Karakuri Circus
Episode 5

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 5 of
Karakuri Circus ?

“Circus-Departure” is the exact kind of episode you might expect to follow the fiery finale of the story's first arc – Masaru and Shirogane have (mostly) recovered from the injuries they suffered at the hands of Uncle Zenji, and though they are mourning the loss of Narumi, the pair are pushing forward to try and live a normal life. Masaru is going back to middle school, which also means facing the bullies that used to torment him endlessly. Shirogane has taken it upon herself to start up at the high school next door, even toting along Arlequin in case she needs to provide some anti-bullying backup. She also offers some well-intentioned but misguided advice for Masaru, telling him that the best way to avoid bullies is simply to keep from standing out. For his part, Masaru has grown wise enough to suspect that this may not be the wisest option, no matter how often Shirogane brings up getting teased in circus school.

The boy does his best though. He endures constant ridicule and physical abuse from the class bullies (who all look like hideous diminutive middle-aged men), choosing to emulate his fallen guardian by responding to the pain of the world with an unceasing smile. Masaru's facade of passivity doesn't last long, however – when one of the bullies clocks Masaru straight in the jaw, he reveals both the extent of Masaru's scars and the ferocity still burning beneath his cheery exterior. In the episode's most sobering and effective moment, Masaru literally bares his trauma for his classmates to see, knowing that it's inevitable one way or the other. His body is riddles with cuts, stitches, and bruises, and he makes it clear that the only reason he's able to shrug off the other kids' nastiness is because he's already been the victim of much worse.

Not only is this an excellent example of how deftly Karakuri Circus is able to switch between campy slice-of-life comedy and affecting drama, it also highlights why this episode works so well despite the predictable twist that arrives at the end of the episode. Shirogane and Masaru have gone through a lot of pain and loss in a short amount of time, and Karakuri Circus makes an honest effort to show how difficult it can be to pick up the pieces, even when your adoptive big sister is a master circus acrobat who can wield a deadly semi-magical puppet.

Speaking of Shirogane, she gets some fun material to work with this week. Since the story has slowed down to focus on our heroes as individual characters, we get to see what Shirogane does when left to her own devices as a supposedly “normal” high-schooler, and the results are pretty funny. Masaru has a new protective friend in Orie, which means that Shirogane actually has to participate in class, with the central gag that she's so graceful and skilled that she attracts attention everywhere she goes, even though she believes sticking out is a surefire way to attract trouble. Her exquisite manners and cooking skills earn her plenty of crushes from both the boys and girls in her class, and she inadvertently shows up the class' star athlete by demonstrating her own gravity-defying acrobatic skills. This is another barely-animated episode, but it manages to get by on charm and comic timing – the goofy visual flourish of having Shirogane flip right through a basketball hoop was especially endearing.

The episode also delivers a side-plot involving a group of beleaguered circus performers, though it feels perfunctory, as its only real function is to get Masaru to hook Shirogane up with a new crew of entertainers. The group seems fun though, and I like how the beat still manages to reinforce the central theme of Masaru and Shirogane building their lives back up after the craziness of Karakuri Circus' opening arc. Shirogane is the survivor of childhood abuse at the hands of a bizarre puppet cult (or something like that), and Masaru has suffered every indignity that a young shonen protagonist can be subjected to. So if they want to pursue a career in the local circus, we'll be here to watch every single episode of that silly adventure.

This is Karakuri Circus, though, and “Circus-Departure” makes sure to conclude by reminding us that the “crazy puppet war” half of that equation is far from finished. In the least surprising development possible, it turns out that Narumi isn't dead at all; our precious clown-bro has been fitted with a prosthetic arm and is currently lying unconscious in some mysterious facility. While some may bristle at last week's ending being so quickly undone, I'm not too bothered by this reveal. I never expected one of the show's main characters to get killed off that quick, and Karakuri Circus still took Masaru and Shirogane's experiences in the fallout of Narumi's "death" seriously, which is what matters most for me. Plus, since Narumi is still around, that means that there's still hope for the show to give Masaru the complete circus puppet/clown family unit he so desperately deserves.

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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