While in search of his precious friend, a young boy named Nai falls captive to a beautiful woman, whose looks are matched only by her taste for human flesh. Meanwhile Gareki, a clever thief, is in the midst of robbing her luxurious home. After causing a distraction, Gareki agrees to help Nai escape, but they are discovered upon the woman's return. As she transforms into a ghoulish monster, the boys flee.
On the run, Nai and Gareki are found by "Circus," a government defense agency that deals with criminal activity too difficult for the police to handle and protects civilians from "varuga"—terrible monsters that devour humans for sustenance. In the hope that it will lead Nai to his missing friend, he and Gareki decide to join Circus. On their perilous journey, they face dangerous varuga and begin to uncover the secrets behind a shadowy organization known as Kafka.
Frontier Works Inc. released a drama CD titled Karneval Circus on March 25, 2010. An internet radio show premiered on animate.tv on January 25, 2013, with the character voice of Nai, Hiro Shimono, as the host.
Karneval is a mysterious series. By mysterious, I don't entirely mean it being filled with clues to be solved by some detective. What I mean is how the series comes together through its plot, theme, and most importantly the characters of the mysterious 'Circus'. It spells out mystery in a variety of ways through fantasy and its elegant atmosphere. However, Karneval is one of those series that can be a hit or miss for potential viewers.
The anime series Karneval is based off the manga of the same named written by Touya Mikanagi. With 10 volumes and counting, the manga has received some attention, enough for
an anime adaptation. So here we are, spring 2013 and the series makes it on to the screen for the very first time.
To me, Karneval is one of those shows where a variety of things happen, some at the same time. The series has that fantasy background with majestic themes. The series focuses on a mysterious group known as the “Circus”. The way they dress seems to fit within this theme but their actions are a bit different. For a variety of reasons, this organization serves a protection force. In other words, they work to ensure that the safety of its people are guaranteed. To do things, it seems that its members relies on teamwork, magic, strategies, and even acrobat movements. It enforces the fact that its members are skilled enough for the task. Of course though, these tasks often puts its members of Circus' lives at risks. There is danger ranging from armed kidnappers to mysterious creatures. Among other factors, the members themselves sometimes has internal factors that prevents them from accomplishing tasks at their best. But at any rate, this mysterious group known as Circus is the drive force behind the series.
Two of the most prominent members associated Circus are Nai and Gareki. There is a lot of mystery going on between these two characters. For one, we learn that Nai is searching for something important. After a dangerous incident, he meets Gareki who saves his life. And here becomes their little adventure as Nai and Gareki becomes friends. On the surface, the two seems to get along but their characters' basis contrasts greatly in comparisons. Nai is portrayed as a boy who is often feels like he is a loner along with feelings of cowardliness around certain situations. We can tell by his face expressions that he is quite nervous throughout each episode. On the opposite of the coin, there's Gareki. His expressions gives off a confident, rough, and sometimes arrogant atmosphere. He is also seen as fearless in many situations and doesn't hesitant to speak his mind to make the first move. Although they seem so different, the two becomes a compatible duo; in a rather peculiar fashion.
The majority of the supporting characters makes up the 'Carneval'. All of them seems to have specialized skills to handle various situations. For example, there is the beautiful and well respected girl Tsukumo who is skilled in acrobatics and is able to take down foes with a calm mind. There's also Yogi, a cheerful young man who is able to evoke fear through his magic. Then, there's the Hirato, the Second Ships' captain with a mind of intellect capable of managing the team through various tasks. The point is that Carneval takes on challenges fearlessly and with precision to ensure its success. They work for the government and takes out the most dangerous individuals out of their world to ensure a place without fear. On the other hand exists another organization, one that opposes Carneval for their actions known as Kafka. They are even more mysterious as we know nearly nothing about them besides that they oppose the government and conducts in illegal activities. Yup, here it is again, mystery...
The story of this anime adapted series is a bit difficult to comprehend. In fact, some fans may be confused to what's going on that may lead to a scratch on their heads. I'll say it out straight: the story is a bit blend and requires a bit of focus to enjoy Karneval at its fullest. Apparently, Nai used to be an acquittance or possible friend of a mysterious young man named Karoku. The accessory (bracelet) is a proof of his past relationship with him. Throughout the series, we also see Karoku make screen appearances but have little clue to his true origin or identity. Speaking of which, Nai's own identity is a puzzle throughout the series as well. His name literally means 'nothing' in English. The way he looks also makes the boy seems quite feminine and his nervousness doesn't help him shape into a more masculine image. He often has to rely on others whether it's the tough bad boy Gareki or members of Circus. This makes the main male protagonist Nai a bit hard to appreciate or respect. He hardly develops throughout the series and becomes more frustrating to watch each episode as the only way he can achieve tasks is with the help of others. There's an old saying that goes 'if you want something done right, do it yourself'. Nai is nowhere near that philosophy yet and becomes a pain to watch.
There's also some confusion related to the other characters as the atmosphere of the show seems to be quite slow paced. Furthermore, it's even sometimes difficult to tell who the real antagonists are. Needless to say, the construction of the characters along with the plot are blend and hard to appreciate. On the bright side though, the action of this series flows quite well with the movements of its characters. Speaking of which, the characters' designs are elegant and beautiful. Tsukumo can be seen as a mascot for this series by the way she is dressed. Then, there are the guys like Gareki and Yogi who gives off an impression with their good looks.
The action of the series remains consistent enough. We can see that some of the adversaries throughout the series are truly dangerous and malevolent enough that only an organization such as Carneval itself can take them on directly. But even so, they sometimes struggle against them whether mentally or physically. In regards to the action, it is fluid and portrays the fantasy theme well. From the first episode, the acrobatic like movements of Tsukumo shows how capable she is. Then, there are the magic that gives off the fantasy vibes and more full throttle action with Gareki and his handy guns. The action is impressive enough to give the series a more serious mood when dealing with cases at least.
Perhaps the beauty of Karneval makes up a large proportion through its visuals. The majestic feeling Karenval left me an impression of the show. The way the architectures are made in this series has that gothic feeling. The way the characters are dressed are also flamboyant especially Tsukumo and Gareki with their outfits. In my stances, the guys of this series are all dressed with a fancy style. Tsukmo is admired for her beauty, Gareki is dressed in a noticeable way, and Eva has that revealing style of fashion along with her straightforward personality. It's fan service in a way but in a more fancy style rather than the typical panty shots, up-skirts, etc.
As for the soundtrack of this show, Karneval stands out only at average here for me. I'm not exactly sure how the studios handled the OST but it's only noticeable during tense moments or when performances are out in the open. In other words, they only seem to stand out during prominent moments in the show rather than flowing properly. The OP song "Henai no Rondo "by GRANRODEO mixes in way with its fancy displays. Along with its ED song, "REASON" by KamiYU, both of these pieces of music works for the series. However, it's nothing special really, at least for me.
In all, Karneval is an example of a show that can be a hit or miss for fans. Its mystical atmosphere might not be something for avid fans of shounen action or other other genres to get used to. However, its beauty is expressed through its artwork and themes. Despite this though, I still find the story a bit blend and out of place. It lacks the way to make an impact by the construction of its narrative, its poorly made main male protagonist, and weak development. For me, this series is more of a poor dark horse that exceed some expectations but other times drops the ball. Well, that's just me but if you have some patience, Karneval sometimes does have its moments.
I wanted to like this show. Hand to God, really. It was probably one of the most visually unique programs I'd found in recent memory, and its commitment to the visual theme of a circus reminded me of Soul Eater's gothic design motifs in a refreshingly good way.
But having finished its (insofar) only season, I feel exhausted, and yet, content-wise, I feel grossly underfed.
The main problem is Karneval wants so badly to be a big, interesting anime with big mysterious overarching serial plot threads. It wants to do the FMA:B-esque slow, controlled, gradual reveal of information. All of its arcs (save for the one that
finds Gareki revisiting his childhood home—probably not coincidentally, the show's high watermark by a long shot), aim to pique the reader's curiosity about the mythos and the big picture first and foremost, but lose focus on being satisfying in the moment.
So, throughout its run, Karneval withholds exposition and lore from the viewer, thinking it's being tantalizing, but it crosses the line well into confounding.
So when it comes time to reap the benefits of all these seeds it had sown throughout the course of series—at the cost of its episode-to-episode (or even arc-to-arc) quality and general enjoyability—it fumbles. It simply can't cover them all. It shucks and weaves throughout a giant, chaotic battle climax to touch base on them, and satisfyingly concludes none of them. (Probably the most egregious offender is Nai's quest to find his old friend Karoku—an incredibly enigmatic character, frequently teased by the narrative, whose role and character are both woefully underexplained, even by the show's end.)
I haven't read the manga, but what this smacks of is a poor adaptation, biting off more source-material plotlines than the anime had room to chew. With its lack of conclusions, and so many balls still in the air, characters introduced to hardly ever be used, not to mention its too-optimistic sequel-begging final scenes, I feel like I just finished watching the pilot to a show, not its entire first year (and possibly its entire run).
And sure, the visuals are amazing. The characters are fun to watch interact with each other, even if they are a little short on development (although, with a cast of 24 characters for a 13-episode series, it was inevitable some of them would have wound up a little undercooked—again: overambitious source material selection). But all in all, I'd say unless there's something about the premise or the art that really speaks to you, getting invested in Karneval is primarily a discouraging venture.
The show must go on! No literally, the show should really keep going on. I only recently finished it and I'm already aching for more episodes.
At first, what may appeal to you and make you want to watch the show is the art. After all, it's very colorful, bright, and overall beautiful. It's enticing to say the least, and the first thing that hits you is probably how beautifully animated and drawn it is.
After the outstanding art settles in, the characters and plot may seem lacking. It centers around Nai and Gareki; a dynamic duo who met by chance and chance alone. They're soon
intertwined into a world of action and danger via Circus, a protection agency whose sole mission is to protect the world from the Varuga and Kafta. (You'll find out more about them throughout the show.) The two soon begin building friendships with some of Circus's members, such as with Yogi and Tsukumo. The show itself is very well paced for such a small amount of episodes. However, the show itself ended leaving a lot to be asked for and desired. Many questions were left unanswered, and that usually doesn't leave a good taste in your mouth, particularly with no promises of a future season.
The music is good. The opening and ending are cute enough and catchy as well. Most of the music and sfx fit well in the show, so I really can't complain.
All in all, I would give this show a watching. With only thirteen episodes, it's a shame if you don't. It's creative, mysterious, and all in all a good time.
All flash, no substance. That's what I would say if I had to sum up my thoughts on Karneval.
Just looking at it - either the promotional artwork, the first few scenes of the anime, or the manga artwork - you can easily tell that it's pretty. Characters are drawn in pleasing ways and colours are bright and sharp. The animation of the series is also very well done - everything moves smoothly, action scenes are generally well directed, and CG is used to great effect. I have to admit, even the soundtrack is pretty solid.
That's the flash I mentioned. In terms of substance, this is
where Karneval suffers.
Let's start with the plot. The story revolves a mysterious boy named Nai who encounters the thief, Gareki, and the defense organization, Circus, in his search for an even more mysterious man named Karoku. Through Circus, the two also get involved in fighting against a criminal organization by the name of Kafka.
It's quite straight forward, but for some reason, the anime goes through the motions of having a plot that's a lot more convoluted. For several episodes, antagonists seem to be plotting something or other, having to do with capturing Nai for whatever purpose, and in the meantime, Circus fights against human-like monstrosities; however, there is no direction or purpose for a long time. Random things just seem to happen inexplicably with no apparent end goal. Kafka as an organization doesn't even come to play until about the halfway point of the series, and even after the finale, I'm still uncertain just what Kafka's exact goals are.
I have a feeling the writers were going for the approach wherein there's a mystery and tidbits of information are gradually given to the audience to heighten the anticipation and excitement. However, as I said, the plot of Karneval is actually quite straight-forward when laid bare, so the added convolution and vagueness makes it feel too confusing for its own good. The worst of it is the whole search for Karoku. By the end of the series, he's even made a few appearances but we still have no idea who he is or why he's important.
To make matters worse is the issue of pacing. Karneval is 13 episodes long, which is relatively short when you have a plot involving mysterious organizations, plenty of action, and missing persons and lost identities to be found. This means that, ideally, every episode should count. However, Karenval squanders away good chunks of its time with having the cast go to parades, put on circus shows, or help a boy find a restaurant...or something.
Now, this might all be a little forgivable if the characters were interesting. All right, they look great and, initially, they all seem really cool, but remember how I said "All flash, no substance"? Yeah, that again.
As the story progresses and each character gets their screen time, I came to realize that there was literally nothing original about any of them. Nai is innocent and cute, but ultimately weak and a crybaby. Gareki is the "Jerk with a Heart of Gold", the guy that doesn't like getting close to people but actually cares for them deep down inside. Also, for being a main character, he doesn't actually do a whole lot, something he actually realizes by the end. Tsukumo is sometimes hailed as a strong female character, and yeah, she can fight, but ultimately she's an emotionless, detached girl who isn't all that interesting. Yogi stands in contrast to Tsukumo - he's cheerful and bright, which is a nice breath of fresh air, but later on in the series, his continued exuberance and idealism make him more of a man-child and I found myself wishing we could see a different aspect of him.
There are a number of other characters in the story, but they aren't given as much screen time as the main four and they, too, suffer from the same lack of depth and/or originality. It's really a shame because a number of them have the potential to grow into very interesting characters.
All in all, Karneval was a huge disappointment for me. Obviously, a lot of work and money was poured into this, but it was wasted on a cast of derived characters and a lacking plot.
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