Karakuri Circus
Episodes 1-2

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Karakuri Circus ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Karakuri Circus ?

Last week, Karakuri Circus' premiere episode introduced us to Kazuhiro Fujita's wonderfully weird world of clowns, acrobats, and the the titular mechanical karakuri puppets that are used as weapons by heroes and villains alike. We were also introduced to the evil malfeasants hell-bent killing or kidnapping the young Masaru Saiga, wanting nothing more than to get their hands on his inheritance. Now that the show has gotten its bonkers premise out of the way, the second episode slows down to further develop the aspects of this series that I was most endeared to from the beginning: sappy family dynamics and cornball humor.

There is some puppet action to be had at the top of the episode, but it's less a climactic battle and more a demonstration of Shirogane and Arlequin's fight prowess – the pair make quick work of Eiro Ashihana and Pulncinella, and Narumi easily rescues Masaru from the rest of the knife-wielding goons. It's a well-directed and well-animated scene for what it is, proving what the show is capable of when it flaunts its resources. I particularly like how the dark lighting and muted colors help the CG models of the karakuri puppets blend in well with the 2D animation – given the show's old-school art style, I feel like it's wise to minimize the distraction of obvious computer effects.

The rest of the episode isn't as pretty to look at, and the cinematography is less dynamic too, which makes the off-model characters and occasionally stiff character work all the more noticeable. I don't find myself minding the middling visuals much though, because the vast majority of this episode is devoted to Masaru, Narumi, and Shiro settling into their newfound domestic life, which is delightful. The script especially focuses on Masaru and Narumi's little brother/big brother dynamic, reinforcing Narumi's innate protectiveness and highlighting how his gruff personality acts as the perfect shield for poor little Masaru, whose life is so absurdly tragic that it borders on being parody.

It isn't just that he's been traumatized by the death of his mother and the difficulties of being the product of an illicit affair; Masaru's entire existence seems to be defined by his preternatural awareness of just how terrible his life is. At one point, he tearfully confesses that he only ever wanted his inheritance money to buy his mother a proper grave. Later, after expressing his desire to train himself up from runt to weakling just like Narumi, he point-blank asks his new big-brother to never abandon him like his dead mother did. It's absurd, but the show's lackadaisical tone makes these moments work both as dark comedy and character development, which I suspect will be key to Karakuri Circus' success in the future.

We also get more insight into Narumi's ZONAPHA disease, which is the pseudoscientific nonsense that justifies his literal life-or-death struggle to make others laugh. I honestly love that this mulleted muscle-head has to act like a complete buffoon just to survive, and the joke of him desperately terrifying random strangers in an attempt to elicit a chuckle is the kind of humor that always gets me. This is also where Shirogane comes into play, essentially serving as the straight-woman to Narumi's goofy antics, and the result is the admittedly hilarious sight of a silver-haired beauty in a polka-dot unitard brow-beating a seemingly insane man in the middle of a crowded convenience store. The two make a great pair of mismatched guardians, and the episode makes some more incredibly unsubtle attempts at highlighting Narumi and Shirogane's chemistry. For instance, the “Bewildered Guy walks into Angry Bathing Woman” bit was a little tired, but I liked how the show flipped the script by not indulging in Shirogane's embarrassment – her coworkers see her nude all the time, so she could care less, and Narumi simply apologizes to resolve the joke more-or-less painlessly.

Lame clichés aside, I am 100% on board for an anime that revolves around a Literal Family of Misfit Clowns and their Robotic Clown Weapons/Friends. We end the episode with Masaru getting kidnapped by the aptly named Kidnap Team, who we learn are working against Eiro's Kill Squad. Ironically, it looks like Narumi and Shirogane will need to work with the more morbidly-named cadre of scumbags if they want to get Masaru back, which will undoubtedly make for interesting developments to come. Since Karakuri Circus is looking at a nice and thorough thirty-six episode run, I'm definitely keen on settling in for the long haul.

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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