by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Karakuri Circus ?
Karakuri Circus picks up the Yin/Jin/Francine flashback right where last week's chapter left off, which makes the abrupt ending of that episode a bit easier to swallow, though the love triangle goes in some rather unexpected directions. After Jin overheard Francine and Yin's proposal in the church (I confused their names in the last review), it turns out that Jin ended up kidnapping Francine and holding her hostage for nine years. By the time Yin catches up with his completely deranged sibling, Francine has fallen ill, and because the local villagers are so fearful of spreading disease, she's been shackled to a wall in a small shack for who knows how long.
Karakuri Circus' brand of melodrama has been one of its chief appeals for me, but Yin's near instantaneous heel-turn from “I love puppet shows and being a good brother” to “I'm going to hold my brother's fiancé hostage as a sex slave for a decade” is too much for even me to go along with. I'm enough of a sap to be moved by Yin and Francine's brief but emotional reunion, but I couldn't help but balk at how the episode just brushes off Jin's irredeemably horrible actions. Sure, the remainder of the episode treats him like a cackling pathetic villain, and it's clear that he's not supposed to be seen as a good guy, but when Francine's prison is set ablaze, her death is given a romantic tinge that I'm not entirely comfortable with. When Narumi's sensei dies at the tail end of the episode, his departing lines are tied back to Francine's unheard final words, where he says that he's lived a full life and can die without regrets.
Now, the sensei I get - he's a super old martial arts master living in the mountains of China, and he goes out by using explosives on an evil automaton clown, which is how any reasonable man would hope to die. But Francine was kidnapped and raped for a decade, and then died from a combination of The Plague and a terrible fire.. It goes without saying that this is about as far from a “full life” as one can imagine. Having Francine go out with a smile is an example of the kind of cheap exploitation that too many love interests are put through across too many stories.
Thankfully, the show goes back to being the fun kind of ridiculous in the episode's second half, which reveals how this absurd love triangle leads directly into the origins of the automatons, the puppets, and ZONOPHA syndrome. In his old age, Jin devoted his mastery of alchemy and puppetry to imbue a Francine-lookalike automaton with life, via the Aqua Vitae that he and Yin happened to invent at the same time. Automaton-Francine is without human emotion, but Jin employs all of his usual alchemist/puppeteer tricks to coax a smile out of his lady friend: He builds a cavalcade of evil-looking clown robots; he inflicts the local villagers with ZONOPHA Syndrome; he has his Midnight Circus of clown-bots juggle the severed heads of diseased villagers while they dance atop piles of corpses. You know, all the things a gentleman does.
It's when the surviving villagers are writhing in the unending pain of ZONOPHA syndrome that Yin makes his return, using his own Aqua Vitae to heal the afflicted and offer vengeance to those who would seek it. Lucille (who is hundreds of years old) is chief among them, though she discovers the dark truth when she drinks the water from the well where Yin dissolved both his Aqua Vitae and his own corpse. The water gave her all of Yin's knowledge and skills, as well as an incredible lifespan, but Yin's hatred and thirst for revenge against all automatons consumed her forevermore, and such is the fate of anyone who consumes the Aqua Vita, which presumably includes Narumi.
This is the kind of kooky and clownish world-building that I can get behind. I genuinely appreciate how zany-yet-deadly-serious everything has been, and I'm eager to see this centuries-long conflict continue to play out in the present day story. The show's pacing is still completely gonzo, and some of the story's developments, like Francine's unfortunate demise, would probably have benefited from not getting rushed through so quickly. I'm no longer sure if or when this will ever let up, but at least the fun and feverish spirit of Karakuri Circus's story shines through, in spite of this adaptation's many quirks.
Karakuri Circus is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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