Nai searches for someone important to him with only an abandoned bracelet as a clue while Gareki steals and pick-pockets day to day. The two meet in a strange mansion before running into “Circus,” a special band of military security operatives. Circus performs raids to capture criminals and solve crimes that the normal government security force cannot handle. After their raids, they put on shows as an apology for scaring the citizens. Circus researches Nai’s mysterious identity after promising to help him find his important someone, and Gareki comes along to protect his new friend, Nai.
Karneval comes with beautiful packaging, eccentric disc imagery, and the atypical disappointing extras. I was hopeful that it might come with something a little special, like maybe a couple tracks of its background or theme music at the least, but nope. Just a single episode’s commentary. I don’t know why I hope for more, but oh well. If you’re looking for great extras in a FUNimation box set, it’s best to set your sights on The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and never look away.
Like the animation, the music in Karneval is am-az-ing. Powerful, hypnotic, and sometimes even disturbing, it perfectly captures the tone this series strives for. Though the tone is inevitably lost in other ways, at least the music is an unforgettable experience. Seriously, if a sound track for this series becomes available, don’t hesitate. Snatch it up the moment you can!
I screamed in excitement when I found Greg Ayres acts in this series’ English dub! Ever since he played Kaoru Hitachiin in Ouran High School Host Club, I’ve loved him. Such a unique voice! Unfortunately, his presence in the cast list raised my expectations for the voice acting that were ultimately disappointed.
Here’s the thing—the voice acting is well done. Honestly, the actors are doing their parts, and you can tell they’re seasoned veterans. There aren’t any parts that fall flat or are distinctly bad. That should mean the voice acting is great, but it doesn’t. And that mainly comes down to an issue in character-actor pairing.
For example, Nai is a very clear-cut shouta character. Why in the world is Greg Ayres not playing him?
Ayres has already proved an excellent shouta actor in the past, what with Negima and other similar characters under his belt. His voice is suited for the part. But no, he plays Gareki, and while I think he actually pulls it off fairly well, it’s still a bit of a strain.
Geraki’s character is dark, gritty, and begs for a deep voice—like the Japanese voice actor exemplifies. But instead we have the mischievous tone of Ayres’ voice that sometimes downplays Gareki’s character moments.
In the meantime, Sean Teague plays Nai, the shouta. Sean Teague does have a childish undertone in his voice occasionally, like when he played child Koenma in Yu Yu Hakusho, but it’s an undertone. His voice sounds older, one reason he was convincing as teenage Koenma in Yu Yu Hakusho. In fact, he has a very smooth tone in his voice, ripe with maturity, when he isn’t forced to pitch his voice up. His voice just isn’t well suited for a shouta character like Nai, especially since his voice isn’t nearly soft or young enough for the character.
That’s not to say Teague’s performance isn’t good. The acting itself is great, but his voice just doesn’t match the character. No amount of acting can save a bad pitching/matching job.
To summarize, the voice acting is strong, but all the voice actors are ill matched to their parts, leaving the main cast of the English dub distracting. I don’t blame the actors for this, just the casting.
While Karneval definitely has a compelling storyline, it has the tendency to drag. The action is quick, sharp, and well executed, but there’s so little joy, I had to force myself through the last half of the series. I don’t just mean the story was dark, either. I’ve watched plenty of dark series and plenty of grotesque visuals. I love a dark twist, you know. But there’s something about Karneval that too often forgets to enjoy its own story line.
Besides that unfortunate tonal dissonance, the world building had difficult pacing. The world itself was interesting from time to time, but it took so many episodes just to figure out how the world worked, and what the plot’s premise was, that when I figured it out, I didn’t really care anymore.
Really, the story opens up like it’s a second season. For newcomers to the series, and would-be fans who haven’t read the manga, this can be alienating. Short and simple, it is a turn-off. I wanted to like the story, I did, but even the colorful cast of characters couldn’t save it for me.
The animation was the bright spot of this series. I’d thought I’d seen good animation before, but this—I’ve never seen something like this.
Karneval’s animation is sharp, bright, fast, and mesmerizing.The parade scenes hypnotized me. The world transformed into visual candy! Streaked with punching pinks, alluring blues, and whispering greens, rainbows forced my eyelids apart. There’s no blinking during Karneval’s brightest scene. Your frontal cortex instinctually knows what you’re seeing is genius, and it won’t let you look away. At best, you gape silently in awe like one of the parade-going citizens in the background, and at worst, you sigh at its perfection.
I went into Karneval with such excitement, but its devilry was mostly disappointing. The animation was a lucky bright spot, thank goodness. In spite of unfortunate voice acting pairings, strange narrative choices, lagging world-building, and lackluster box set material, I kept watching for the music and animation–both sensory delights.
If not the box set, treat yourself to a single episode of the series. The visual and audio experiences are, at least, worth it.