by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Karakuri Circus ?
The first third of this episode gives us one of the most glaring examples yet of Karakuri Circus stumbling over the amount of material it's had to adapt in only nine weeks. It's a hot mess of mashed-together plotlines and hastily assembled exposition, and while it is technically coherent enough to get us from Point A to Point J, it sure is hard to ignore that we're skipping too many letters in between. The episode begins by revealing that Guy, who's found battered but still breathing just outside Nakamachi Circus, is Shirogane's former teacher, the first person she remembers knowing and the one who brought her to be trained as the so-called "puppet who wields puppets". It isn't a surprising development, but that beat barely has time to settle before Masaru decides to run off on his own to figure out the truth behind Narumi's reappearance, which isn't even addressed again this week because we then switch immediately over to China, where Narumi and Lucille have gone in search of Narumi's old martial arts master, Liang.
This is the roughest section of the episode, where it genuinely feels like the show is scrambling to try and cram in as much exposition and backstory as humanly possible – the woman who guides the two to Liang is unceremoniously dropped into the story, and most of the plot is steamrolled over with clunky narration from Narumi. For one thing, we're suddenly introduced to the fact that not only did Narumi drink the last drop of Aqua Vitae in existence, but it also happened to be infused with the soul of the man who concocted the formula. He was a Chinese puppeteer named Bai Jin who traveled to Prague hundreds of years ago with his brother Bai Yin to master the alchemic arts and discover the secret to creating the most lifelike puppets possible (as you do). As Liang relates the story of Jin and Yin, Narumi realizes that he's remembering the story as if he lived it, on account of having drunk the guy's soul and all.
Thankfully, “Memories” comes more into focus when it focuses on Jin's memories; specifically, we watch as he and his brother grow close to a goodhearted woman named Francine, who's trying to get by on the mean streets of Prague by peddling apples and using what little she earns to care for a gaggle of orphans, feed the poor, and generally be a saintly figure of charity and goodness. Francine also happens to look identical to Shirogane, which works out just fine seeing as Bai Jin bears an eerie resemblance to Narumi. From here on out, it's pretty obvious where the story is going, but I happen to be a sucker for stories about reincarnation romance (you can blame Xenogears for that), so I was more than happy to watch these familiar-looking sweethearts fall in love. Even though they share our heroes' faces, they're incredibly different people – Bai Jin is much more inside his own head than Narumi, at least until he meets Francine, and Francine is a spirited vision of cheer and enthusiasm. Masaru and Shirogane's heartfelt exchange from the beginning of the episode does prime us for this unusual sight, though – our Éléonore could very well have been just as cheery if she hadn't had her entire childhood torn apart by a weird puppet cult.
The episode's ending is yet another victim of the show's awkward pacing, unfortunately. Bai Yin, who up until now has been a supportive and loving brother, is suddenly overtaken by jealousy and rage when Jin grows closer to Francine – by the time Jin proposes to her, he ends up literally being consumed with demonic rage. Not only does it seem like a heel turn just for the sake of a heel turn, but it also caps off the episode without resolving any of the modern-day plotlines. It feels sloppy, which is how I could describe much of “Memories”. We've gotten some interesting insights into the events that led to this crazy clown war, but at the further expense of the story's clarity and focus. It's not bad enough to make me lose faith in Karakuri Circus as a whole, but the wheels on the wagon are wobbling more than ever, and that's not a good sign for the road ahead.
Karakuri Circus is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
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