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 DVD release has a 5.1 English Dolby Surround Sound release and a 2.0 Japanese stereo track. There are no issues I noticed with the sound quality in either track, with no problem synching in with the subtitles, but I noticed the 5.1 track didn’t seem to different from the Japanese which was surprisingly noticeable with this release compared to others and unsure why. Considering the standard of Manga releases this was definitely a surprise that I had to raise my settings much higher than expected for the English dub and not need to change them for the Japanese one.
The video quality of Karneval is superb, no problems synching with subtitles and audio, transition scenes with no problems and no bad animation when pausing, it is all perfectly clear. With a show that is as colourful as this one, in the aspect ratio combined with widescreen effect, it works really well as a visual experience with no issues of slowdown as I’ve had with the occasional episode of previous releases.
We have a shot on the top left of Nai and Gareki whilst clips scroll horizontally on the lower area on a diamond pink like background, with the neat touch of when selecting a sub menu it scrolls up, right or left depending on your selection. (Play All, Episode Selection, Set Up, Bonus) No issues with selection from the main menu, sub menu or from the show itself.
Right off the bat we get an episode commentary for the dubbed first episode involving Christopher Bevins (Voice Director, Yogi), Greg Ayres (Gareki) and J. Michael Tatum (Writer, Tsukitachi) –we hear them enjoy the comic scenes, (particularly how the voice of Nai makes Greg laughing on the recording tracks), Chris explains his first meeting on Sean Teague (Nai), how the first scenes showcased how different it was, and how someone with a fear of clowns should NOT watch this series. Greg in particular goes off the track from talking about pets (prairie dogs, wants a capybara), or explaining that one of the characters is NOT Sebastian (Black Butler) despite his looks, demeanor and voice actor – they talk how the show surprisingly makes the first episode exciting whilst getting the characters introduced. A mix of match about the show and themselves which is the standard for most commentaries, but all three of these is usually amusing so it is worth the listen.
It isn’t until right at the end we get another commentary, on episode 13 we get Chris Bevins, Sean Michael Teague (Nai) and Ian Sinclair (Hirato) – this one focuses more on the show itself and how the actors get involved with it, talk about Bevins work in terms of the voice direction, how they work with some of the Japanese jokes, how Sean works in playing with the innocence of Nai and such. Not as ‘fun’ as the first episode one but still interesting.
We have a small behind the scenes section called ‘Karneval Fashion with J. Michael Tatum’ which is basically just an interview with Tatum as he talks about Karneval, how it is character driven, how wants to see cosplay, about the characters themselves, etc. More informative than the commentaries but quite short overall.
Lastly we have the US Trailer and four short Japanese promo videos.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Karneval is yet another series I didn’t know much about, other than it has a sizeable fandom in the shounei-ai community. The good news is after over 12 years of watching anime I have seen a ton of shows with similar stuff and never have been bothered about it. And if this show was strictly a fan service show then I could see the point of it. The problem is tries to add a plot to it, and it is so over the place that it becomes so confusing you wish it was just a shameless ship teasing show – at least then it would be more understandable.
The show starts off with a demon girl (later known as Varuga) pretty much attacking (and all out sexually assaulting) a young boy known as Nai, who is one of our two main leads. The other, a thief named Gareki, targets the mansion he is in and actually saves him from the attack. This chance encounter basically leads to Gareki wants to use Nai to help assist his robberies…though there is no obvious reason why Nai agrees or any skills Gareki saw him as Nai is basically a male damsel in distress. And from this chance encounter, as they try to escape on a train, they are in trouble as more varugas now see them as their prey…only to encounter members of a group called Circus and another group called Kafka. Both groups seem to take an interest in the two boys…again, with no real reasoning for it at this stage, which is the start of confusion as the plot slowly drags through its feet.
This leads to Circus being the main team that Nai and Gareki eventually hook up with, and are looked after by, admittingly one of the few memorable characters in the show Yogi – an over the top guy who cares for the well being of all his new friends, feels upset when Gareki doesn’t call him by his name – yet does hold some deep secrets (and powers) and is easily the best character of the show – along with his partner Tsukumo, a young, seemingly emotionless young woman but also gradually cares for Nai and Gareki in her own way – though the show doesn’t seem to know whether to put her as a badass or as a kidnap victim half the time…
After meeting with Circus and being under their protection, the plot as it is comes when visions of a former friend Nai apparently stayed with named Karoku seems to give Nai images of trying to find him, and seems to want to keep Gareki away from him. Nai is revealed to be part human, part Niji – a.k.a. animal chimera, which is among the things Circus has to fight. So now Circus seems to now lead Nai into areas to try and find Karoku and also discover his lost memories as a Niji. We get a bit of a detour when Gareki meets some old acquaintances, and we learn something about his past so it doesn’t totally derail the story, and when one of his old friends has been taken over by Varuga and is killed by a member of Circus, whilst Gareki contemplates the losses and Nai tries to help him…by taking him out to the circus(festival) as we see why Circus is called circus. Granted, there is a plot for the episode when Tsukumo nearly is drowned when some of their technology has gone rogue, and we get a bit more back-story on some of the characters that are important but literally used in the background (the doctor Akari and the second ship’s captain Hirato)…which leads finally back to Kafka’s involvement when during a snowbound ‘vacation’ Tsukumo is kidnapped but they rescue her (and she saves herself – again, unsure if it was damsel or badass they wanted for her)…
The finale is basically back to finding Karoku for Nai which after a couple of episodes of fighting inside a mansion, trying to look for clues Nai finds him…by managing to open a rainbow gate into the sky through the power of…
…yeah, as you can see this is a really over the place anime. The finale when Nai manages to find Karoku with some deus ex machina combined with the fact the Naroku is an alternate form of him whilst his real self is actually ill and near death (it isn’t until episode 13 when you learn Karoku and Nai were friends with Nai in his chimera self). It does cement Gareki and Nais’ friendship developing (with Cullen like sparkles half the time) with Gareki not seemingly able to leave the guy alone despite being a lone wolf himself, and he gets some amusing moments when he is forced into a costume that Yogi usually has, but really, this anime just has way too many plot holes to even be to be seen as coherent.
First of all, it is barely explained why Nai and Gareki had to pair up in the first place. We don’t learn much at all of Nai’s past in human form albeit bar being attacked by demon women and in fact, the two leads are pretty much non-existent as helpers for the entire anime compared to the more powerful Circus, and sadly seem to be just there as part of fan service with the hugging, blushing, etc. Yogi also adds to that, but at least he adds entertainment value with his over the top ness and the fact he is pretty powerful and he has a bit of a dark past as well, which adds to his appeal as how he is able to be this upbeat sentimental guy. The rival group barely gets a mention until two members kidnap Tsukumo and leads Circus to them with a bare acknowledgment to their female equivalent in Eliska (who again, seems there for decorative purposes as she has no clue of the groups plans…then again, the show doesn’t really explain it well much either…) whilst the end, whilst built to the meeting between Nai and Karoku – whilst admittedly was unique in how it led you, all it felt by the end was the fact Karoku felt like a jilted lover against Gareki as far as being an antagonist. All it was a chance encounter with Gareki robbing the woman that was attacking Nai, decides he can join him, who later joins Circus…then by the end he is training to be a proper member of Circus…it just doesn’t sync well.
The strangest thing is that there is nothing particularly bad about the characters – there is just so little we learn about them and how they are important to the story. Even the leads as mentioned it feels too convenient and there isn’t any specific reason why they joined – they just do. I managed to watch through it – I just didn’t get it. The story was over the place, the characters – whilst entertaining at times – never synched in with each other enough to give important back-story to anybody. Even Nai, our lead – all is the idea he is looking for his former caretaker, was an animal previously…and is utterly useless as a fighter as he is way too innocent, making him more a hindrance than a help in Circus. It is one of those shows that neither protagonists nor antagonists make must interest or sense, and it shows with the rather lukewarm plot.
In short, I was wondering if this would be simply an anime with a mild shounen-ai/yaoi motif for the UK as something different. If it had remained at that, I could have probably at least understand. However by trying to work in a non-sensical and very poorly discovered plot, the show comes up as a really big mess and you don’t really care about the characters because the show didn’t either.
Karneval is a show that just seems to exist… but I’m not sure for what reasons. Is it as a shounei-ai/yaoi style show? Is it an exploration or discovery anime? Is it a search for a former friend? Is it trying to create friendships? I’m not sure, but I think it is all the above – and because it mixes everything really badly, it comes out really badly. The show is colourful and there are some fun moments, but otherwise the characters aren’t interesting, the show goes over the place, and it rushes through everything even though it adds filler in it as well. Not recommended.
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: September 1st, 2014
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.