Karakuri Circus
Episode 15

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 15 of
Karakuri Circus ?

This week's episode of Karakuri Circus is called “Back to the Starting Point”, and it really does feel like the show is trying to step back and renew itself after the ridiculously incoherent weeks we spent chronicling Narumi and Shirogane's Bogus Journey. We have seen neither hide nor hair of young Masaru since he made the inspired choice to run away from the circus and find his home back in episode 9, so it's good to reconnect with the young lad and see how his adventures will tie into this larger saga of puppets, clowns, reincarnated spirits, digital brain transference, and cute little gryphon mascot characters.

Did those last two items in the list seem a little out of left field? I'm sure Masaru feels the same way, and yet here we are reckoning with the terrible truth buried beneath the Karakuri Castle once owned by Sadayoshi Saiga. Yes, it turns out that Masaru isn't just Masaru anymore; his father used advanced brain implant technology to make a copy of his own memories and download it into his poor son's grey matter. This means that the only reason Sadayoshi even took in his illegitimate heir was to prepare a vessel to inhabit once his regular body shuffled off its mortal coil, and any minute now Masaru's entire personality could be overwritten with that of a rich puppet otaku. It might seem like a completely random direction to take the story, but doesn't it seem like an obvious development in hindsight?

I'm kidding, of course – absolutely nothing about this middle portion of Karakuri Circus has been obvious or predictable or even reasonably coherent. I'm still reeling from how, after cramming dozens of chapters of material into just seven episodes, it was revealed that Doll Francine was actually Fake Doll Francine, and Real Doll Francine (who is actually Fake Real Francine) is actually Shirogane the shirogane (real name Éléonore), except she isn't really (though maybe she is?). At the very least, it has been fun to watch the internet dredge up all its old “Kingdom Hearts' story is so dang confusing” jokes in the wake of KH III's launch, because I'm pretty sure Karakuri Circus has managed to cram twice as much beautiful nonsense into about 1 percent of the running time. How's that for efficiency, Tetsuya Nomura?

Ironically, even as it takes the series' story further into the deep waters of WTFery, “Back to the Starting Point” is actually one of the most enjoyable episodes the series has given us in weeks. It's so straightforward and easy to digest relative to what's come before. In the beginning, Masaru visits his old apartment, then he gets a little sad. Afterward, he visits his old puppet castle home/prison, then he gets a bit sadder. Finally, Masaru accomplishes what Eren Yeager still cannot and opens the damn door to his father's spooky basement.

This makes Masaru more confused than anything, on account of his father's “download my brain into my son's younger brain” plan seeming kind of silly and unsuccessful. Yes, the concept is a potentially interesting riff on the show's recurring exploration of reincarnation and identity, but it's also a reveal that hinges on Masaru having a conversation with a phonograph recording of his dead dad that just so happens to have pauses that are perfectly timed to match Masaru's retorts/questions/bouts of stunned silence. It's the kind of patently ridiculous story told seriously that you simply have to accept in order to continue. Masaru does his best to take this in stride, so I will do the same.

Masaru's existential crisis turns to horribly frightened and doubly saddened befuddlement when some assassins from the rival clan of puppeteers come to murder him on behalf of his grandfather. There's a puppet fight, and Masaru meets Gryphon, the appropriately named gryphon whose sole purpose is to brush up Masaru's puppeteering skills and otherwise do all the usual things a little monster friend should. Finally, Masaru gets re-kidnapped and brought to his grandfather, a loving man who's convinced his dead son has used technology to possess the body of his grandson, so he's willing to hire puppet-wielding ninjas to put a stop to the madness once and for all. Grandpa Saiga is also a half-rotted torso floating in a tank for some reason. At this point, I'm not even going to bother asking why. Either Karakuri Circus will devote an entire episode to explaining why Gramps doesn't have a lower half, or we'll all just have to roll with it.

Does this mean that Karakuri Circus is better now? I'm not sure if such paltry words as “better” or “worse” apply much to this show anymore; you could just as well ask if the show is “more puppety” or “less clownified”. Neither of those phrases technically mean anything, and yet one could very well describe this newest episode as being both more puppety and less clownified than its predecessors. I'm still along for the ride, and I'd love to see Masaru's story dovetail back into Narumi and Éléonore's adventures sooner rather than later, but I'm not foolish enough to try and predict where Karakuri Circus is headed next.

Rating: B-

Karakuri Circus is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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