What They Say:
Circus is a super-powered security force of entertainers who keep villains off the streets by serving up justice with a side of razzle-dazzle. Despite their best efforts, a sinister organization named Kafka is gaining power throughout the world using grotesque monsters to carry out their plots. When Circus saves a mysterious boy from Kafka’s grasp, the kid gets swept up in the crime-fighting spectacle – but why was Kafka after him in the first place?
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language mix, which gets an upgrade to 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series works the forward soundstage well for its design when it comes to the action with a few nods towards the dialogue at times as well. There’s plenty of movement and directionality through the action that keeps it moving and that translates nicely to the English mix as well, which adds a little more bass to it and a few more throws to the rear channels all around. There’s a good design to the show overall and it has a couple of stronger moments for both mixes but it largely falls under a standard action oriented series approach. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this thirteen episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two Blu-ray discs with nine on the first and four on the second, which is also where all the extras are located. Animated by Manglobe, the series has a lot of strong points to it with color design, detail and fluidity of animation and that largely translates through the transfer and encoding here. The show has a richly detailed world that it inhabits, both in character designs and background designs, and there’s a lot to soak up throughout it whether it’s walking through the streets or going through some of the performance aspects of it. Colors are strong and solid and the detail holds up well without any breakup or other problems to it. There’s nothing to really find significant fault to call out on as a whole as it’s a pretty strong work.
The packaging for this release definitely showcases the colorful style of the series and the busy nature of it as well. The front of the package definitely goes for the circus effect here with most of the main cast spread across it with a lot of vibrant color and detail set against the purple background that helps to give it a touch of weight. The logo is kept small along the bottom, enough so that it can be missed, but the main panel really draws you in to try and isolate all of its elements. The back panel under the sheet actually works better for me as it has both Garecki and Nai in upper body shots with some appealing designs and colors to them which is set against a white background with pink imagery. This lets the character artwork stand out all the more and I especially like that Nai is holding onto a big top piece. Inside the box we get two Blu-ray cases that uses the same art style as the back of the box with more character combinations across it while changing up the color design in the background a bit to mirror the characters themselves. It’s very appealing and filled with great color and detail that lets each main character get their time. There’s more similar artwork on the reverse side as well that’s pretty nice as it also has a small strip along the left to break down the episodes by number and title. No show related inserts are included with this release.
The menu design for this release is pretty solid and definitely wonderfully in theme with the series. While it largely goes with a black background, it does a lot of bright flashes of colors as circus stylings that pop throughout it while the logo fades in and out through the middle. It’s not exactly hypnotic, but it does set the mood right in a way based on some of the elements of it. The navigation strip along the bottom gives us the usual array of selections and it’s done in a big top kind of style that definitely helps as well. Submenus load quickly and it’s easy to navigate and get around in while setup is a breeze too.
The release has a couple of good extras to it and a bit of an unusual one as well. The standards are here with the clean opening and closings and promotional pieces and we also get a solid pair of English language commentary tracks included. English language dub fans definitely make out well with these with FUNimation and the people that participate in them almost always seem like they’re having a good time. In addition to this, we get a kind of odd piece with J. Michael Tatum talking about the fashion of the show, which is good and stands out, with clips from the show interspersed throughout it.
Based on the manga by Toya Mikanagi, Karneval is a thirteen episode series animated by Manglobe that aired in the spring of 2013. The original manga work is still ongoing at this time with twelve volumes out there, so this animated work captures just a part of the work and ends in a kind of inconclusive manner in a way. That has it more like an opening chapter to the larger work, so if you go into it with that mindset it works pretty well. I had watched the series when it first started to be simulcast but I was unable to even write a first episode review because it just made no sense from a narrative perspective and I just couldn’t figure out a way to put it together. That had me curious as to how it would come together as a whole work in marathon form, so I was looking forward to this set from that perspective.
The series revolves primarily around the pair of characters named Gareki and and Nai. The two young men met in the midst of Gareki doing one of his thieving jobs inside a mansion that had him coming across Nai. Gareki is a pretty standard lone wolf kind of character with some solid skills and quick thinking to back it up. The job is one that doesn’t go as well as he’d like of course, and he ends up spiriting Nai out of there at the young man’s request. Nai has a pretty innocent look to him and it comes across all the more with his style of speech and mannerisms. It’s easy to see Gareki taking on a bit of an older brother feeling to it, but it gets complicated as the series goes on and we learn that Nai isn’t really human, but a human-form version of a cute little white rabbit-like creature instead. That paints the innocence side all the more and in the end makes Gareki even more protective since Nai has a bit of a naive feeling about him.
What the two do once together is something that could be interesting in and of itself, but they end up being drawn into a larger battle that’s going on when the Circus takes an interest in them. This organization is a secretive governmental group that uses an array of magical/superpowers that lets them stay hidden while in plain sight as they deal with the worst of the worst of criminals out there in the world. They do this under the cover of working for the circus itself, which travels around the land in a pair of airships that takes them to all sorts of locales where they set up shop, entertain children and provide a good time. There’s an interesting enough crew that’s established here, though not with any depth, and also the fun of the little human-form mechanical rabbits that do a lot of the grunt work while also entertaining in just about any scene that they’re in.
Circus provides an interesting refuge for Gareki and Nai as there’s a lot of curiosity about what Nai is, but also the fact that he’s seemingly on a personal mission to find a man named Karoku. This ties into their own ongoing mission to figure out what’s going on with the creation of a creatures/people called Varugas, which are seemingly the next stage of evolution for the species that can’t be understood by your present day types. With drugs being introduced in places to help push these Varugas into creation, a group like Circus can use their travel ability and connections to get into all sorts of places and figure out what’s really going on. There’s some good big scale stuff going on here and we see Karoku and his group operating from the other side throughout it, though it’s only towards the end do things really come to a head and hit in a fairly predictable way. The trappings are all solid and it has a great design to it..
… but it just doesn’t come together well because of the execution. The opening episode again left me confounded as it was trying to introduce so much, and to do it with a great deal of style. But that makes it a lot to take in and with it working its own logic and especially style because of the theatricality of Circus, it comes across as a whole lot more style than substance. Particularly since a lot of the characters within Circus never feel like they get fleshed out enough, try as they might from time to time with one or two of them, and even Gareki and Nai feel underserved. Nai more so though because Gareki actually gets a few episodes very early on here to explore his origins and previously unknown connection to Circus. With a death in the “family” that he was with that happened after he left, going back and discovering what’s going on puts him on the outside but it also reveals the pain he inflicted. It’s a decent bit of foundation material for him that he has to deal with, but it runs for too long and with it being dealt with in the present, it comes across as simply too convenient.
The show works a few action events after that as we see both Gareki and Nai spending time on one of the Circus Airships and seeing some of the competitive nature with how those on the other airship are, but it’s a lot of characters brought into play on top of a world that’s normal but not which in turn ends up leaving you feeling disconnected from it all. There’s a lot of little threads worming through this, especially with the leaders within it, but it feels like it’s working towards the bigger storyline material from the manga that won’t factor into events here. Which isn’t an unsurprising thing to do, but it hampers this series from really feeling cohesive or that this opening storyline for it is engaging enough to watch on its own, particularly with its hugely anticlimactic ending that left me just wondering if we really had an ending.
While the story didn’t draw me in much nor did the characters, there’s a lot to love with the visual design of it. The character designs are very male heavy as we get only one or two female characters of note and even then they’re barely supporting characters. And what we get with the male characters is very strong in the design department, both in looks and costume design. With the rough and tumble side of Gareki and the simple side of Nai, we get something that’s accessible and decent, but it’s the Circus folks that get to have a lot of fun with their designs. All of it ties into some slick animation throughout, which was practically a given from animation studio Manglobe, and it really does making the experience of watching the show a treat because it has such excellent production values.
Karneval offers up a very appealing package on just about all counts with the packaging, the presentation, the animation and the designs. But it falls short a whole lot when it comes to story execution. It’s an interesting idea with the setup of it all and the world, but the way it’s introduced and maintained never felt like it connected well or came together in a way that made sense. Even more so because the characters have so little going for them in their back story or connection in the present. It is largely focused on Gareki and Nai, but even they felt like they were almost secondary characters a lot of the time – and that there were no lead characters. That doesn’t mean that it was an ensemble show but rather that we had no strong connection to what was going on. And that does hamper it as it goes on because you feel less and less connected to it. The show has a lot to offer in a lot of areas, and fans of the show will love the presentation overall and the work on the English language adaptation, but it was a difficult watch for me that simply never came together well.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Actor Commentaries, Textless Songs, U.S. Trailer
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: June 10th, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.