Karakuri Circus
Episodes 11-12

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 11 of
Karakuri Circus ?

How would you rate episode 12 of
Karakuri Circus ?

When I had to step away from Karakuri Circus for a week, I tried to tell myself that the show couldn't possibly fly off the rails much more than it already has in just two weeks. Then I remembered that this is Karakuri Circus we're talking about, and that kind of naïve sentiment might as well be a direct challenge for the show to go completely bonkers. This week, I think I should just run you through the notes I took on the events of “Fanfare” and “The Faceless Commander”; at this point, it's all I can do just to keep this runaway train of a plot in order for my own sake:

1. In “Fanfare”, we learn that in addition to the shirogane, there is an entire army of “shirogane-Os”, who are former shirogane that have been turned into machines by a commander known only as “Faceless”. Faceless does have a face, but it's all fake and stretchy.

2. One of these shirogane-Os arrives in France to recruit a listless Ashihana, who has retired from his life as a hitman but longs to get back on the battlefield. They spend two episodes flying to the desert, and Ashihana gets ZONOPHA syndrome, though he might be cured because the shirogane-O has Ashihana drink some of his blood. They never actually make it to their destination, which is a shame, because…

3. Team Narumi meets a shirogane dog that is able to track the scent of the Midnight Circus all the way to their base of operations in said desert. This globe-trotting journey happens off-screen, naturally.

4. Once the dozens of shirogane-Os parachute down, it becomes clear that we have already reached the point where Narumi and company are going to just run in headfirst and take on Doll Francine and Les Quatre Pionniers. It's weird when you reach the climax of a story arc, and you honestly have to wonder if the show is playing a prank on its audience. Narumi and capital-S Shirogane haven't been mentioned in weeks. We haven't even seen a proper Karakuri puppet in over a month!

5. Also, Mingxia is a main character now, I guess. She's mad about her dad blowing up, which makes sense, so now she's out to punch some robot clowns. We also meet a new shirogane named Fatima. She also punches the robot clowns. That's about all there is to Fatima.

6. One of the Midnight Circus automatons is wearing a full-sized carousel for a hat, except it's also a blender that mutilates many shirogane-Os. Is this a metaphor for the capricious, violent indifference of a world that allows robot clowns (like the government) to run rampant? Or maybe Kazuhiro Fujita just has a thing for clowns?

7. In “The faceless commander”, the whole assault becomes a series of death games, because the Circus is run by jesters. Narumi meets a shirogane-O named Lina; she has night-vision and drills that come out of her extremities. We also meet two regular shirogane: Tor and Professor Steve Rockenfield. The trio descends a spiral pathway made of skeletons and get immediately forced to fight each other to the death in a room full of spikes, so that the two survivors can take on Doll Francine. Narumi doesn't want to do that, obviously, so he makes a heroic gamble and escapes with Tor, Lina, and Professor Steven Rockenfield.

8. There's another horrible spike trap that our heroes must outmaneuver, and Faceless mangles his body in the gears of the Circus' machinery to save Narumi. The show pauses for a very long time to inexplicably run through Faceless' entire backstory, which involves a dead wife, evil clown robots, and a vow of vengeance. I suspect there is a running theme here with the wives and the clown robots, and I'm this close to cracking it.

9. Later, Tor gets a flashback of his own, which this time involves a dead fiancé and evil clown robots. The inclusion of the fiancé has thrown off my many pages of theories regarding the secret interconnected web of dead wives and evil clowns, which is disappointing.

10. We end with Narumi, Tor, Lina, and Professor Steve Rockenfield standing before Les Quatre Pionniers, ready to do battle, while a cold and calculating Doll Francine watches on from her throne. There's another shirogane there too. Or maybe he's a shirogane-O? I'm having a hard time keeping track of which silver-haired robot fighter is or is not a robot themselves. Either way, these two combined episodes give this guy maybe twenty seconds of screen time, which naturally means that within a couple of weeks, he'll be the show's new main character. Maybe he'll be the new Masaru. Remember Masaru? I wonder what that kid is up to.

If it seems just odd to you that a 39-episode anime would introduce the central villains of the story in episodes 9 and 10, conjure up an entirely new cast of heroes from nowhere off-screen, and then subsequently have everyone make it to the “final boss chamber” by the end of episode 12, then you aren't alone. That utter disregard for basic narrative integrity is just one of the quirks that comes with watching Karakuri Circus. I'm starting to wonder if this entire adaptation was just a mad folly from the beginning.

For crying out loud, there are now three completely different organizations/entities in this multi-faceted war who all use the moniker of “shirogane”! The first shiroganes are the cadre of silver-haired immortals whose hatred of evil clown robots has been infused into their souls by the eternal vengeance wish of a dead puppeteer/alchemist, and the second is a splinter faction of several hundred shiroganes who apparently decided that they also wanted to become robots. Then they slapped an “O” on the end of their name for some reason.

And then there's capital-S “Shirogane”, whose name is actually Éléonore, though she's probably also the reincarnated soul of the human Francine, who isn't to be confused with “Doll Francine” – she is a robot, but not a shirogane robot, and she runs the evil clown robot army that fights both the robot and the non-robot variety of shirogane. Masaru ran away weeks ago and hasn't been mentioned since, there's an incredibly shiny Afghan hound running loose who's also presumably been infected with the raging will of a dead puppeteer's soul, and Karakuri Circus has to somehow keep this story going for another six-and-a-half months. I've already written the word "shirogane" so many times that it has lost all meaning.

I'm starting to think that the true victim of ZONOPHA syndrome might be me. Is reviewing Karakuri Circus just the incomprehensible fever dream that my fractured psyche has constructed in a feeble attempt to make sense of an indifferent and chaotic universe? Is it even further madness to admit that I still kind of enjoy this show? Sure, the animation has gone to hell, and the pacing and plot have completely fallen to pieces; still, I remain strangely drawn in by this crackpot harlequin stew. I really do want to see what happens with all this Midnight Circus nonsense, and I'd love to know how things turn out for Shirogane and Masaru, if they ever manage to reenter their own story.

I've always had a fondness for overambitious failures, and Karakuri Circus is no exception. We're somehow only a third of the way through this series, and while the show's narrative coherence feels all but unsalvageable at this point, I won't deny feeling excited by having absolutely no idea what's coming next. It almost certainly won't be “good” in a traditional sense, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun with it, right?

Rating: D+

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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