The show’s dialogue especially goes out of its way to make sure the audience understands that Sora is in a foreign country.
Sora is the only Japanese person who is performing at Kaleido Stage. We never learn of any other Japanese or even Asian performers (until the second season when the character May, a Chinese-American rival, appears). Sora has to cope with this fact, particularly at the beginning of the show. She has to prove herself to others, deal with being far from home and exposed to racial stereotypes.
Racial Stereotypes the story challenges:
Sora and Sarah
When Sora first arrives at Kaleido Stage she meets Sarah, a diligent pursuer of martial arts. Sarah immediately assumes that Sora is good at martial arts and asks to learn new moves from her. Sarah says things like “Everyone in Japan has a black belt, right?” Their initial meeting is played for laughs but it still highlights that Sora is probably the first Japanese person that Sarah, among others at Kaleido Stage, has met.
Mr. Police Man and Ken go to Japan
Mr. Policeman is a comic relief character who cheers on Sora and ruins the mood whenever her love interest, Ken, is trying to make his move. Later in series, the two end up going to Japan together. Because Mr. Policeman is a large black man, Japanese people are terrified of him and run away when he tries asking for directions. When the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Ken tries in Mr. Policeman’s place, he’s immediately mobbed by girls who want to get a photo with him under the assumption that he must be a foreign movie star. This is an interesting parallel to when Sora first arrived in America and stood out to me as the scene that really exemplifies how the show conveys racial stereotypes as ignorant and silly.
Racial stereotypes the show promotes:
May’s Cooking Habits
May likes to cook tons of heavy Chinese food for her peers and won’t always take no for an answer. In Japan and other parts of Asia, Chinese people have a stereotype of always trying to force food on people.
The creators could have given May this characteristic in an attempt to show that sometimes stereotypes can be true even though they don’t define a person…..is what I might think if Master Linn wasn’t in the show.
Master Linn is Sarah’s martial arts teacher. He is a blatant Chinese stereotype. His only significant part in the show is to make silly Hi-ya! noises while showing Sora some over the top martial arts moves. He’s comic relief and disappears after his gags are over.
I think in reality people are bias and stereotype others based on race without being conscious of it. The creators aren’t immune to this fact and probably intended for Master Linn to be a caricature that’s funny instead of offensive. But it’s more than difficult to defend Master Linn as a character since he’s only there to embody a stereotype.
Since most anime take place in Japan with all Japanese characters, Kaleido Star is interesting in how it presents a diverse cast and actually includes the possible conflicts that can occur because of that. It’s a show that handles issues involving race subtly but still addresses them so that the audience knows the show is taking place in the real world. But when it comes to its Chinese characters Kaleido Star embraces stereotypes rather than challenging them. So it doesn’t handle the issue of racial stereotypes perfectly but I do think the show opens a channel to topics like race and diversity that we don’t see anime address very often.
[This post was originally posted: Aug, 31th 2016 on the Otaple 1/2 Tumblr]