lighter version is May after her fall of grace and during her re-training with Katie and Layla.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Anna pulls this to show her father how disappointed she is in him. Layla does it more subtly to show her own old man that she wants to help the Kaleido Stage instead of going to Broadway or Hollywood after Yuri seizes the Stage. And in a genderflipped version, Rosetta defies her mother and manager to tell her she wants to be a trapeze artist as well as a diabolo expert.
    • This trope gets silly in the "Legend of Phoenix" OVA. "DEEEEEEMOOOOON BRAAAAAAAKE!"
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Ken (for Sora), Kalos and Sarah (for each other), Jerry the policeman (for Kate the doctor — although he eventually does manage — in the middle of a bank robbery where they're both hostages).
  • Character Development: Even the most evil, sneaky and/or annoying characters are given reasons to be the way they are, and chances to get redemption.
  • Chilly Reception: Sora's first few weeks as a Kaleido Stage member are pretty miserable, with Layla picking on her, the rest of the crew following her lead, and even her future True Companions regarding her as a cheat and a manipulator.
  • Chinese Girl: May Wong.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: May Wong is a half-romantic, half-hero worship version of this, in regards to Leon Oswald (and, somewhat, to Layla as well).
  • Cool Big Sis: Cathy Taymor, Layla's partner and friend from the second season. Also, Pamela from the itinerant circus Sora and Ken visit once.
    • Also, May is the Cool Big Sis for her five little brothers and sisters.
  • Crosscast Role: Anna often plays male roles.
  • Dark-Skinned Blond: Barbara from the second season.
  • Dead Little Sister: Poor Sophie. She's basically the reason why Leon Oswald is... well, the way he is.
  • Deconstructed Trope: Sora deconstructs the concept of the typical Naive Everygirl shoujo heroine with traces of Purity Sue, by facing borderline crippling losses and rejection from the beginning and having to work hard for both respect and technical prowess... without becoming cynical. That last bit is also a deconstruction of Jade-Colored Glasses, as the experiences she goes through would guarantee many people to go all disenchanted, but after rather understandable troubles... it ultimately makes Sora even pluckier.
    • At the same time, May Wong can be seen as a deconstruction of The Ace and Jerk Sue: she plays them straight at first, but she actually pays the price for her arrogance.
    • A lesser example is the first time Fool reveals himself to Sora. Most magical girl characters react to the sight of their Fairy Companion with awe and acceptance, but Sora considers the talking doll in her hotel room to be a sign of her own Sanity Slippage. The fact that no one else can see him doesn't help.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Layla, in the first season. Leon, in the second one.
  • Disappeared Dad: Anna and her father, Jack "Baron Jack" Heart, were estranged for years and their first encounter after that was not pretty. Layla's father is a good person, but he's also pushy and workaholic so Layla doesn't have much contact with him as well. Yuri's father, Aaron, died on-stage when he tried the Mystical Act, and his death shaped Yuri into a Smug Snake.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: May tells this twice to Sora.
  • Economy Cast: The only doctor is Kate and the only policeman (after the first episode) is Jerry.
  • Establishing Character Moment: When Sora chases a thief around on borrowed roller blades during the first episode.
  • Eureka Moment: Mia (when she had to rewrite her script) had this right after Sora's pep talk about not giving up. Guess what her new script was about...
  • Fairy Companion: Fool
  • Fan Service: (slightly, anyway) It's a series about circus acrobats. How could you not expect them to have at least one character in a spandex get-up in each episode?
    • The time Sora visits Yuri's apartment to talk to him, he is shirtless the whole scene.
    • The fourth opening (for "Episode 52", the "Rosetta OVA", contains multiple images of Sora and Rosetta that can only be described as this
    • You also get a nice panty-shot of May as a skater in every opening of the second season.
      • What do you expect? The guy who was the producer of this was the producer of Sailor Moon.
    • Many of the camera angles in the New Wings OVA offer rather... convenient... shots of Rosetta and Soras' backsides.
  • Fan of Underdog: Ken, Mia, Anna, Jonathan (sorta) and Marion.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: A running gag from the second season is having Rosetta facing the woes of maintaining her place more or less in order without making anything explode. (Then again, Rosetta is at most thirteen or so and living on her own for the first time).
  • Five-Man Band:
  • Foot Focus: A lot of it.
  • The Fool: Sora, in the first episode. Pity her luck was short-lived.
  • Fluffy Fashion Feathers
  • Genki Girl: Sora, Rosetta, Marion
  • Gentle Giant: Jerry the Policeman
  • Gossipy Hens: Julie and Charlotte. Sometimes Sora and her friends too, but more innocently.
  • Gratuitous English: A brief mild case in the "New Wings" OVA where a sign on Sora's door reads "TRAINIG IN PROGRESS Do NoT DisTuRB!". Lampshaded in the English dub.

 Sarah: "I guess they're better performers than they are spellers."

  • Handsome Lech: Fool is a pint-sized, magical version of this. When Sora has to kick him away from her friends and herself, Hilarity Ensues because only Sora can see him. Eventually Layla and Rosetta also can, but Layla only much later and Rosetta at the end of the series.
  • Happily Married: Used straight with Sora's parents (both biological and adoptive) and the acrobats Mute and Alice. Subverted with a duo from the Festival who looked like they were happily married onstage much to Mia's amazement, but bitched at each other backstage much to Sora's chagrin.
  • Heel Face Turn: Mia and Anna start out as Sora's worst tormentors. Once she proves her determination, they quickly change their opinion of her and develop into her best friends.
    • Charlotte and Julie also do this much later in the season when Yuri fires them from his new Kaleido Stage. But given the circumstances, you have to wonder if they were sincere or just had no further options.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Sora's lack of self-esteem about her own skills and her real goal.
  • Hot Mom: Pamela the Cool Big Sis is a mother of two. Also, Sora's aunt and adoptive mother Midori Naegino is a Cute Shonen Mom.
    • Marion's Missing Mom was incredibly pretty too.
    • Sora's deceased mother was basically an older Sora.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All the episodes have the word "sugoi" ("amazing") in the titles
  • Ill Boy: Ken can't be an acrobat because he has a weak heart, so he becomes a manager/trainer. And in the second season he gets temporarily roped in as the Butt Monkey of Anna, Hannah and Barbara's routines.
  • Important Haircut: Layla is given one by Sora in an OVA in order to be "reborn" like a phoenix.
  • It's All About Me: When May walks into Kaleido Stage in the second season, she's amazed and pissed off that no one but her sees how wonderful and perfect she is and haven't handed her every lead role over the current star who worked for everything she has. She gets better, but she'll really make you want to jam your thumbs in your eyes for about a dozen episodes.
    • Leon is the same, in a subtler and colder way. He believes his skill makes him so important that he demands script changes and special treatment at the drop of a hat. It turns out he even puts his costars out of commission when he decides they are not worthy of being his partner. If he deems them unworthy, there's no point in them ever continuing to perform.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Kalos tries to pull this to let Sarah become a full-time Idol Singer, but she says she's more than happy in the Kaleido Stage and stays. It doesn't help that the one giving her the chance was Kalos' old friend Andy, who as soon as he learns about the situation also steps aside so Sarah can stay.
  • Jerkass: Leon Oswald and May Wong, at least initially. To a lesser degree, Layla at the beginning of the first season.
  • Kick the Dog: Yuri's trap for Sophie that causes her death. Julie and Charlotte using Layla to ruin Mia, Sora and Anna's role upgrades in Cinderella. Later, Julia and Charlotte again, telling Layla about the Power Trio trying to help her with her Disappeared Dad so, when things don't work the way the trio wanted, Layla gets upset at them. Yuri seizing the Kaleido Stage as revenge against Kalos for (supposedly) causing Aaron's death. May's behavior prior to the Dracula auditions, various stuff that Leon does prior to his defrosting — and especially when he deliberately injures Mey solely to tell her that she's not worthy of being his partner. No matter what May had done, no one deserves that, and specially when it's stated in canon that such a behavior caused the death of at least one of Leon's partners, and severely crippled another.
  • Knife Outline and Knife-Throwing Act: Episode 14 featured a knife thrower.
  • Lethal Chef: For a long time, Rosetta is unable to maintain her apartment normally — and that obviously includes cooking. Layla seems to have trouble even with handling a coffee machine (or a vegetable knife, in one of the OVA's). And according to Julie, Charlotte likes to use a bit too much salt when she's in charge of the kitchen.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Outside of her stage costumes, Sora seems to have only two outfits most of the time — a white leotard and a short blue denim overall with a white T-shirt. And as we see when she first arrives at Kaleido Stage, she wears the one under the other.
  • Lost Aesop: In the end, was it good or not to be competitive? See the entry.
  • Mai Nakahara
  • The Messiah: Sora and Sophie.
  • Megaton Punch: Sora uses this so many times on Fool...
  • Missing Mom: Marion and Layla lost their mothers when they were small girls. Rosetta is distanced from her mom for a long time, until she's fully recruited by the Stage.
  • Mood Whiplash: It often goes from drama to comedy without almost any warning.
  • My Greatest Failure: Kalos never forgave himself for Aaron's death in the Kaleido Stage.
  • Non-Action Guy: Kenneth Robbins.
  • No Sympathy: Kalos Eidos isn't a bad person per se, but in regards to the Stage, he's incredibly (and borderline Kick the Dog-ish) harsh. Layla shows this type of behavior too, barring Sora from the tryouts since she was late — because she was mugged on her way to the Stage and groped by Kalos.
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: The whole cast, really, but it's most obvious with Marion, who stays about 10ish, and Jonathan, who remains a baby seal, for what appears to be about two years of elapsed time across the two seasons.
  • The Ojou: Layla is a North American version of this.
  • "On the Next Episode of..." Catchphrase: Sora — "My wings are my dream, and on towards the sky!"
  • Parental Abandonment: Sora's natural parents are dead; her adoptive parents are supportive of her but stayed in Japan for a long time. Layla's mother died and her dad is good-hearted yet very workaholic. Leon is an orphan who abandoned his abusive adoptive relatives along with Sophie. And Yuri... well...
  • Parents as People: Layla's father is this to a T.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: At least half the costumes.
  • Plucky Girl: Sora, May, Layla.
  • Poisonous Friend: Manami seems to be one of those in the beginning, but soon we're proved wrong.
  • The Pollyanna: Sora goes just too often from a normal Genki Girl to this...
  • The Power of Friendship: That goes without saying.
  • Power Trio: Sora (Id), Anna (Ego), Mia (Superego).
  • Pretty in Mink: Some of the costumes have fur trim.
  • Promotion to Parent: Leon, in regards to Sophie.
  • Recycled in Space: A sequel, Kaleido Star 2, was planned and featured in a 2005 issue of Newtype USA. It eschewed the circus setting of the main series and starred Rosetta as a Magical Girl in space. However, given the time since it was announced and its non-existence on The Other Wiki, I guess we can safely say that KS2 is missing and presumed dead. (It may have been remade into the chibi (second) OVA "Good dayo! Goooooooood!")
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The emotional Sora and the collected Layla. Later, Sora and the childish May, this one bordering on Shadow Archetype.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Jonathan the baby seal.
  • The Rival: Sora and Layla; Sora and May; Leon and Yuri.
  • Romantic False Lead: Andy, in regards to Sarah and Kalos. He's nicer than the stereotypical False Lead, though.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Sora and Rosetta, to a degree.
  • Roof Hopping: Sora manages a version of this in roller blades, bouncing from awning to awning, while chasing the thief who stole her luggage in the first episode.
  • Ryo Hirohashi: Sora
  • Sad Clown: Anna Heart is a rare female version.
  • Sayaka Ohara: Layla
  • Scary Black Man: Played for laughs. When Jerry went to Japan, people actually ran away.
  • Sensual Spandex: Mmmmmm.
  • She's Got Legs: Sora often gets the camera to focus on hers, from butt to toes. In one of the first scenes Kalos grabs Sora's legs when she is standing on the street (even though she doesn't know who he is) and declares her fit to be a performer.
    • This trope is true of most of the women to one extent or another, which see Sensual Spandex, Stripperriffic, and so forth and so on. Rosetta, as previously noted, even gets in on the Fanservice act in her OVA's opening.
      • Again, hello... Sailor Moon???
        • And in an interview with Sato, it is revealed that they would often attempt to see how far they could take such. It's in the US singles' releases.
  • Shipper on Deck: Sora and her friends ship Kalos/Sarah.
  • Shorttank: Sora and Rosetta.
  • Shout-Out: Of course, the whole concept of the Kaleido Stage is a huge shout-out to the Cirque Du Soleil.
  • Shower of Angst: Sora takes one after she loses Layla's Phoenix Ticket to May.
  • Show Within a Show: Several, going from fairy tales ("Cinderella," "The Little Mermaid") to literature classics ("Dracula," "Romeo and Juliet"). Arguably the whole point of the setting.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor / Team Dad: Kalos Eidos.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: You have three chances to guess which side this series firmly sits on, and the first two don't count.
  • Smug Snake: Yuri Killian, in the first season.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Carlos, who became "Kalos." In the dubbers' defense, "カロス" (KAROSU) isn't the most typical transliteration for Carlos; "カルロス" (KARUROSU) and "カーロス" (KAAROSU) would probably be used more often.
    • Ironically, "Kalos" sounds like callous, which describes him pretty well when he's at his worst.
    • It of course serves the "Kalos Eido"/"Kaleido" pun better this way as well. Yes, Kalos apparently named his circus after himself.
  • Spoiled Brat: May, at first.
  • Stripperiffic: Layla's, Sora's and May's outfits in Salome in Vegas. In the Grand Finale, also, watch Sora perform as Princess Odette in Swan Lake, explosively shredding her outfit to reveal a costume that looks like a cross between a bellydancer outfit and a white bikini.
    • The final single ADV Films DVD release cover takes full advantage of this Fanservice (which see She's Got Legs).
  • Talking to Herself: In the English dub, Sarah and Doctor Kate were both voiced by Luci Christian, and there's one notable scene in the second half of season one where these two have a conversation about Yuri's changes to Kaleido Stage after he took it over.
  • Takehito Koyasu: Fool
  • Those Two Girls: Julie and Charlotte; Hannah and Barbara.
  • Team Mom: Sarah is a rather peculiar version of this trope: despite being an efficient dorm supervisor, an Idol Singer for the Stage and Sora and Co.'s Cool Big Sis, sometimes she can be even more child-like than her proteges. She gets bonus points for being in love with Team Dad Kalos though.
    • And double bonus for actually getting him in the end.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Sora puts her heart in her performances, which makes her clash with the more technically-geared Rosetta, Leon and May.
  • Television Geography: "Cape Mery" can't seem to make up its mind whether it's Los Angeles or San Francisco — it's got LA's shoreline and palm trees but also San Francisco's hills, vintage streetcars, and a dead-on markup toward the Ferry Building and nearby Amtrak terminal in the second season's opening. (Plus, oddly, just a bit of the concrete canyons of New York City...) And just to confuse the issue even further, the rising sun over the ocean horizon when Sora performs the Angel Maneuver in the final episode makes it clear that the open sea is to the east of the city — pretty hard to do anywhere in California. Some viewers suspect that it's actually in Hawaii, not California, which would solve most of these problems (and explain some otherwise extremely fast travel times from Japan).
    • The dialogue in episode 22 specifically states that the protagonists are from Los Angeles.
  • Time to Unlock More True Potential: Almost every time Sora needs to expand her skills, she finds someone to put her through an ever more grueling Training From Hell.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Mia and Anna, respectively. Sora is the tomboy when with Layla; with May... it heavily depends on May's current mood (and curiously, May really looks the part of the girly girl, thanks to her Rapunzel Hair and cute wardrobe).
    • Let's not forget Sora and Rosetta. Since both are Shorttanks, they also switch around the roles.
    • Also Cathy and Layla, as well as Julie and Charlotte.
  • Training From Hell: The series is infamous for this. And believe it or not, Sora is not the only one who has to go through it once and again and again...
  • Transformation Sequence: Sora's explosive costume change at the climax of the final episode of the second season certainly shows the influence of predecessors like Sailor Moon, even though it's (probably) not magical.
  • Translation Convention: It's made pretty clear that everybody is speaking English to each other, though of course in the raw and subtitled versions it's Japanese. Sora even went to an English conversation school in preparation for the trip to LA Cape Mery.
    • Note there are some problems. If you see handwritten or typed English, there are errors. Sarah's name is typed as Salah. Layla's dad's note makes no sense. The twins are playing a wordplay game that only makes sense in Japanese. Aaron Killian's first name is said as "Arlon" during the Legendary Great Maneuver at the end of season one, but is subtitled as "Aaron" in season two's opening recap!
  • Tsundere: May Wong is a very exaggerated (in the beginning) Type A (tsuntsun, aka "mostly cranky"). She mellows out a bit, but is still quite volatile.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Jerry the Policeman, since he manages to marry his childhood friend Kate the doctor.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Layla is a female version of this.
  • Whip It Good: Dio
  • White-Haired Pretty Boy: Leon Oswald.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Boy, does Sora get called out for being one of these...
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Sora, with her raspberry-hued locks, is almost the only character in the show with an unrealistic hair color. (Although Leon's silver/platinum hair comes close. Also, the dance captain has lavender hair, but he also seems to be a Camp Gay, so it may be dyed).
  • You Killed My Father: The reason behind Yuri becoming a Smug Snake and master of Kick the Dog acts in the middle of the series. The kicker? It was not Kalos' fault, but Yuri was so traumatized that nothing would convince him of the truth.