Review for Karneval Complete Series Collection
I went to the circus once in my life, just once. I was about five years old, and my parents wanted me to see the adventure and entertainment that was the Big Top. This was back when animal acts were still allowed, horses, elephants, dogs that walked on their front paws, lion tamers. The only thing I remember about that trip to the circus is that a tiger peed on an old woman in the audience. I also remember asking my dad how they trained it to do that. We never went to the circus again. All of this was before I learned how evil clowns were. You can bet that I wasn’t jumping through hoops of fire when the Karneval check discs showed up for review, an anime about a circus. Maybe I shouldn’t have been worried, as it turns out to not be that kind of circus, although I’m not discounting the chance of any little old women get drenched by tigers marking their territory.
The Circus is in town, and that means that all miscreants should be worried. For in Karneval, the Circus is a representation of the National Security Agency, tasked to keep the peace and combat those forces that would do ill to the nation. When those forces include Varuga, humans mutated into monsters with special powers that can infect others with their blood, turning them into Varuga just like them, you can bet that the Circus has their work cut out for them. It doesn’t hurt that the members of Circus have powers of their own, and after all the destruction and mayhem that ensues in their duties, they even put on a show for the local townsfolk to make up for the disruption.
Things really get complicated when Airship 2 of Circus encounters a petty thief named Gareki, and a mysterious boy named Nai, who Gareki has just rescued from a Varuga. Nai’s a little odd, naive even, and he’s looking for someone named Karoku. The only memento he has of Karoku is a bracelet, an old style Circus ID. Nai isn’t exactly human, and he and Gareki have some very scary people looking for them. It might be that even Circus will be unable to protect them.
13 episodes of Karneval are presented across 2 Blu-rays from Manga Entertainment thus.
1. Rainbow Colored Flower Fuse
2. Fortune Cat
3. Illusory Picnic
4. Evening Swallow
5. Clown’s Prescription
6. Wings of Sunrise
7. Three Knights and “The Mermaid’s Sigh”
8. Silver Box
9. Blue Rose
10. Beastmaster’s Tears
11. Ice Cream Parade
12. The Rainbow Promise
Karneval gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution on these Blu-ray discs. It’s a solid transfer, sourced as usual from Funimation. The image is clear and sharp throughout, detail levels are high, colour reproduction is impressive, and the animation comes across with smoothness. The perennial problem of digital banding does crop up from time to time, but you’ll only really notice it in scene fades. This is certainly no Psycho-Pass.
The animation itself is unimpressive. Karneval looks like a show that blew its budget on the opening episode, the detail and level of production design in Miné’s mansion is stunning. And to be fair, backgrounds do maintain a level of intricacy that does catch the eye. But character designs are generic and forgettable, the costume designs are such that it looks like a wannabe Black Butler, and it isn’t long before the animators are cutting corners. Inner monologue prevails, and even when you’d expect lip flaps, the camera can often point at a character’s shoulder blades as they talk.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR, and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English and 2.0 Stereo Japanese with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. You’ll probably have to turn your volume up in comparison with most other Blu-rays to get the most out of the audio. I went with the Japanese audio and was underwhelmed by a cast of clichéd voices for those generically designed characters. You’ve heard all of these voices before, all of these characters before, in a whole heap of other anime. The thing is that those other anime have robust enough stories and character development to allow you to tune such things out. Not here though. In comparison, what I sampled of the English dub did offer a little more variety in the character portrayals, although it could do little to actually improve the show.
Both discs get an animated menu screen to present their contents.
Disc 1 gets an audio commentary on episode 1 with ADR Director, and voice of Yogi, Christopher Bevins, voice of Gareki, Greg Ayres, and voice of Tsukatachi and Lead Adaptive Writer, J. Michael Tatum. It’s the usual Funimation inanity, compounded with the three talking over each other. 7 minutes was my limit.
Disc 2 offers 3 minutes of promo videos for the show, the textless credits, and the US Trailer.
You’ll also find Karneval Fashion with J.Michael Tatum, lead adaptive writer, who talks about the show and the characters, and a little about cosplay too. This featurette is presented in HD and lasts 15 minutes.
Finally there is the commentary on episode 13 with Christopher Bevins, Sean Michael Teague (Nai), and Ian Sinclair (Hiroto). I made it through four minutes of this one before my patience for verbal diarrhoea expired.
Karneval might just be the most boring anime show I have yet seen. I don’t know for sure, because it kept putting me to sleep. It took me seven hours to watch five hours worth of episodes because I’d keep jerking awake, and have to skip back a few minutes to catch up on what I had missed. That’s no way to watch or appreciate a story, but I don’t think Karneval has much of a story to appreciate to begin with. It’s another one of those shows that scratches the surface of a story, misses out the beginning and starts somewhere in the middle, introduces the characters, sets the scene, then promptly ignores it all only to finally revisit it in the concluding episodes with a total non-ending that insists that you go out and buy the manga or the light novels to see what the story actually is.
That’s nothing new of course, a large proportion of anime released are like that. The trick is to make the show good enough to stand alone and entertain, while also building up the attraction for the story that continues in other media. Karneval falls at that first hurdle. The story itself is pretty mundane, certainly nothing new in anime. You have your good guys versus bad guys set-up. The bad guys are Kafka, an organisation after... well I could never really figure out what they were after, but they were using genetically modified people to further their aims, monsters called Varuga. Against them are Circus, a group of super-powered people who use their abilities to battle these Varuga. Into this mix are thrown two unlikely characters, Nai and Gareki. Gareki’s a rough kid, a thief with a dark past. Nai’s the innocent who’s looking for someone called Karoku, and who serves as the cutesy mascot of the show. Karoku as it turns out is part of Kafka at this point, but he might have been part of Circus prior to this. The rest of it is character overload, with all the various members of Circus, all of the Kafka characters, the various episode specific characters... There’s far too many of them, and none of them are satisfactorily developed. They all come across as the usual stereotypes, without depth or complexity. As such the voice actors in both languages have very little to work with.
The pacing of the show is all over the place, and the writing is woefully bad. When you have characters stopping in mid-flow to extensively inner-monologue about their emotions, then you realise that whoever adapted this show must have just quoted it verbatim from a novel. It all drags each episode down to a snail’s pace, despite whatever fireworks and thrills an action sequence might promise. And far too often it will pause to let one of the characters navel-gaze, instead of actually developing a narrative. Woeful characterisations, an inability to actually tell a story, poor writing, and cut price animation all contributes to the end result that I care nothing for the show, nothing for the story, and certainly nothing for the characters and the issues that they face. The final nail in the coffin is that for a show that as part of its setup declaims that the Circus Organisation, after doing their crime fighting job, put on a show for the local people, we never actually see a show. We never even see a circus tent. No acts, no stunts, just a couple of lacklustre parades. That’s practically false advertising, that is! By the end of the series, I would have settled for a tiger urinating on a pensioner. That would have been better than what this show offers.
Karneval is a waste of time, a waste of disc space, a waste of money. This is one of those ‘I watched this show so you don’t have to’ reviews.