Karneval complete series review

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The best way to describe Karneval in one phrase would be: The could-have-been masterpiece that completely lost its way. And it’s a damn shame that it went so wrong. Karneval opens with a chance meeting, perhaps some kind of fate, between rogue pickpocket/cat burglar Gareki and chained hostage, Nai. The two stick together in order to escape the explosive and undeniably creepy setting of the first episode and of course, end up staying together for one reason or another. The rest of the story follows the two on their journey as Nai searches for his mysterious and important friend, Karoku. The two end up wanted criminals being hunted by a military organisation and after finding themselves in a seemingly hopeless situation, the most powerful defense organisation in the country, Circus, swoop to the rescue.

Screenshot from 2013-06-14 15-36-18The rest of the story mainly continues as a clichéd good vs bad battle, but it’s very versatile of course. There were plenty of bright and colourful battles as well as creepy and dark stand-offs. There was a good balance between the childish appearance of the anime and the use of much more sinister themes, including death and a little bit of gore… kind of? However, there were a lot of problems within the series, particularly when it came to the plot and pacing. There was a lack of explanation throughout the story, especially with Circus. They literally came out of nowhere. That was it. A big colourful balloon filled with big colourful characters. There was next to no actual development of their purpose which led to me being unable to see what their importance and value was. They were just an organisation, nothing less, nothing more.

The pacing was also pretty off. It was as though they wasted the first three episodes systematically introducing every character. I was very aware that they were forcing each character out, one after the other. There was no flow or connection and it became very disjointed and awkward to watch. Each minute was like, “Okay, where’s the next one?” and that’s never a good thing. I wanted to be instantly submersed into the plot but that seemed to come into play much later than I would have liked. Especially with the shorter anime, Karneval being just 13 episodes, it’s vital to establish a plot quickly and manage pacing in the most successful way. It’s a difficult set of criteria to hit and it’s a shame that Karneval failed on that point.

Screenshot from 2013-06-14 15-37-04The lack of a solid plot was mainly due to the cast of characters taking the spotlight. There was a lot of pointless interaction and time wasted explaining various characters. Particularly Gareki, whose back story took up almost an entire episode when it really could have been summed up in a matter of minutes, probably even seconds. And it just didn’t add anything to the story. Usually a bit of history allows the audience to feel closer to the character, to make any impacting scenes that bit more important because you feel like you know them. But as I’ve already said, the pacing and entire handling of how the stories are told meant that this idea was not implemented. I felt nothing more or nothing less for Gareki than I had before. He was and continued to be a hot anime anti-hero.

Of course, every bad guy needs a little counter action. That’s where Nai’s existence comes in. Representing the light and dark (literally, white hair vs black hair) and their contrasting ideals and morals, Gareki and Nai displayed a typical suggestive shounen-ai duo. For those unaware, shounen-ai is basically boy love, however on a very small and fluffy scale, which is what you get with Gareki and Nai. Although there is no kissing, no confessions, no ‘real’ signs of a relationship or love, it’s undeniable that there is a hint there with some very light fanservice. I mean, the whole cast is full of attractive and eccentric male characters, all of which interact with each other in very playful ways. But then… perhaps that’s just my typical girl views coming out. I’m not exactly complaining because I did genuinely enjoy watching the characters. Nai was absolutely adorable from beginning to end, well balanced out by Gareki’s stern and mature attitude, all topped off with numerous injections of fun and comedic characters like Yogi.

screenshot_4_27725Hand in hand with my love for the characters is my love of the art. I’ve always been a fan of circus themes and all things colourful and over the top, which best describes the style of this anime. It’s appealing to the eye and keeps you engaged in the sense that there is a lot going on. There’s a lot to look at with many ‘pretty’ things that often make it hard to look away. There’s also a great deal of attention to detail when it comes to the design and presentation of the characters. Not only in their glittering eyes (note: everything in this anime glitters and sparkles) and perfectly layered hair, but in their outfits. It’s so common to see anime characters stuck in the exact same clothes episode after episode, often making you wonder if they ever actually change or if they just own a million copies of the same attire. So the continuous change of interesting and creative outfits was definitely a little plus that I felt really did show the care that the production team had taken.

Karneval was both a little disappointing and terribly fun. When looking at a typical complete package of an engaging plot, likeable characters and decent pacing, Karneval only showed off in the aspects that it was aiming to put forward and really shone when it came to character interaction and design. Despite lacking a solid and engaging plot, it’s almost easy to push that aside in favour of just enjoying the personalities put in front of you from beginning to end. Either way it’s definitely not worth passing up on, especially if you’re happy to spend a little time watching a short, fluffy and definitely unique anime.

Karneval the Complete Series Collection is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Manga Entertainment on 8 September.

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