OP: 「月虹」(Gekkou) by BUMP OF CHICKEN
“The Curtain Rises”
Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen. Puppetry is now in the vogue! Following the start of Thunderbolt Fantasy’s second season, a newcomer arrives to do battle for the crown of ‘Best Japanese Puppet Show 2018’. So, how does Karakuri Circus fare? Let’s raise the curtains, and find out!
Masaru Saiga (Ueda Chihiro) is the son of a recently deceased business mogul who died in a suspicious car crash. Masaru remembers the ominous warning given by his grandfather – that if anything ever happened to Saiga Senior, he would need to run away with a mysterious suitcase and search for a person called Shirogane at the nearest circus. After following these instructions, he is chased by puppets set on kidnapping him, but he makes two fateful encounters that would forever change the course of his destiny. To begin with, he accidentally bumps into Narumi Katou (Koyama Rikiya), a martial arts practitioner suffering from a deadly disease. Then later on, when all hope seemed lost, Shirogane (Hayashibara Megumi) comes to his rescue. She turns out to be a young French girl who has served the Saiga family for most of her life, with the ability to utilise puppets for combat. Aloof yet fiercely loyal to Masaru, she calls upon the legendary Harlequin, a Saiga keep-sake that was stored away in the mysterious suitcase. As the episode ends on a cliffhanger with yet another attempt at kidnapping the Saiga heir, both Narumi and Shirogane look to protect Masaru, putting him in a pretty good spot in terms of defying his would-be kidnappers.
For those who aren’t familiar with Fujita Kazuhiro (the mangaka who wrote Karakuri Circus), everything we’ve seen so far is very much in his style. The art retains the quirky and quaint charms of a bygone era, in the vein of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventures, which happens to translate rather gracefully into modern visuals. I can understand why people might have hang-ups about this odd style, but hey it could be much worse. At least it doesn’t look like Berserk or Souten no Ken ReGenesis. Incidentally, Studio Voln have remained faithful to the source material, adding some subtle touches of modernisation here and there without detracting from the fundamental essence. This doesn’t particularly surprise me, considering that Fujita himself is involved in writing the screenplay. Seeing how it’d be a fool’s errand to adapt 43 volumes into 36 episodes, it’s extremely useful that Fujita is on board. He’ll likely be able to help streamline what he wanted to originally wanted to convey through the manga, maximising the authenticity of Karakuri’s adaptation within a limited episode count. I have a pretty good idea of what they’ll remove, which takes up a huge chunk of the overall story while failing to add anything of significance. So rest assured, 36 episodes might very well be enough to adequately cover the substantive material of Karakuri Circus.
Though the narrative development has been unpredictable and exciting with generous slices of action, indicative of fantastic pacing, any person could find fault with the clumsy storytelling. However, in defence of Karakuri Circus, the awkward way that it goes about business is a hallmark of its time. Many shounen pieces from this era progressed with straightforwards aplomb, doing away with nuance for the sake of hooking in a fanbase, because popularity directly correlates with an increased chance of serialisation. As such, the story forgoes a linear progression, starting off in the middle of Masaru’s search for Shirogane and opts into mid-episode flashbacks to provide necessary context. Hence the progression isn’t particularly smooth, but the story makes just enough sense that a person is left with many questions that you’d want to find the answers to. So far, I haven’t a qualm about our main cast of characters, especially their entertaining interactions and natural chemistry with one another. That said, I look forwards to seeing more of the villains pulling strings behind Masaru’s attempted kidnapping, specifically how our protagonists will deal with them. And finally, what exactly is this circus of horror that’s being alluded to?
Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. To conclude, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Karakuri Circus to any fan of old-school shounens, those seeking out hot-blooded action, as well as critics who want to see a refreshing deviation from the anime industry’s modern cliches. In fact, it may just about scratch a mystery itch too, if you’re into that kind of stuff! An excellent premiere if I may say so myself, though unfortunately, I highly doubt that I’d be able to find the time to cover this series any further. Thanks for reading my post, and see you next time someplace else!
ED: 「マリオネット」 (Marionette) by Lozareena