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Anime review: ‘Karneval’

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On June 10, 2014 anime publisher FUNimation Entertainment released the “Karneval” complete series in standard and limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo packs, and they provided us with the opportunity to check out this intriguing action/fantasy/comedy series based on the manga by Toya Mikanagi.

Karneval” follows the journey of two complete opposites, a naive young boy named Nai, who is searching for a man from his past named Karoku, and Gareki, a cynical cat burglar. The two meet one another, when Gareki breaks into the mansion of a wealthy woman, who has imprisoned Nai. After striking a deal, Gareki believes Nai to be an easy mark to make some money off of, Gareki agrees to help Nai escape, in exchange for Nai’s bracelet, the only thing Nai has of Karokus and as it turns out, a bracelet worn by members of the government’s defense force, called Circus.

The escape doesn’t quite goes as planned though, as Gareki and Nai soon discover that Nai’s captors are members of Kafka, an organization responsible for illegal genetic research and the main target of Circus. This realization sends Gareki and Nai into the hidden world of Circus’ powerful operatives and the Varuga, dangerous beings that seem to be both human and animal, created by Kafka.

Gareki and Nai don’t find much safety after escaping the mansion, as well as a train that was hijacked and rigged with explosives, but they eventually come under the protection of Circus, specifically, Circus’ airship 2, consisting of the ship’s captain, Hirato, the overly dramatic and cheerful Yogi, and the quiet and loyal Tsukumo. Circus agrees to help Nai find Karoku, especially once they discover that Karoku may be responsible for some medical research tied to Nai. (I don’t want to give any more of the story away than that.)

Nai doesn’t really develop much throughout the series, and although he is one of the main characters, it doesn’t really feel that way since he comes off more like a tag along, or even a mascot. He does however help with Gareki’s development, which was probably the most drastic and fun to watch, out of the group.

Gareki starts out as someone looking to take advantage of a situation, only looking out for himself, not the most likable guy. As the series progresses, he begins to understand how weak he is compared to his Circus companions and he starts to want to be a part of the group and remain by Nai side, not just as someone to be protected or a third wheel.

The story of “Karneval” was entertaining, but it did feel like a lot was left out of the series. There were many lingering questions and the series got a little sidetracked midway, before it jumps right back into the thick of the Circus/Kafka conflict. Also, after a confrontation Circus puts on a show for the general public, as a way of making amends for the chaos that ensues, so I was expecting to see a little more in the way of performances.

The anime is produced by the anime studio Manglobe, if you are familiar with some of their other works, like “Deadman Wonderland” and “The World God Only Knows”, then you will know that the animation for “Karneval” is smooth and very well-drawn. The action sequences are fast-paced and the character designs are unique and very colorful. This review is based on the DVD version of the series, so the picture quality of the Blu-ray version may be slightly improved in quality.

As far as the audio goes, the Japanese voices were my personal choice, it just felt like some of the English cast didn’t match up with their characters as well as the Japanese cast did, but the English dub isn’t bad. The English subtitles were clear, easy to read and translation had good overall flow.

Included with “Karneval”, as on-disc extras are promotional videos, trailers for other FUNimation titles, the textless opening and closing as well as commentary for episodes 1 and 13. Additionally, there is a bonus video called “Karneval Fashion with J. Michael Tatum”, in which Tatum discusses the unique styles of each of the series’ characters and urges fans to be sure to share their “Karneval” inspired cosplay.

“Karneval” is one of the better looking anime series that I’ve watched recently and the series’ story has a lot of potential. The flow of the story just doesn’t quite match the quality of the animation though, it felt like there were so many pieces of the story missing that just too many questions lingered at the end for me to really enjoy the series like I would have liked.

It was also a bit strange to see both main characters unable to hold their own in a fight, being vulnerable is understandable for some lead characters, but for both to have to be carried by their companions just hurt the viewing experience for me. Gareki’s development was good though and kept things interesting, especially his backstory, while Yogi provided plenty of comedic relief throughout.

If you’re looking for an anime series filled with great looking guys and vulnerable lead characters then “Karneval” is right up your alley. You may also enjoy “Karneval” if you are a fan of series like “Zakuro” and “Black Butler” (“Karneval” isn’t as dark).

Score
3.5 out of 5

Karneval

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Runtime: 325 minutes
Number of Episodes: 13
Number of Discs: 2 DVDs (Also on Blu-ray)
Languages: English, Japanese with English subtitles
Age Rating: TV-14
Release Date: June 10, 2014

(A review copy of “Karneval” on DVD was provided by FUNimation Entertainment.)

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