I really want to like Manglobe series. They tend to take on idiosyncratic projects that don’t appear to have obvious commercial appeal, and they can be fearlessly idiosyncratic themselves in sticking to unorthodox storytelling methods. I root for them, but they have an alarming track record when it comes to sales (The Unlimited, at least, appears to be a modest success for them) and Karneval seemed like a show that might have some breakthrough potential, at least in the DVD side of the market.
It still might – I’m certainly not going to make any decisions based on one episode considering how many cast members haven’t even appeared. But while this isn’t based on an otome game project as Amnesia was, that was the first thing the Karneval premiere reminded me of (they do share the same series writer, Machida Touko) though I rather hope that ends up being superficial. This is obviously a show aiming for the female demographic with its gallery of bishonen in foppish costumes and gothic look, but as a manga adaptation it’s sure to provide a more linear story than that show had (and hopefully considerably more spark).
Casting Hiro Shimono as tiny blond waif Nai may be the most ridiculous extreme yet we’ve seen of 30 and 40-something guys ineffectively playing teenagers – if indeed Nai is even supposed to be in his teens yet. It’s spectacularly misguided casting, a disaster – not Hiro-Hiro’s fault of course, but a stunning lack of imagination and judgment. This is a big cast and eventually I’ll numb to the sheer wrongness of it, but it’s not a good start. Kamiya Hiroshi is a little better in that at least this teen (Gareki) is supposed to be a bit of a tough so Kamiya-san doesn’t put on his cutesy voice for it. The cast is pretty much all big industry names – we hear from Ono Daisuke as magical Circus agent Hirato and Endou Aya as his assistant Tsukumo in the premiere, and they (especially Ono) probably fare better than anyone else.
As to what’s actually going on in the story, we’re pretty much dropped into the middle of it and it’s a bit of a jumble. Nai is being held prisoner at a mansion and wearing the bracelet of someone called Karoku, Garecki breaks in to rob the place and frees him. There’s also a train being hijacked by disgruntled former employees of a tycoon they take hostage, which is where Hirato and Tsukomo come in. There’s an apparently evil dude played by Suwabe Junichi, and Nai and Garecki each appear to have an exceptional talent. None of it is poorly executed but basically, for one episode anyway, it’s a lot of sound and fury signifying relatively little. We get a taste of Mamoru Miyano at the end and there’s evidence Circus may be a rather wacky sort of place – which would help deflate the somewhat self-serious air of the premiere – and the manga seems quite well-regarded by people who should know. So Karneval, for all that it didn’t do that much for me here, will get a bit of a longer leash than most shows would.