Out of all the titles I have reviewed for this and previous incarnations of this site, none have surprised and captivated me more than Kaleido Star. What? You haven’t seen it? Go pick up Funimation’s box set releases of both seasons and watch them right now. Go ahead… I’ll wait…
For those of you that came back… Wasn’t that awesome?! Just a thoroughly charming series from start to finish; just the right blend of whimsy, comedy, and drama without trite and contrived love triangles. Just a young girl, her dream, and how it profoundly affects those around her. Its last episode aired eleven years ago but shows no sign of losing its charm. But, this is a “Ten Years Later” piece, which means we are talking about the OVA, Legend of the Phoenix, released a year after the TV series finale, and also available in Funimation’s box sets.
Our story finds Layla and Sora struggling to find their interpretations of the Phoenix for their respective productions of “Legend of the Phoenix”. Layla leaves her Broadway rehearsals without a word to bike across the New York countryside. News of her disappearance reaches Sora’s ears, and she heads off on a road trip with Ken and Mei in tow. However, the focus is solidly on Layla, and Sora’s involvement is brief, used mainly to add some levity between Layla’s moments of brooding introspection.
During Layla’s travels, she thinks about the past and how Sora pushed her and changed her attitude towards competition. This introspection makes the OVA feel like a clip show; it is spinning its wheels not really getting anywhere new, much like Layla’s attempt to find the fire for her Phoenix. However, if you push on like Layla, the heart of the story finally appears and gives Layla’s character a whole new dimension. From the start of Kaledio Star, we saw a Layla who was motivated to be the best performer, an attitude that left her cold and distant. We never knew how or why she became that way; we only Sora’s passion for her dream stoked a fire deep in Layla that melted away the icy wall she built.
The kicker of this story is that Layla herself never faced the how or why, even as she realized Sora was changing her outlook on life. We get to share this internal journey with her and make another, deeper connection to her character. By the end, you truly feel that Layla has become her own emotional Phoenix. She has finally burned off the last vestiges of her burdens and has been reborn into an even stronger person.
While the overall journey is worth watching, it is best to put some time between watching the TV series and this. This is a story you pull off the shelf and say, “Hello, old friend; how have you been?” Legend of the Phoenix proves a worthy capstone to the Kaleido Star saga by allowing us to finally connect as deeply with Layla as we did with Sora.