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.