by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 16 of
Karakuri Circus ?
“Encounter” plays as a kind of mirror story to episode 9, “Memories”, except with Masaru being the primary vessel used to frame the story's central flashback. Like “Memories”, this story suffers from some awkward editing and the decision to simply ignore the frame story, presumably because we're going to pick back up with the flashback next week. Thankfully, “Encounters” also preserves a lot of what “Memories” got right. It's a simple story that focuses on easily digested emotions over lore-dumps and plot twists. In its best moments, “Encounter” even manages to make some of those clunky story beats from previous weeks play better in retrospect.
Masaru's grandfather Shoji may have been reduced to a mutilated cyborg floating in a tank, but that doesn't mean he's not determined to make the boy he believes to be Sadoyashi Saiga pay for his crimes. It isn't exactly clear what those crimes are yet, but they presumably tie into how Sadoyashi has been “downloading” his consciousness into innocent victims' bodies for years. As far as we know, Masaru really is still Masaru, but Shoji doesn't buy it, so he forces Masaru to drink his memory-infused blood in order to understand the depths of Sadoyashi's crimes. We also don't actually get to see any of those crimes this week, but the extended flashback to Shoji's halcyon days does fill in some holes in Karakuri Circus' increasingly patchy narrative, giving us a decently cute love story along the way.
The first thing of note is that Shoji's childhood goes back farther than we might have guessed – he came of age in the feudal era of Japan, where everyone wore their hair in top-knots and samurai walked the streets. In fact, Shoji's career as a healer began when he became an apprentice to none other than good ole Bai Yin. Yin hasn't yet made it back to France to cure the ZONOPHA victims and dissolve his body into Aqua Vitae; instead, he's working as a simple doctor. Not only does little Shoji end up helping Yin make the Arlequin puppet, he's also the one who reveals that the Japanese reading of Bai Yin's is “shirogane”.
Flash forward to Shoji as an adult, where a visit to the local brothel leads him to meet an impossibly beautiful and well-educated courtesan who isn't Japanese at all; she's a silver-haired French woman named Angelina. Yes, by now Bai Yin's dark will has cursed the shirogane with their immortality and their drive to destroy automatons, but Angelina ended up being cast off by her mother Lucille, who commanded her to abandon the life of a shirogane and seek another way forward. After resigning herself to apathy and solitude, all Angelina has been left with is a suspiciously large suitcase and a single dose of aqua vitae, meant for the man she deems worthy to join her in immortality.
You can probably guess where this is going: Shoji (who bears a striking resemblance to both Bai Yin and Narumi) initially ends up clashing with Angelina (a dead ringer for both Francine and Éléonore), though it's only a matter of minutes before the two find they share an undeniable chemistry. When a fire breaks out in town, Angelina is forced to reveal her immortal nature to save Shoji, but instead of fleeing in terror, Shoji comes to comfort Angelina. He downs the aqua vitae without a second thought, and by the time the credits roll, the two are bonded together forever.
On its own, Angelina and Shoji's relationship about as rushed and simplistic a relationship as any we've gotten in Karakuri Circus, but I'm a sucker for fantasy romances that recur across multiple lifetimes, so I can give this development the benefit of the doubt. I'm not entirely sure how this show's version of reincarnation works, though – it is odd to me that characters who seem like they're supposed to be iterations of the same souls, Bai Yin and Francine, could exist together at the same time. Shoji works for Bai Yin, and he's still alive hundreds of years later when Narumi is out and about. It could just be that I'm the one who's confused, but the character designs are so overtly similar that I can't imagine much alternative interpretation right now.
Still, this is Karakuri Circus we're talking about – I'm sure there's some kind of explanation or twist that will at least attempt to explain all this. Either way, I can't deny that this show still has the power to get its hooks into me, once it clears away all the confusion and frustration that comes from its terrible pacing. There's undeniable power in even the most absurd images that Karakuri Circus produces, like when Angelina literally burns away the burden of her work as a courtesan and stands naked and defiant in the blazing wreckage of the brothel, her silver hair shining in the night. This absolutely straight-faced sincerity is exactly what makes a goofy story like this work for me, and I hope Karakuri Circus will indulge in those instincts more often as we dive deeper into this centuries-spanning saga next week.
Karakuri Circus is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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