by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Karakuri Circus ?
Though I've been enjoying the depth and emotion the Shoji/Angelina flashback arc has added to Karakuri Circus' narrative, I've been frustrated with how long it's taken the show to tie that story into the ostensibly more prescient matter of Masaru's brain being possessed by the digital backup of his psychopathic father's personality. Finally, “The Truth Behind the Shadow” connects these two threads across the past and the future, and the results are certainly something. This is one of those instances where I think it will be most helpful to just reorganize and recap the plot in roughly chronological order, because Karakuri Circus' insistence on jumbling things across different perspectives, shifting back and forth from Masaru's story to the flashback stuff, only makes things that much harder to follow.
So, just after the big automaton ambush that dispatched both Angelina and Doll Francine, Shoji decides that the only way for Éléonore to be safe is to disconnect her entirely from her origins as a shirogane and watch over her from a distance as an orphan. Then, when it turns out that Doll Francine's memories have been infused into Éléonore's own, Guy and Shoji decide that a normal life will never be possible for her, and send her off to be trained as a proper shirogane with Lucille and the others. Years later, Shoji returns to recruit Éléonore as a shirogane, in an attempt to rekindle the relationship they've been denied for almost forty years. Something is wrong though, because Éléonore's personality has been twisted into the cold and emotionally stunted version of the woman we met as Capital-S Shirogane back in episode one, and she claims that Shoji is the one who made her this way.
This is where things get messy, because after thinking it through, Guy and Shoji determine that the only person who could use his knowledge of both the shirogane and Shoji himself to commit such an impersonation is none other than Sadayoshi Saiga, aka Dean Maistre. As of this episode, Sadayoshi has been given only a couple minutes of actual screen-time, at least if you don't count all of the time spent with his audio recordings a few weeks ago, and the biggest sin “The Truth Behind the Shadow” commits is asking its audience to just accept Sadayoshi as a manipulative, wicked, and unbelievably cruel villain.
I don't use “accept” here to imply that we shouldn't believe Sadayoshi would do the things he does in this episode. It's just such a jarring way to properly introduce the man that I can only assume will be the real main antagonist of the series. So much of Karakuri Circus has been about taking characters that are essentially hyper-emotional archetypes and at least making an effort to portray them as nuanced. Just look at how much Narumi, Masaru, and Shirogane have grown since episode one, or even how Doll Francine and Guy became surprisingly likable supporting characters in their own right. Sadayoshi, though? He's just an asshole. That's literally all there is to his character so far. He was infatuated with Angelina, got violently upset when she married Shoji, and outright dismissed her as a person entirely when she got pregnant. Ever since then, he made it his life's mission to:
1. Figure out a way to become immortal, just for the hell of it.
2. Use his ridiculous amount of foresight to brainwash Shoji and Angelina's daughter into being his perfectly obedient and infinitely loyal guardian, as an act of petty revenge against the both of them.
Shoji took care of Step One with the “use traumatized son as a vessel for the brain downloading experiment” bit, though we still aren't even sure how successful that was, since no amount of recollecting the past seems to be replacing Masaru's personality with Sadayoshi's. Step Two was much more of a long-con; Sadayoshi had to impersonate Shoji, break Éléonore's will and personality, implant in both Shoji and Éléonore the idea that she and Masaru ought to be inseparable should anything happen to Masaru, and so on. It's a weird and convoluted plan, and with the show front-loading all the exposition while jettisoning all of Sadayoshi's character development, it feels like the cheap and hackneyed scheme of a Saturday morning cartoon villain.
Masaru and Éléonore are back together in the present day at least, and it feels like this long detour into Karakuri history is finally about to close. I'm genuinely not a fan of Sadayoshi, either as a character in his own right or as an antagonist for our heroes, but this is what we've got to work with for now. Hopefully he will become a more imposing force in the future, and at the very least we'll have two-thirds of our core trio back to do something about it.
Karakuri Circus is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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