Title: Ginban Kaleidoscope / Skating Rink Kaleidoscope
Length: 12 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Sports, drama, romance, comedy, shoujo
Year of release: 2005
Tazusa Sakurano is not a ‘safe’ kind of romance protagonist. She’s bratty. She’s got a quick temper. She holds grudges. She has an inflated ego. And yet, this nervy, stressed-out high school Olympic figure skater is extremely likeable. The story revolves much more around her overcoming her fears and accepting herself than it revolves around her romantic partner Peter Pumps, her… Canadian ghost that has become trapped in her body.
We’re already skidding to a halt. I’ve gotta explain that. Peter Pumps is a 16 year old trainee stunt pilot who crashed and died, but was forced to go back to Earth to live for 100 more days. Being trapped inside the body of a girl the same age is where much of the comedy is inserted, with Tazusa reacting to his mere presence. Mechanically, he doesn’t have conscience when Tazusa’s asleep, and he can only see what she sees and feel what she physically feels; there’s no sort of mind-reading or control, and conversation is essentially her speaking out loud versus what she hears in her head. It seemed like a recipe for disaster, but Tazusa makes the trials and tribulations of living with a ghost inside you seem relatable, manageable – she goes from wearing blindfolds while getting dressed/bathing to a rather amusing second episode plot of holding her bladder for a whole day, realising that Peter hates tomatoes and punishing him by eating them.
In fact, it’s actually really funny, even if many of the jokes are via Tazusa being angry or Tazusa speaking to Pete and bystanders misunderstanding her. Some sharp comic timing, brutal facial expressions from Tazusa and amusing hijinks mean the series has a real bop to its comic portions, and it naturally glides between them and the more serious or romantic parts with wit and charisma. She’s so quick to react to Pete’s existence with anger and annoyance (with a pinch of ego), and the same is true to the paparazzi that hound her and the officials from the Japanese Skating Federation, though… with them she at least holds it in.
Ginban Kaleidoscope excels in pacing its different facets to make a really pleasing show overall. It’s actually hard to pick a standout under-minute-long-clip that doesn’t rely on plot momentum or character progression, because it does it all at once, and oh so well. The juggling of funny moments, character bonding moments, plot progression and even romance is fantastically intertwined.
Showing Pete – and us – her true colours as a brat is where the show gets it so right, because we also see her quieter moments. She does have personality issues, sure, but she also struggles with the mountainous pressure of being an Olympic candidate that is viewed as a ‘villain’ to the much older Kyouko Shitou who she is competing against for Japan’s only slot, and Tazusa is constantly trying to outperform their expectations and failing major jumps.
In these quiet moments, she and Pete gradually bond. She finally goes out of her way to listen to Pete and understand him, rather than seeing him as yet another annoyance, and in doing so, she really begins to grow up. She continues to be egotistical and bratty and her temper never dampens, but her charade of confidence (and, it really is a charade) morphs into a genuine confidence in herself and Pete.
Pete and Tazusa, despite many of their interactions being Tazusa annoyed at his very existence, have very strong chemistry. Pete’s character is very easy to understand; he’s been given another, shorter burst of life, and is just going to do his best to enjoy it. He reacts to Tazusa, but his newfound existential perspective makes him see the funny and even personal side of it. When he finally begins to offer a bit of advice to Tazusa – performer to performer – she isn’t quick to listen, but the more time she spends with him and the more she sees his gentle side, the more she listens, the more she grows to care for him.
It’s actually a stupid romance setup. Ridiculous. Yet, I found myself loving these characters. I loved Tazusa a lot, and felt so much for her over the series. That is, until the usual shoujo hiccup featuring an older man – not that anything happens, but that the older reporter who supports her starts being pulled into the negative press she receives, with claims that she is dating him. It’s a little awkward since the series does that thing where it half-commits to her wondering if she has feelings for him with blushiness and Pete commenting on her sweaty palms and fast heartbeat, but it also backs out of that arc as if nothing happened and nothing meant anything it. Still, the episode was funny, so there’s that.
Perhaps the biggest misstep of the series, though, is the paparazzi’s villainy. It’s not very nuanced. There’s some hints of deeper ideas – like why Tazusa is viewed as a villain in their eyes – but it ultimately ends up with some reporters becoming the silly moustache twirling types. Their comeuppance is actually rather brilliant, during her novelly choreographed routine and the first that she feels goes right, but they’re still just frustrating. Thankfully, the series is much more interested in Tazusa’s growth and her romance with Pete, but they poke their heads out as an annoyance more than a key factor – though it does result in some fantastic Angry Tazusa moments, and, again, great funny moments.
I actually sought this anime out after feeling a bit of Yuri on Ice!!, you know, withdrawal symptoms from figure skating anime. Despite the fact that Yuri on Ice received quite a glowing review from me, in a direct comparison, I’d say that Ginban Kaleidoscope stacks up very well. It’s a marginally better sport anime, a significantly better romance anime and is often much funnier. Admittedly, Yuri On Ice!!’s forte would be that terrific animation, and sadly Ginban Kaleidoscope’s modest affair – while charming in comic scenes – doesn’t begin to compare. But ultimately, it’s the plotting’s missteps in the second half before the climax, in playing up the Papparazzi villainy to silly degrees and introducing a half-assed older-man love plot, and a slightly abrupt (but still fulfilling) ending, that hold Ginban Kaleidoscope back from the top marks.
But make no mistake: this is a terrific female-demographic, female-lead sports anime, with a surprisingly terrific romance (despite the awkward setup). I really enjoyed my time with Ginban Kaleidoscope, and all because of Tazusa and Pete setting the show apart and above. What a wonderful thing to say about a romance, eh?