This short little fifty-minute OVA is... wow. Kaleido Star: Legend of Phoenix just does something that warms the cockles of your heart. The story itself is very simple, and can be summed up in one sentence: Layla Hamilton tries to find herself.
What should be surprising (if you've watched the actual series) is how out of character the above statement sounds. Because in Kaleido Star, Layla is one of the strongest, most professional, confident, and assured women you can find. In fact, her "character type" is rather archetypical. But in the later episodes of Kaleido Star, you see just how human
Layla is and how strong she is for holding up the way she does, but Kaleido Star: Legend of Phoenix manages to take even that to the next level.
The OVA knows how pretentious "finding yourself" plots can be, and pokes fun at itself for the way Layla goes about actually doing it. It's very grounded and real, and although the dialogue-- and I will be the first to admit this-- isn't something I understand 100% of the time, the characters' resolve, their emotions, are all clearly felt. Layla and Sora share a very complex relationship, and I was terribly moved to see their relationship continue evolving as it had in the series. Sora had always admired Layla, and I think in this OVA, she connects with Layla on an even more personal emotional level.
After I finished the OVA, I felt soothed, comforted, and it had induced a generally uplifting feeling. Perhaps this experience can be best described as catharsis, one which I felt along with Layla. There is a special scene in this OVA where you feel like all is right in the world. It is, above all things, very innocent and poignant in its simplicity.
The art is much, much better than the series (as one would expect of an OVA) and the colour palette is soft, which fits the tone of Kaleido Star: Legend of Phoenix very well. The seiyuu from the series reprise their respective roles in the OVA, and Oohara Sayaka (Layla's seiyuu) even sings two songs for us. (They're listed as the "OP" and the "ED", but there isn't an OP or ED sequence; the songs play as the story begins and ends, so you're in for a solid fifty minutes.)
I highly, highly suggest that you watch Kaleido Star before even considering the idea of attempting this OVA, because there's just so much you'll miss on. It's still very beautiful on its own, but various details and the humour sprinkled throughout will mean less, as will the depth of the two female leads' relationship. I recommended this to those who love beautiful, poignant tales of self-discovery, though I sincerely hope whoever watches this will at least attempt Kaleido Star prior to it. It is a serious commitment, especially for those who do not necessarily like shoujo, because the series lasts for over fifty episodes. I will also warn you here that Kaleido Star, although a good series, has a less realistic take compared to the OVA-- "if you persevere, you can overcome anything". With that in mind, I hope you'll greatly enjoy this beautiful little OVA.
There are several interesting side charactes in KS, who probably no one can hate. Layla is one of them and I was overjoyed when I found out there was an OVA focused on her. “YAY, no more annoying Sora meddling with everyone’s business!” I thought. On top, the MAL summary sounds like this is solely focused on Layla and possibly could be about her first steps to become a star. Oh, boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong, could I? Warning, this contains MINOR spoilers (but by finishing KS you can probably figure them out on your own).
Forget what you see on MAL. This
is shoujo with annoying lead. It’s about Sora regardless of what’s in the title or summary. Seriously, this could be pretty much titled: How Sora found her purpose through Layla’s bike trip. Basically, Sora gets a difficult role, and since we’re in KS universe and circus is a serious business, the thing that can help her to learn the role, isn’t hard work and training but a philosophical self-discovery journey… to nowhere… by bike… done by Layla (Sora was actually stalking her by a car… driven by Ken). Makes even less sense in context. Both Layla and Sora get the same role, suffer the same issues and Layla tries to solve them by running away. Sora finds it out and gets her buddy-buddy friends to get her back. Why she can’t learn the role she sucks at and instead meddles with someone else’s business is beyond me. I couldn’t see why it was necessary for her to go and find her when she obviously needed to be alone. Anyway, in short, Layla remembers her completely irrelevant childhood moments, tells her biggest secrets to complete strangers, scraps all of her character development, figures out she should be a 10-year-old and cuts her hair. (Makes even less sense in context.) Oh, it’s FULL of yuri (under)tones. That’s it. I still don’t get how the hell they managed to tell this in more than 10 minutes.
In the first half everyone comments how horrible it is that Layla has emotions and the other half Layla comments how horrible it is that she has emotions (and that she should over-show them and how cool Sora is; makes even less in context).
Layla and May were enough for me to overlook Sora and enjoy it. The only issue (besides Sora) was that Layla’s character ‘development’ (this OVA gave it a brand new meaning) completely sucked. Aside from finding out she can’t handle bike trips and that Sora is for some reason cool and she should take her as an example (completely overlooking the fact that she has much more experience and uses common sense), nothing really happened.
I still didn’t like that characters design but other than that no problems. Nothing memorable, though.
Nice ‘opening’, ‘ending’ and bgm but once again, nothing memorable.
I believe I mentioned multiple times what I didn't like. But it was still watchable even though it didn't make sense at all. And I loved the on stage scenes
Seriously, if you expect Layla/only OVA or don’t like Sora or, heaven forbid, you dare to prefer any other character (if you like Rossetta go watch her OVA, there’s still more Sora though) DO NOT watch this. This will be a huge disappointment, like it was for me. However, if you like shoujo-like ‘plot-twists’ (aka saw it coming only from a mile away) and Sora (liking Layla isn’t necessary, there’s way more Sora) or, basically, Kaleido Star style story telling then you should watch this, trust me, you will love this.