About ashleycapes

Ashley is an Australian poet, novelist and teacher. He's currently running a casual review blog called "The Review Heap" focusing film, anime, games, books and music - and (very) occasionally other stuff too. He is the author of half a dozen poetry collections and a few novels, some published traditionally and some self-published. He also occasionally publishes other folks too.

Karakuri Circus (Karakuri Sākasu)

I think Karakuri Circus oscillates between kind of a wild mess on one hand and more compelling flashbacks on the other.

And maybe a third thing: action with fun puppet designs.

Okay – a fourth thing too, which is fan-service, but the main point I’m trying to make is that this series was all over the place for me.

And yet, I finished it and I know that’s because early in the anime, the narrative flings the main cast apart and so I spent the following episodes basically waiting for them to reunite. Before I get to why, here’s a quick synopsis of the manga via Wikipedia:

[Karakuri Circus follows] Masaru Saiga, who inherits a massive fortune and aspires to become a puppeteer; Narumi Katō, a kung-fu expert who suffers from Zonapha syndrome (a strange illness that stops his breathing unless he makes people laugh*); and Shirogane, a silver-haired woman and Masaru’s caretaker who controls the puppet Harlequin. They must fight against the battling automatons (auto-mannequins) and save the world from the Zonapha syndrome.

As you can probably tell, it hits a lot of notes you’d expect from a shonen series but for me, the puppet aspect made it stand out. And the first four episodes felt like they were building to a big, cohesive revenge story with high stakes… but it didn’t quite work out that way.

When I realised that Kazuhiro Fujita was behind Karakuri Circus** I was pretty excited, since I’d enjoyed Ushio and Tora a lot. Studio VOLN produced both anime (and is currently looking after Back Arrow) and so I was expecting a bright, clear-looking adaptation and visually it’s exactly that. Fujita’s character designs are bold and plenty of the bad guy-designs are inventive but most of my criticisms landed on the story and structure.

Obviously, the art of adaptation is not a simple one. At all. Condensing a 9-year manga down to 30-odd episodes? Suffice to say that I’d find that extremely difficult.

Still, the amount of times a character slid into the story and then had their backstory dropped in right after seemed jarring. Each time it broke rhythm and the building of tension, and with such a large cast, this didn’t really allow many folks to get fleshed out as much as I’d have liked.

Connected to this, for each flashback arc there were a few episodes of cohesive narrative that sometimes took over from the ‘main’ storyline. Karakuri Circus is a complex story connected across hundreds of years and using reincarnation links everyone nicely, but what I found was that I became more invested in those flashback episodes.

That became a problem for me because it made it hard to return to whatever Masaru, Narumi and Shirogane were up to in the present.

And worse (again, in my opinion) was the fact that each of the three leads spent so little time together, a problem especially after those opening few episodes suggested a vital connection between them. Instead, over time, it seemed that their importance to each other almost became hypothetical.

Well, that might be an exaggeration but let me try to explain.

In the beginning, Masaru, Narumi and Shirogane operated almost as a cautious, small familial unit and the interpersonal stuff, their struggles and triumphs, were just beginning. I was interested.

However, due to the characters’ inability to benefit from much screentime together, they were each robbed of much chance to develop and resolve their relationships and issues. Instead, it felt like the narrative drove them apart and then worked fairly hard to keep them separated (at least in part) to delay an eventual reunion. [spoilers below]

But when they finally did come together melodrama kinda interceded on behalf of Narumi and Shirogane and forced them into this odd stand off. (On the other hand, Masaru makes some memorable sacrifices for those two toward the end of the series there).

Sadly, having spent a fair few episodes telling myself ‘things will pick up again once the leads are back together’ was perhaps naive in hindsight, since there are no guarantees in life nor in fiction 🙂

Still, I certainly did like some things:

  • the puppets and their designs
  • the flashbacks featuring Masaru’s grandfather
  • the Francine storyline
  • and Masaru’s growth as a character.

So, after all the grumbling about Karakuri Circus I’ve just done, I will say that the hints of a pretty compelling saga are clear in the anime.

Maybe it’s just not possible to compress something so large down to two seasons?

3 Stars

* In the anime, the Zonapha syndrome is explained a little more but it still always strikes me as unintentionally comical.

**Interesting to compare this to the Puppet Princess OVA which is almost like a warm up in some ways.

[Results] Vote on What I Should Watch Next (April 2021 edition)

Okay!

Last week I put up a quick poll and while a few of the options I had listed came close – the winner is Perfect Blue.

I might try to watch it this weekend and begin (slowly) writing up a review over the next week.

Keen to get to this, even as I kinda worry that I won’t have much to add to a film that’s been written about quite extensively 😀

Maybe #4 (Mars Red, Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song, Super Cub and Shadows House + Joran The Princess Of Snow And Blood)

Okay, time for another ‘Maybe’ entry!

Again, I’m using this post to quickly mention a few seasonal shows that I’ve tried out and liked/or want to watch if I can. (Bonus, a show I’ll mention that I cannot access reliably: Joran The Princess Of Snow And Blood).

Mars Red

Vampires and hunters with overtones of tragedy – very interested to see if the sombre tone and almost ‘soft’ art-style continues across this one.

Based on a stage play, so I’m curious to see how that will influence the show.

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song

Science-fiction, so immediately I’m keen – I’ve seen the first two episodes and everything looks great and the tension between the two leads works, even with that heavy exposition 😀

Wit Studio has a pretty ace reputation so I’m keen to keep watching.

Super Cub

A show about a scooter/motorbike club sounds interesting and I enjoyed the first episode’s background art a lot. Lovely nod to Clair de Lune at the start/use of the piece during.

I’m interested to see how the (compared to saving the world) small stakes continue to build across the season.

Shadows House

The preview seemed a bit gothic, so I’m definitely interested. (Don’t know much other than that :D). (Update: I’ve seen episode one now and I’ll definitely watch episode 2 at a minimum).

And finally:

Joran The Princess Of Snow And Blood

This show has a pre-WW2 setting, supernatural stuff, action and revenge plot – I’m sold BUT I might have to wait for the physical release.

That’s because despite my efforts over the last couple of years, Crunchyroll just doesn’t operate well for me. (Maybe this show should be motivation to solve that problem?).


So, anything on your list that I should try to watch this season?

Gunbuster Review [Collaboration with Ashley from The Review Heap]

Morning/afternoon/evening!

Here’s a new collab, me and Curtis from Iridium Eye Reviews tackle ‘Gunbuster’ this time 🙂

Iridium Eye Reviews

AKA: Gunbuster: Top O Nerae!, Gunbuster: Aim for the Top!
Genre: Mecha/Action/War Drama
Year Released: 1988-1989
Distributor: Unlicensed (DVD formally available by Bandai Visual USA/Honneamise)
Origin: Japan
Running Time: OVA, 6 episodes, 27-31 minutes each
Rating/Recommended Audience: 16+
Related Films/Series: Diebuster, Gunbuster vs. Diebuster
For Fans Of: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gundam series, RahXephon, Saikano, Pacific Rim, Divergence Eve, Galaxy Express 999, Noein, Voices of a Distant Star
Notes:
-Please check out Ashley’s blog The Review Heap.
Fun Facts:
-Gunbuster is the directorial debut of noted animator Hideaki Anno. Before there was Nadia: Secret of Blue Water, His and Her Circumstances, or even Neon Genesis Evangelion, there was this little OVA in Gainax’s early days.

-Hilarious in Hindsight: Noriko Hidaka and Rei Sakuma voice Noriko Takaya (note the first name) and Kazumi Amano respectively, so it’s as if Akane and Shampoo from Ranma ½ became mecha pilots…

View original post 4,630 more words

Vote on What I Should Watch Next (April 2021 edition)

Of course, I do have a few things on the go right now and plenty of stuff from the past that I could review, but I thought I’d open a vote for a film this time around (last post like this I think I listed four or five series instead).

So, here’s some options – hopefully something catches your eye!

Some of these I’ve seen (some years ago) and two I’ve not had the chance to watch at all just yet.

The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando) Season 2

Well, I don’t want to add too much to the vitriol out there and I doubt I’d have anything new to contribute to some of the… discourse (such as it is) either.

But this season certainly didn’t feel quite right.

The Promised Neverland (Yakusoku no Nebārando) Season 2 (2021)

And rather than go over each and every issue, I think I could just suggest “see what your fav blogger has to say” since they’ve probably covered it, and better than I could. Having said that, there will be spoilers below – and in a way, half the pics are too.

I left this season feeling sad – I’m kinda worried that the production team were dangerously overworked and also not given enough time? Were they producing a flawed adaptation from the start, or did something else go wrong somewhere along the way?

And on top of those possibilities, I worry that some great things in season 2 will be simply obliterated by the negatives.

Due to that, I’ll try to confine myself to just 6 observations here – 3 for bits I really liked, and 3 which I did not.

But I want to finish on some positives and so I’m starting with the aspects I didn’t enjoy so much.

1. Compression

Without having read the manga I could still feel how fast the second season was, how often it skipped over or abandoned the stuff I was excited to see more of.

I wanted extra time in the shelter for one, more time to explore and deal with the demons in town, more time to see the leads struggle with certain decisions, more time on Norman’s return.

2. Character

This time around, it felt like Emma maybe softened without enough of her change occurring onscreen for the audience to witness.

Norman and his crew seemed to come around from their positions too fast too – a scene or up to half an episode is all it seemed to be, instead of what could have been explored across entire arcs or seasons, I guess.

3. Conclusion

Montage is very appropriate for the compression of time and events… but I guess I didn’t want so many of them here.

For me, again, without having read the manga, a fair few things that were shown in the end were empty referents. It felt like somewhere, someone had decided that season two would serve as a way to nail down the lid on any possibility of future seasons.


Switching now to things I enjoyed:

1. Exploration

After the tension in the house, the barriers both physical and psychological, it was exciting to see the kids explore a bit of the world.

To see creatures, plants and tunnels, trees and plains – I was pretty thrilled. It also allowed the story to include a bit of action, which was fun (not just via Sonju) and of course, the mystery of Minerva became a bit of a quest too.

2. Ethics

There were plenty of ethical dilemmas in season two and while I wanted more time spent on each of them, it was still nice to see it onscreen.

The kids are all pretty smart to say the least, but they’re not immune to doubt or to a deadly rage – I guess I’m thinking mostly of Norman and Emma here and their struggle with/over genocide.

3. Exultation

Finally! After watching the poor kids go through so much suffering in that first season, it was great to see success, joy, happiness and reunions etc.

Obviously not just between the main heroes, but even good old Phil (whose scenes border on treacle I guess, but I didn’t care) – I wanted to see them all happy 😀 (Even the ending didn’t mar that feeling for me, for the most part).


Okay, and there we go – after this, I’ll wrap things up with a few shots or pieces of background art that I really enjoyed, I think.

It’s a shame this season doesn’t compare well to the first one, but if you have zero plans to ever read the manga, then I guess try season two one day but perhaps don’t expect things to be as consistent as the first.

3 Stars

(Oh, and I love the closing sequence – watched it every time).

Kokkoku

Kokkoku (2018)

This time, I want to start the review by saying that I wish there had been a bit of extra foreshadowing leading up to the ending to Kokkoku

….but that’s about it when it comes to aspects I remember feeling disappointed over.

Kokkoku: Moment by Moment is a mix of mystery, science-fiction and maybe even supernatural suspense, and is one that plays out in a relatively small setting; just a few homes and streets, really.

And that narrowing of place and space adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere that quickly builds as each episode raises the stakes for the Yukawa family. To contrast this sense of the ‘small’ is a somewhat large cast, with the intersecting goals of a fair few characters meeting and clashing in a supernatural cage of disturbing stillness.

But I’m jumping around a bit I think – to finally maybe give context to what I’ve said above, I’ll share a blurb adapted from Wikipedia:

The anime tells the story of Juri Yukawa, who during a kidnapping of her nephew and brother, discovers that her grandfather can stop time using a mysterious stone and more, that he can move freely when time is standing still.

It’s a premise that suggests the kind of child-like fantasy of youth – ‘what if I could go anywhere or do anything without anyone seeing me?’ etc etc but Kokkoku shows a far more lonely and troubling place at times.

And from that rescue attempt mentioned in the blurb, the audience gets to learn a lot about Juri and her grandfather especially. I wouldn’t say the show is a character study though, as there’s plenty of plot-based tension when the Yukawa family discovers that other, more unsavory people hold the same ability.

It was nice to see a range of faces and character designs too, compared to say the generic choice of only having young, flawless heroes (as in a lot of anime over the decades) but the thing I liked the most here was probably the uncertainty. I was rarely confident about exactly what would happen next, which was fun. 

Due to all the time the characters spend in stasis, I guess calling Kokkoku a ‘time-travel’ story isn’t quite right, but the principle is the same – the anime is exploring time and our relation to it.

Kokkoku also felt like it made room for a few moral questions but the speculative elements are the main focus. I also liked the kinda muted colour-scheme Geno Studio* used too, which added to the sense of realism within the unreal.

But I think I’ve rambled long enough – maybe I won’t watch this every year like some other favourites, but I’m glad I’ve seen it 🙂

4 Stars

* Perhaps best known for Golden Kamuy.