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Andrew Osmond rolls up for the fun of the anime fair…

Roll up for Karneval! See cosplay cats, robot sheep, hi-tech airships, battling super-beings, smiling snowmen, mutating monsters and cute boys. Some very cute boys, in fact. Let’s face it, studio Manglobe – which has a CV that zigzags between the gruesome Deadman Wonderland and the cuddliness of The World God Only Knows – has opted to make the pretty youths into the main selling-point. It’s not surprising to learn Karneval comes from a strip in a girls’ manga magazine, Monthly Comic Zero Sum. (The manga picture here gives some idea of the target market.)

If there’s a recent series that Karneval recalls, it’s K: The Animation from a few months ago. That also featured a cute, gentle white-haired boy protagonist (Shiro). His counterpart in Karneval is Mine, who’s introduced in a suggestive situation involving a double-bed, a pair of handcuffs, and a domineering lady who won’t take no for an answer. Then Mine is accidentally saved by another youth, a boy called Garuka who talks and acts tough (he’s voiced by Hiroshi Kamiya, the warrior Levi in Attack on Titan). Except that Garuka is rather cute as well…

Like K, the storytelling in Karneval throws the viewer into a soup of characters and fantasy ideas. Some parts of the story soon filled out while others remain vague, as often happens with anime based on longer manga. The boys find themselves in the midst of a battle between two mysterious organisations, Circus and Kafka. Circus claims to be a benign defence force, defending the world from the evils of Kafka – heck, Circus even lives up to its name, throwing free parades for the delighted public. But you don’t need to have seen Eva to wonder if there’s more to Circus than that…

The members of both groups have magic-like superpowers, and quickly take an interest in Mine. According to Circus, the round-eyed boy really is… well, we won’t give it away, but let’s just say that he’s even fluffier than he appears. But Mine himself seems committed to finding a long-lost friend, who sometimes talks to him in his dreams. Meanwhile Garuka has his own tormented history… a history in which Circus played a secret part.

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But Karneval gives the impression that the studio expects many of the audience not to be watching for the plot. There are flying ships (another link to K) and plenty of trad magical fights, and pretty girls in the support cast to help snag viewers – and not just the boys. One lady called Tsukumo has the kind of hairdo that would be challenging to cosplay, and seems to be a popular cosplay choice for that reason!

But the boy characters seem Kaneval’s big selling point. As well as Mine and Garuka, there’s another especially cute lad called Yogi (who’s voiced by Mamoru Miyano, the ‘mad scientist’ Okarin from Steins;Gate). Speaking in a voice that would make most moe girls sound macho, Yogi is never happier than when he’s dressing as a cat mascot, or doting intensely on Garuka and Mine. As for his Circus superior, a tall chap in top hat and glasses, he reminds you that Benedict Cumberbatch is a sex symbol in Japan as well as in Britain.

Overall, it seems fair to describe Karneval as a “boys’-love” anime, one that stops coyly short of speaking its name, like the Kaworu/Shinji bits of Evangelion (especially the third movie) or the Guts/Griffith bits of Berserk. And dare we say the Barnaby/Kotetsu bits of Tiger & Bunny? – yes, we dare. The interesting question is how many of the anime-watching audience today would turn off if these characters acknowledged they were gay…

Karneval the Complete Series is released on UK DVD and Blu-ray by Manga Entertainment.

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