by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 14 of
Karakuri Circus ?
It's strange to have kept up with every episode of a show's run, only to still feel like I'm completely missing out on key plot points and important pieces of backstory with every passing development. Such is the Karakuri Circus experience. To the credit of “By the Sea, At the Dead of Night”, we do finally get some real progression on the Doll Francine/Midnight Circus arc, though the end results are a mixed bag, and the path to that end is littered with the bodies of characters we couldn't possibly be moved to care about, not to mention a major shift in Narumi and Shirogane's relationship (and I'm just going to call her Éléonore from now on to mitigate any confusion).
First things first: The End of the Midnight Circus. Or rather I should say, “The End?” of the Midnight Circus, because I wouldn't be surprised if next week we discover that there's a whole country made up of nothing but evil clowns and reincarnated French women that have been turned into robots. But for this current incarnation of the Circus, things seem to be truly kaput, and all it took was for 90% of the characters that have been introduced since Narumi became a shirogane to die unceremonious deaths. Professor Steven Rockenfield is the first to go, which is a tragedy that deserves a write-up all its own – he gets a hero's death, which in Karakuri Circus means he turns into crystal and explodes after attaching even more marionette limbs to Narumi.
Fatima also dies, though she at least gets to help Narumi take out the rest of Les Quatre Pionniers. It's a decent enough fight, though it suffers from the same rushed pacing and lack of buildup that has hobbled this entire arc. Either way, Fatima goes poof, the Automatons are defeated, and Narumi finally confronts Doll Francine, only to learn that she's not even the real (fake) Francine they've been hunting all this time. That's right, the ultimate ironic twist of this botched assault on the Midnight Circus is that it was just another decoy – all of the shirogane and shirogane-Os died for nothing, because the true Doll Francine jumped ship years ago, leaving the management of the circus to an almost completely emotionless copy of a copy.
This understandably enrages Narumi, who's now almost unrecognizable from the man we met just fourteen episodes ago. Consumed with hate and a thirst for vengeance, he has become consumed with the same obsessive purpose the other shirogane gave themselves up to. The sadness of this character change is partially the point, but I can't help but feel cheated, seeing as we barely got to know the “real” Narumi in the first place. The Midnight Circus arc was so rushed that Narumi's new persona somehow still feels undercooked, even though this version of the character has gotten twice as much screen time and the lion's share of the story's focus.
At the end of the episode, we finally pick things back up with Éléonore, who is still fretting over the missing Masaru. I have no clue how long it's actually been since Masaru disappeared off to who-knows-where, but whatever – at this point, I'm just happy to see even one of the show's main characters again. Éléonore discovers that Narumi has returned from his misadventures in the Sahara, though it's a less-than-stellar reunion. Narumi not only doesn't remember Éléonore (that pesky amnesia, am I right?), but a clunky flashback reveals that Narumi and Minxia met a former shirogane who has been using nanomachine cameras placed in all the other shirogane to observe the Midnight Circus fracas from afar, and it was from this man that Narumi learned that the real Doll Francine is none other than Éléonore herself! Cue the dramatic music.
Nobody seems more surprised at this news than Éléonore, because she's not so much the real Doll Francine as a kind of alchemic reincarnation of her, which means she may or may not be human, which the show has been pretty obviously telegraphing since it began. There's potential in this development, as silly and complicated as it might be, and I could actually get behind Narumi being an antagonist to Masaru and Éléonore if it's handled correctly. But I do have to note how much I hate that Éléonore was forced into the stupid cliché of telling Narumi that she's perfectly happy being murdered, so long as it's by the man she loves.
So now we have a Narumi who may or may not remember his past and an Éléonore who may or may not be the identical reincarnated soul of a simulacrum who was built in the image of a dead woman. I can't say that this was an ideal end to the Midnight Circus arc for anyone involved, but at least it's an ending of some sort. Now that Karakuri Circus has an opportunity to start this next arc off fresh, I hope the story can regain some semblance of structure and direction again. At the very least, I'd like to know what's going on with Masaru. The poor kid has been off on his own for almost a dozen episodes now. Hell, by now it wouldn't surprise me if he's also been turned into a shirogane.
Karakuri Circus is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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