- Titles: Karneval
- Genre: Action, supernatural, comedy, fantasy, steampunk
- Episodes: 13
- Studio: Manglobe
Nai is a sweet innocent boy who just wants everyone to get along and be happy. A real puppy dog of a boy or maybe a bunny wabbit. An unassuming boy who doesn’t know much about the world and is happy to just live with his friend Karoku and enjoy every day in the simple cottage by the forest. So why would a boy like this suddenly be embroiled in an international secret plot to change the future, and the very nature of humanity? Why did he wake up one morning to find Karoku gone? Why is a stranger wearing his bracelet? Why is everyone after him all of a sudden? Who are circus and their elite airships? And maybe most important, what is Nai anyways?
Sometimes you come across a specific piece of Key art and you just know exactly what the anime is going to be I mean look at that image, doesn’t it conjure up all sorts of assumptions for you? It did for me, and I was right!
I have no complaints about the production of Karneval. I personally quite like the art style and the designs, especially when it comes to the characters’ eyes. Occasionally, there were some supernatural creatures and honestly, I wish we had seen more of them cause I thought they all looked cool. Backgrounds weren’t anything special, but I didn’t mind, and the animation did what it was supposed to do.
Now there were a lot of visible shortcuts that are common to keep budgets in check. Characters got real light on details if there was a lot of movement going on. They also could look a bit weird from certain angles. Nothing too bad, design consistency was much better than Kakuriyo Bed & Breakfast for example. Still, if you freeze frame during action you’ll notice those characters looking pretty janky.
All in all though, I was actually kind of impressed. I guess I expected less for some reason.
As for the voice acting, depending on how you look at it, it was either magnificent or way too much. I’m in the magnificent camp!
Story & Characters
Speaking of camp…
Look, I don’t know if the key visuals evoked anything for you. For me, I instantly thought Black Butler and/or Pandora Hearts. And you know what, that’s exactly what this is. A supernatural action comedy with luxurious character designs and tongue-in-cheek sarcastic melodrama. If you like the genre, there’s a lot t like in Karneval.
The main story is a little difficult to explain and honestly pretty convoluted. It’s a grand affair with secret organizations and genetic manipulation, magic, and steampunk technology. Everything you would expect really. I will say that as far as the name goes, the exposition leaves a bit to be desired. I was left scratching my head a few times and wondering why certain things were happening. Heck, I’ve finished the show and although I know what Nai is now, I still don’t quite understand why he’s that important.
It’s possible that I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Still, I watch a lot of anime, and honestly, I found the storyline of Karneval much messier than the average series.
On the other hand what was there was interesting enough that I now want to read the manga and fill in the blanks I still have. That should tell you something.
Although I do believe that Karneval belongs alongside Black Butler and Pandora Hearts, it’s not as good as either of those series. That messiness not only makes the viewing experience just a bit more frustrating, it also makes it so that the humour isn’t as effective. Jokes stay more shallow and aren’t as biting. And the series tries to cram way too much into 13 episodes. From what I understand, they tried to more or less condense the entire 28 volumes of the manga into this one season. Actually, if you take that into consideration, they did an extremely good job.
With what I just said, I think it’s a given that a lot of characters are underdeveloped in Karneval. First, there are a lot of characters in the cast to begin with. There’s also a lot of world-building and a lot of action. There is basically a lot of a lot of things.
Maybe it’s because of my familiarity with the genre but I started to instinctively build up a lot of the storyline scaffolding in my head. Objectively though, I have to admit the story is rushed and most things aren’t developed enough.
I like these types of stories. There’s a 14-year-old goth girl in e that lives for this aesthetic and these tropes. It’s a bit like nostalgia. I was going to like Karneval because of the inclusion of all these elements more or less regardless of what it turned out to be. And to be clear, I do like Karneval and I think it’s a better show than I am making it sound like.
However, there is one thing that even I couldn’t quite ignore. I wrote it on two separate occasions in my notes to really insist on the point. And I think it’s Karneval biggest weakness. I’m talking about Nai.
Nai is the main character. He’s a pure, innocent kind to a fault, adorable boy. But he’s just too much of all those things. He gets so incredibly precious at times that it’s either funny or annoying. Often both at once. And there’s just not much to do with a character like Nai. You kind of know everything you need to know from the first minute or so and then he just does exactly what you expect him to do. (Maybe that is better in the manga). The only saving grace here is that the other characters aren’t pretending he’s a genius and there is a canon explanation for why he would be this saccharine. Even though I bear no ill will towards Nai, I have to admit he got on my nerves.
I think that a character like Nai would have been fine, even potentially good as either a supporting character or a damsel in distress. Someone we only see from time to time and that is narratively important but generally away from the action. He really didn’t need to be there all the time.
As a main character and the one we tend to follow for most of the anime, he just can’t carry the story properly. Everyone else is more interesting, has more insight into what is happening, and is more likely to make a move or tell a joke. I do think Nai bogs the story down.
Once again, I find that I have written a rather negative post about an anime that I like. The thing is, it’s easier to define the elements that I think failed in Karneval than to explain the lightning-in-a-bottle effect that made the rest work together so well. There’s nothing specific I can point to say, this is why this show is worth watching. I can just say that I had a lot of fun with it and if you’re like me, you will have fun with it as well.
If you already thought that Black Butler is horrible then skip this one. It gives off the same vibes but isn’t as good. If you wanted something with the same vibes as Black Butler though…watch Pandora Hearts, it’s great. Then maybe Vanitas although that’s a bit different. And then watch Karneval. It’s not bad. Maybe I’ll let you know about the manga eventually.
You might like this anime if:
You’re in the mood for a gothic sarcastic comedy full of pretty characters.
My favourite character:
It’s Tsukumo and that made my viewing experience quite intense at some point!
- Every time Gareki looks wistfully into the distance – take a sip
- Every time Nai says “Karoku” – take a sip
- Every time anyone blushes – awwwwww
- Every time we see Nai’s true form – whaaaa
- Every time anyone picks on Yogi – meanies
- Every time we see or hear about Tsubaki – pour some out
- Every time anyone says “Kafka” – take a sip
- Every time Gareki is edgy – take a sip
- Every time anyone flies – put the glass down
- Every time Circus puts on a show – cheer
- Every time anyone goes berserk – take a sip
- Every time Nai senses anything – here we go
- Every time Akari is annoyed – take a sip
- Every time Eleska throws a fit – duck
I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.