When Circus comes to town.
I was delighted when it was announced that the Karneval manga had been licensed, having hoped it would get picked up for a few years, and then more recently having given up on it as the series had exceeded single digits for numbers of volumes. Ironically, though, I had just finally taken the plunge and ordered the first volume of the Singaporean English language release – which, um, I may’ve not ever gotten around to reading past the first few pages. Whoops. (In my defense, at some point the package had gotten doused in transit, so I had to painstakingly peel apart the pages or risk tearing them.) I saw the first few episodes of the anime when it aired, dropped it, then gone back to it toward the end of the same year. There were elements of the story I liked, but it’d just all seemed so badly directed; returning to finish it, I was frustrated by the fact that the show ended when the story had finally managed to pick up. It was at this point that my interest in the original manga was piqued.
Karneval is, loosely, the story of a mysterious governmental organization called Circus which seems to be concerned largely with intelligence collection and combating “weird” organized crime. More specifically, it follows the hapless, ignorant Nai, and his accidental-protector Gareki as the pair become involved with Circus after twice crossing paths with them during Circus operations. Various members of Circus as introduced, but the focus is really on Nai and Gareki, particularly as Nai’s existence itself presents a puzzle, as does the disappearance of his previous caretaker, Karoku, who left behind a Circus bracelet in a puddle of blood when he vanished.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the “bad direction” of the anime wasn’t solely the anime’s fault (although it certainly could’ve been less slavish in its adaptation in this regard) – this omnibus release covers two volumes that are largely free of a connecting thread beyond “gee, I wonder what happened to Karoku?”, and its difficult to even connect with that as the reason for caring about that mystery is the meager fact that, well, it bothers Nai and Nai is fairly moe. Circus appears to be pursuing a larger conspiracy, but the details are scant and not terribly tantalizing. Attempts to tie everything together give us bland stopovers like time spent with Gareki’s tragic surrogate family, in which everything happens exactly as one would expect it to, because we’ve already seen this in hundreds of other stories before.
The fact that it isn’t wholly bad makes the whole thing that much more irritating. The characters aren’t really novel, but they are more or less engaging. The interplay between Gareki and Nai is interesting to watch given the uneven nature of their relationship, and the revelation about Nai makes perfect sense in a way that revelations about characters often don’t. I’m also a big fan of the art (the adaption of which was, by the way, one of the strong points of the anime). Tsukumo is really cute, too, and, well, anime/manga fans are pretty infamous for being to endure a lot of stuff for a cute girl, aren’t they?
I read the digital release of this on a Nook HD. To my dismay, the cover and the first several pages were not scanned properly – they’re blurred. This issue does disappear after those first pages, but its nevertheless disappointing to contend with. Yen’s overall release is fine; I recall only running across one typo.
Karneval does not get off to a good start here, but I’m not giving up quite yet. I just really hope it doesn’t turn out that the TV series mislead me into thinking that the story does eventually start up.