First Look: Karakuri Circus

Manga Adaptation by Studio VOLN
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

Premise

After his father’s death, Masaru Saiga inherits 18 billion yen, making him the target of dark forces using powerful combat puppets. While on the run, he meets Narumi Kato, a kung fu practitioner with a strange illness and Shirogane, a servant who’s sworn to serve Masaru’s family. Shirogane wields the powerful puppet, Arlequin, against those that would attempt to harm Masaru.

Iro’s verdict: Blast from the Past

This has the exact same wild, balls-out 90s vibe as Ushio and Tora, which makes perfect sense because it’s an adaptation of another manga by the same author. It even has a bunch of the same cast!  Granted, I’m not sure how far that can carry something these days, but I did enjoy Ushio and Tora a fair bit. On the other hand, a sure way to turn me off of something is to include creepy puppet and doll aesthetics, and the whole Laughing Disease thing is such a bizarre element that it seems incongruous. I’m glad this sort of thing still gets made, but I’m not sure I’ll give it too many more episodes.

Gee’s verdict: This Fist Of Mine Burns With An Awesome Power

Karakuri Circus makes it extremely obvious right from the get go that it was written and illustrated by the same man who made Ushio and Tora. It’s big and dumb in all the ways that make a solid 90s-era shounen likeable. The characters are simple but easily readable archetypes and their designs have that cheesy 90s authenticity to them. As I joked with Iro while watching it, Narumi’s civilian clothes make him an expy of Shenmue’s Ryo Suzuki, except like twice as buff. However perhaps even more notable than the show’s distinct designs is its absurdly quick pace. In the first episode alone, I felt like I had watched at least 2-3 episodes of any other shounen anime. It felt like there were three or four narrative climaxes in this episode alone, but when you only have 36 episodes to adapt 43 volumes, perhaps it’s more a matter of necessity than anything else.

In terms of presentation, Karakuri Circus is a poster child of standard technical competence. The characters have a faithful 90s-era aesthetic that’s a lot of fun to look at and the action is quite decent if not mindblowing. Perhaps more notable is the soundtrack, composed by Yuki Hayashi of Gundam Build Fighters fame. It does a fantastic job of evoking the story’s carnival aesthetic while still having the kind of rousing shounen musical swells that Hayashi is so uniquely excellent at. Overall, if there was anything that might discourage me from sticking with Karakuri Circus in the long run, its that like Ushio and Tora, it’s a show with a unique and likeable vibe, but doesn’t really do much to stand out from the rest of the pack. Still, it’s the epitome of a very solid 7/10 and in a season as weak as this one so far, that might be enough to keep it in the running.

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