by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 13 of
Karakuri Circus ?
I can't recall the last time I saw an anime introduce a new opening and ending smack dab in the middle of a story arc- usually, such a changeup is reserved for new seasons or the beginnings of new chapters in the saga. Never content to do things the typical way, Karakuri Circus has opted to signal this next phase of the story by picking up exactly where things left off a couple weeks ago, and it doesn't even conclude the Assault on the Midnight Circus Arc. By the time the new ED rolls for this episode, plenty has happened, but given the pacing Karakuri Cirus has been employing lately, it's impossible to say if this leg of the show's story will be done in one week or ten.
Given just how blisteringly fast the show has been going through its material, it's a little shocking how much it slows things down in “Lucille”, with a majority of the runtime being devoted to the titular shirogane's duel with Dottore. Given the amount of death flags that pop up just for having her name in the title, the focus on Lucille is appropriate, and we do get some interesting moments with the character before she ultimately bites the big one. She manages to halt Les Quatre Pionniers by busting out her own Karakuri puppet, which is a replica of her dead daughter who also happens to bear a similar appearance to Francine and Doll Francine, which means it's able to halt the automaton generals in their tracks.
Then Lucille goes on to have a lengthy standoff with Dottore, revealing just how much humanity was stripped from her when she became consumed with the Aqua Vitae. When her daughter was alive, they used her as a vessel to preserve what remained of the original Soft Stone, which made her perfect bait for the automatons. This is an idea Karakuri Circus has repeatedly revisited, the dichotomies of humanity and duty that war within the shiroganes, and Lucille seems like the perfect subject to highlight those ideas. Sadly, there isn't a lot of time for the moment to breathe, because once things do get going, they get going fast, and once again there's so much exposition and rushed story beats that they're hard to keep track of.
For one, the Automaton literally cannot exist if they defy their raison d'être, so while Dottore is able to break free from Lucille's control to kill her, he then immediately melts. This seems like a fatal design flaw, and at the very least it's a cheap thing to bring up so randomly, right as the information becomes relevant. Mingxia is apparently incredibly broken up about Lucille's death, even though we'd only seen them have a couple scenes together. I'm going to go ahead and assume there's more to that relationship in the manga.
Later, Tor reveals that he has a secret bomb implanted in his body, which he uses to explode himself and a bunch of robot clowns after he bequeaths Narumi his Karakuri puppet. Rest in pieces Tor, we hardly knew ye. Also, it turns out the name of the other shirogane-O that got upgraded to hero status last week is Timbavati – I'm still not sure if he was ever properly introduced in the script; I had to check Wikipedia. Also, Timbavati dies too, so RIP we hardly knew ye, et cetera.
When Timbavati dies killing Columbine, we learn that shirogane-O blood is apparently corrosive poison to the automata. While I definitely appreciate the gruesomely surreal imagery of Columbine melting from the inside out, this raises a number of questions about the logistics of the shirogane-O's approach to fighting the automatons. At the very least, Professor Steven Rockenfield still lives, though the forecast isn't looking good for him, judging by how all the other side characters we've met recently have died agonizing deaths,.
Meanwhile, poor Narumi spends most of the episode just slowly dying in the corner; he even has a near-death vision where he meets up with Lucille before she makes her way off into whatever puppet-filled paradise awaits her. It's a sweet enough scene, but it would have had much more impact if we'd truly gotten to know Lucille as a character, instead of having her most significant scenes reserved for infodump flashbacks. Instead, Lucille is killed immediately after getting maybe her second moment of character development ever, Narumi is sidelined for the entirety of the episode, and a bunch of characters we don't care about also die, after killing a bunch of villains who barely lasted more than two episodes themselves. Narumi is once again lying on an operating table by the time the credits roll, while Doll Francine presumably glares at them from a distance the whole time.
Will our heroes defeat Doll Francine for real next week? I'm honestly struggling to care much either way at this point. Karakuri Circus needs to be graded on a curve for as long as the story continues to derail like this. The anime's awful pacing is actively undermining every moment of character development and spectacle it presents us with. The only thing that makes this episode better than the last two was at least being coherent in its failure. I understand what's happening in Karakuri Circus now; I'm just liking it less and less as the series goes on.
Karakuri Circus is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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