What I see with this series is a huge plot, some potentially interesting characters, and a lot of question marks. There’s no doubt that Karneval is hugely stylized, and the performances are a match for that. Apart from Shimono Hiro’s unintentionally comic casting as Nai, the rest of the mostly big-name cast is perfectly fine – they’re being asked for camp rather than realism here, and delivering. As much as anything I’m reminded of Pandora Hearts or D.Gray-man after two episodes, but I don’t know if this series is going to be around long enough to develop the kind of charm those did.
What’s clarified in episode two is that Circus is quite literally a circus, in addition to being a crime-fighting organization – they put on shows to entertain the locals to draw attention away from their true purpose, and sell merchandise to help pay the bills. There’s a counter-organization, abjectly evil where Circus is ambiguous, and they’re more than a little interested in Nai. In fact they try and abduct him when he disregards Gareki’s orders to stay hidden, and it’s only the intervention of Mamoru Miyano’s Yogi – one of Hirato’s subordinates – that prevents that from happening. When Circus takes Nai and Gareki into protective custody Yogi and Tsukomo are assigned to be their babysitters.
The other major mystery element in the story appears to be Karoku (Hoshi Souchiro), Nai’s missing “friend” who later communicates with him telepathically. The bracelet he’s given Nai is indeed a Circus ID, but an old one – and Hirato denies that anyone by that name has ever worked for the organization. As for that other group, they’re using some sort of mutant called “Varugas” – like the woman from the premiere, Mine – as their foot soldiers. And they’re apparently interested in Nai because he either is or has inside him something called “red seeds”.
Well – that’s mostly mumbo-jumbo for now, though I’ve heard much less interesting scenarios for anime. The question is whether the atmosphere and characters will be interesting enough to carry Karneval, and for now I have to say I just don’t know. I certainly enjoyed the second ep more than the first, which I didn’t dislike, so there’s hope – but everyone so far still plays a little too much like a route from an otome game. All I can say for now is that Karneval definitely meets the threshold for the three-episode rule to apply – beyond that, it’s hard to say.