by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Karakuri Circus ?
Maybe it's just a case of anime stockholm syndrome, but I think I'm starting to attune myself to Karakuri Circus' weird storytelling rhythms. This episode is such a messy structural hodgepodge that I ought to be throwing my hands up in frustration, but I found myself invested in most of what the show was doing this week. The story is as all-over-the-place as it's ever been, but I'm growing more used to its narrative detours, cul-de-sacs, and loop-de-loops, enough to forgive this episode's pacing issues and just enjoy the absurd melodrama.
In true Karakuri Circus fashion, the Angelina/Shoji story gets interrupted for a long stretch of time, so Guy can show up to Grandpa Saiga's pad to provide his own extended flashback, where he details his tragic childhood, which saw him abandoned by his mother to suffer ZONOPHA syndrome alone, with only a bag of seemingly infinite candy to keep him company. Within the span of a few minutes, we then see Guy undergo an entire season's worth of character development. He's recruited to the shiroganes by Lucille, and then he's tasked with finding Angelina and making her unborn child the newest vessel for the soft stone. He first approaches his mission with sadistic glee, going so far as to take on the pregnant Angelina in a puppet duel and relishing every drop of blood he draws from the mother who reminds him of the woman who left him to die so long ago. Angelina manages to convince Guy that it's a dick move to potentially orphan her baby when growing up without a mother worked out so swimmingly for him, so Guy then turns over a new leaf and becomes the reluctantly reformed hero that most anime take at least several episodes to develop.
What's ironic about this side-step into Guy's backstory is that it doesn't actually address the burning issue at the heart of this flashback's story, namely the origin of Sadayoshi Saiga and his presence in Masaru's brain. We get a brief introduction to the man who would be Saiga, when a shirogane named Dean arrives in Shoji and Angelina's lives and ends up being adopted as Shoji's son. Dean is a happy-go-lucky dude, and we have little knowledge of his personality beyond that. How did he become so close to Shoji and Angelina, and what ended up bringing him down the path of manipulative evil that led him to download his consciousness into the body of his illegitimate pre-teen love child? I have no clue, because the episode doesn't ever get back to Dean – instead, we get another surprise addition to Angelina and Shoji's lives: Doll Francine.
This is an understandably frightening encounter for Shoji, given that she's the leader of an evil robot clown army and looks exactly like his pregnant wife, but Doll Francine has come with the request that Angelina dismantle her body. We also learn that the reason Angelina and Francine look so much alike is because Angelina was Francine's niece – it's possible the show already mentioned this, but the story has covered such an obscene amount of ground since Francine got introduced that it came as news to me. It makes sense overall, though I still don't know how this show's version of reincarnation is supposed to work, or if Angelina is even meant to be a reincarnated soul at all. If anything, I'm starting to think that this show is less the “Robot Clown Version of Cloud Atlas” and more the “Melodramatic Circus Puppet Version of One Hundred Years of Solitude”. If you've never read One Hundred Years of Soltidude, it's essentially this show except instead of puppets and robots, you have an increasingly complex magical allegory for the multitude of South American political and cultural upheavals during the early 20th century. It's all Very Anime.™
Speaking of the neverending cycle of birth and death, the episode ends with the arrival of the one and only “Capital-S Shirogane” Éléonore. Guy uses his medical knowledge to deliver the baby, and the show allocates a remarkably long time to animating the tastefully censored view of Éléonore emerging feet first from Angelina's birth canal. It's all very emotionally earnest, and Doll Francine even gets in on the action. After getting a small character beat where she's amazed at the concept of babies gestating in their mothers' wombs, she ends up being the one who inexplicably knows to spank Eleonore's bottom to get her to cry.
It's all absolutely ridiculous, but I went with the flow and enjoyed it all the same. The added characterization for Doll Francine and Angelina makes some of the material in Narumi's Midnight Circus arc work slightly better in retrospect, and I've come so far that I can't help but be invested in how this story shakes out. I still have no clue what any of this has to do with the immortal villain who's apparently hiding out in Masaru's brain, but I honestly want to find out. Still being this on board for a story that's jumped at least half a dozen sharks since its inception is a testament to the weird power that Karakuri Circus still has to entertain and intrigue me.
Karakuri Circus is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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