by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 22 of
Karakuri Circus ?
“Heading for 'Harry'” is the kind of Karakuri Circus episode that leaves me with a lot of questions. I'm not even all that bothered by the surface-level nonsense, like the reasoning behind the lead ZONOPHA researcher naming their revolutionary, life-changing, disease-eradicating machine after a random teddy bear called Harry. That's par-for-the-course Karakuri weirdness right there. I'm more bothered by the show's puzzling adaptive changes, which only become more obtuse when you only have vague second-hand knowledge of the source material. There's enough information out there to get the gist of how much plot and character development Karakuri Circus has excised from its source manga, but even when some changes make perfect sense for such a condensed retelling, others leave me scratching my head.
Take this episode's two main plots, for instance. In one of them, Minxia rescues Tom from Gambler Jones, and in the other we get some bonding time with Eiryo and the shirogane-O named George Laroche. Those aren't just brief summaries of the episode's content either; this is literally all that happens for the majority of the episode. Both sequences are perfectly functional time-fillers, but given how much the show's story has suffered from its many cuts and frequent narrative detours, it's surprising that this is the material the producers decided was mission critical. Narumi gets less than a minute of screen-time this week, and Éléonore has little to do beyond confusing the Midnight Circus automatons and wearing the saucy red dress Faceless has put her in. Was it really worth sacrificing so much momentum and opportunity for our main characters' development to focus on the Karakuri C-Team?
In Minxia's case, the answer is a resounding “kind of?” I'll admit that I'd hoped she would get more to do, since she was so unceremoniously dumped into the middle of the Midnight Circus arc without much purpose, and her showdown with Jones is pretty good in concept. Instead of the fight being the usual spectacle of puppets and blades, Gambler Jones is unsurprisingly more interested in wagering Tom's life on games of chance. Through coin-flips and rolls of the roulette wheel, Jones and Mingxia place their bets. If Jones wins, he gets to dress Mingxia up in whatever clothes he likes, which he summons from his infinitely expanding (and very literal) chest of drawers. If Mingxia wins, she gets to punch Jones a single time. To Karakuri Circus' credit, Jones' wager is hardly used to exploit Mingxia for cheap fanservice – outside of one conspicuous butt shot, Jones' game of dress-up is played up for goofy humiliation instead of sexual degradation.
This would have honestly been a great battle if it had played out over a few minutes, maybe five tops. Instead, it lasts for almost half the episode, and the only bit of character development we get for Mingxia is a bizarre flashback where she recalls being told how she has an oddly specific vulnerability when it comes to gambling, and that she shouldn't rely on her luck to succeed. So what does Mingxia do to win the day once and for all? She distracts Jones with a coin toss and kills him with a single punch. I think the point of her not just doing this from the start is to emphasize the growth of her own self-confidence, but it's still ridiculous that such a protracted and needlessly complex fight had such an obvious and anticlimactic solution.
Eiryo's story is less successful, largely because he's long been struggling with being one of the most profoundly uninteresting members in this very bloated cast. His whole conflict is that he's bored with life outside of battle, but he's too cowardly to follow through, and his personality basically boils down to that of a discount Han Solo. He has a charming enough exchange with Laroche where he gets the shirogane-O to try cigarettes, and then he helps rescue some of the lab's kids while Laroche plays the piano in a barely animated musical slideshow. Then Pantalone shows up, Eiyro challenges him to a fight in a bid to reclaim his honor, and that's the episode for you!
The only real thread that's followed satisfyingly this week is the brief setup we get of Éléonore brushing off Les Quatre Pionniers while also setting up the possibility of weaning them off their homicidal tendencies with the power of her uncanny resemblance to Francine. All in all, this part of the story takes up maybe three or four minutes of the episode; the rest just feels like the storytelling equivalent of packing peanuts. Sure, it padded out the package and carried along the part of the episode that was actually important, but now that everything is said and done, it all feels a bit useless.
Karakuri Circus is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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