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Karenval Complete Collection S.A.V.E. Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

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Rewatchable experience of color and sound

What They Say:
Discover the dark side of the big top in Karneval – a kaleidoscopic visual parade through a twisted fantasy landscape.

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? From the studio that brought you Michiko & Hatchin and Deadman Wonderland comes one demented freak show.

The Review:
Audio:
Blu-rays offer an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1ch 48kHz and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0ch 48kHz.
The DVDs have English Dolby Digital 5.1ch 48kHz 448Kbps and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0ch 48kHz 192Kbps .

Both audio tracks offer an expansive soundstage. The English track seems to be more distinct at the expense of some lower tones. This series operates on atmospheric music and sound effects spatially separated and directional. This is the one downside to the DVD Japanese DD 2.0 track as many of the effects seem muddled. While this would not be as much of an issue for a listener who has not heard the other tracks on a surround unit, it seems to be the biggest difference between the DVD and Blu-ray experiences.
karneval2
Video:
Originally airing in 2013, the Blu-rays have been encoded with AVC codec at 1.78:1. The DVDs have been encoded in MPEG-2 anamorphic. Like many anime based on josei properties, the art offers unique stylistic elements and a rich color palette. Settings range from urban areas that appear to be like older walking cities with narrow, cobblestone streets and multistory buildings looming on either side. City settings often have yellows and browns creating spaces resonating with warmth. Much of the action takes place not in the warmth but in the dark shadows where grays and blues create noir settings. Other scenes take place in fantasy rural landscapes where unnaturally soft and bright blues and greens create space where exotic creatures live.

While there is a noticeable difference in the sharpness of the DVD video compared to the Blu-ray video, most of the color effects still remain present, but the vibrancy is muted. This can be seen in scenes with strong primary colors.

Packaging:
The four disc set comes in a standard size Blu-ray case with two hinged leaves with hubs on each side. One leaf holds the two DVDs that have a red color with the words “Welcome to the Circus.” The Blu-rays have been printed in blue. The reversible cover displays the primary cast on the front cover, Funimation’s branded green S.A.V.E. label on the spine and edges of the front and back. The back cover has the same image of Gareki and Nai as is used on the DVD menu screen. The summary’s tiny white font is printed on a pink and purple harlequin pattern. Five scenes from the series act as a border between the summary and the technical grid and copyright information. The colors maintain the pallette of the show, but the tiny print and busy images make the primary side difficult to use. The alternate side of the cover has an image spread out across both the front and back. There is no title, and the original artwork of Gareki and Nai looking at the viewer as Nai holds a miniature circus tent and lavender birds and flying unicorns along with pink silhouettes of butterflies join other patterns sprawling across the white background. On the back edge a pink bar has white font episode titles written in a vertical orientation. The design is more subdued, and even without a title, it can easily be identified on the shelf.

Menu:
The Blu-rays have a dynamic menu that features a scene of a circus performance from episode 1. A horizontal list allows quick access to Play All, Episodes, Setup, and Extras. The Episodes pop up menu has episodes listed in relatively small white font on a pink background. While it allows the looped performance scene to continue playing, the serif font is not the easiest to read.

Both DVDs have a static background with an image of Gareki and Nai as seen on the back of the main cover. The menu list is a vertical column with Play All, Episodes, Setup and Extras.

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Extras:
The extras are the same on both the DVDs and Blu-rays.
Disc 1:
Episode 1 commentary voice director Christopher Bevins, Greg Ayres, and adaptive writer J. Michael Tatum
Disc 2:
Karneval Fashion with J. Michael Tatum
Episode 13 Commentary Christopher Bevins, Sean Michael Teague, Ian Sinclair
Promotional Videos Japanese
Textless Opening Song: “Henai No Rondo (Rondo of Fixation)”
Textless Closing Song: “Reason”
U.S. Trailer
Trailers

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Karneval appeared first in a josei manga magazine. The story follows two teens, Gareki and Nai, as they discover that the world has a hidden organization attempting to tinker with human evolution by creating hybrid monsters. Even though the world of the series is sci-fi driven, the setup is not overly complex.

karneval1A region somewhere on the planet has unique life forms that exist in an extreme environment that requires extraordinary evolutionary traits for for the fauna’s survival. Competing organizations have exploited this resource to produce what appear to be modified humans. One organization, Kafka, produces hybrid humans who have the potential to affect other humans, passing on their monstrous traits as if through a plague or zombie apocalypse. While that is part of the story, we don’t see this effect in the series. A police organization, Circus, tries to keep Kafka in check. Circus harvests power from the uniquely evolved life, giving them the ability to fly and produce weapons. When Circus has to engage Kafka’s monsters around people, they put on a performance for the community to ease their fears by making the violence seem like part of their traveling act. Even though Circus stays present throughout the series, the characters we follow are neither Circus nor Kafka.

karneval4Our anti-hero Gareki seems to be a thief with an agenda. With dark hair and a distant gaze, he seems more focused on presenting a fashionable presence than being a stealthy burglar. We first meet Gareki as he attempts to steal from a wealthy woman who, for some unexplained reason, has a white-haired boy chained to a bed and has crawled on top of him. Gareki breaks into the room, and when the boy, Nai, asks the thief to help him leave, Gareki agrees if Nai gives him his bracelet. But the woman comes back, and begins to transform into a Varuga, a human whose physiology has been spiked with some funky genetic tinkering. After throwing a few explosives and demolishing a large building, Gareki and his new charge escape into the night.

That sets up the core relationship of the series. Gareki struggles to decide how to proceed with his life now that Nai has interrupted the course that led to his career as a thief. Gareki has a past that haunts him, and as the series progresses, he reaches mental crossroads as he tries to determine if his worldview and purpose in life should remain as they have been or whether he should attempt to work for the greater good. Gareki’s internal monologue becomes the meaningful thread that arcs the episodes, giving the series heart and soul. Over the course of the series, Gareki develops a greater self awareness as he grapples with the negative effect Kafka has had on his life.

Nai becomes the subject of most action. We learn quickly that his origins make him special. As much as the character is driven to find Karoku, a missing man important to Nai, keeping the boy safe while exploring his past drives most of the stories. Nai tends to be naive and mentally underdeveloped, creating a sweet persona the other characters try to protect. In fact, Nai tends to appear defenseless, requiring not only protection from others but their almost parental support.

Circus exists as an anachronism in the industrial world. Their flying ships pulse light as they float overhead, and their entertainment shows offer technological effects with robot rabbits spewing colored sparks from trumpets and performers flying through the air without the need for the trapeze. The juxtaposition offers a strong relevance between a population living an industrial revolution and Circus’ postmodern realm of high tech, genetic modification, and virtual technologies. In other words, it is a fantasy world where present confronts and creates conflict with history.

In Summary:
karneval3Some josei properties exist more for the aesthetics than for the story, but Karneval finds a way to create a world saturated with unique color combinations while allowing characters to develop over the 13 episodes. Don’t go into this expecting a cross between a police procedural and a fantasy adventure show. While these elements exist as small parts of the story, the character development allows for drama and humor to exist. What you get is an intriguing character study in a rich fantasy world. Karneval creates a spectacle that transcends demographics and creates a unique vibe between historical realities and current technologies.

Features:
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1ch and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0ch. English Dolby Digital 5.1ch 0 and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0ch . Commentaries on episodes 1 and 13. English subtitles.

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: July 5th, 2016
MSRP: $29.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: Blu-ray 1080p AVC/ DVD 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: Blu-ray 1.78:1 Widescreen/ DVD 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Review Equipment:
Samsung KU6300 50” 4K UHD TV, Sony BDP-S3500 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, Onkyo TX-SR444 Receiver with NHT SuperOne front channels and NHT SuperZero 2.1 rear channel speakers.

Gregory Vance Smith reviews a wide variety of media for The Fandom Post. He has a Ph.D. in Communication and M.A. in English from the University of South Florida. His published research focuses on media, music, and cultural production. In addition to writing for The Fandom Post, he contributes to PopMatters.

Gregory Smith – who has written posts on The Fandom Post.


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