Karneval Volume 2

“There are two main types of Varuga. One type was created by Kafka themselves using cellular fusion. The others were mutated after being exposed to the blood or other bodily fluids of the first type of Varuga…as was the case with Yotaka-kun.” 

Gareki is shocked to discover that his adoptive siblings, the twins Yotaka and Tsubame, have been forced to act as guinea pigs by the man who was using the family for his illegal experiments. Yotaka is already beyond redemption, his body transformed by the ‘medicine’ he’s been forced to ingest into a winged monster with an insatiable craving for human blood – but what of his sister? Can Circus save her and give the hope of a new life? Gareki is prepared to do anything he can to protect her – but he’s powerless to act until Circus agree to trust and train him.

Nai – the boy who’s been created using the genes of a Niji, a rare furry little creature – has agreed with Circus to act as a lure to draw out Varuga and Kafka’s operatives, if it will help find his lost protector (and maybe creator?) Karoku.  But when a seemingly straightforward Circus mission to snowy Rinol goes horribly wrong, Tsukumo is abducted by Kafka operatives and good-hearted Yogi undergoes an extraordinary – and terrifying – change of character (and hair colour). So what of Nai’s search for Karoku? Someone called Karoku is in Kafka’s keeping and Nai can ‘hear’ him sometimes – although the messages Karoku sends telepathically to Nai are confusing and often upsetting. Whose side is Karoku really on? 

I confess that I was sorry to see Karneval named as one of the ‘Year’s Worst Manga’ at San Diego Comic Con this year – although such adverse publicity (as in the annual UK Literary Review Bad Sex Award) can sometimes attract new readers and not always for the ‘right’ reasons! There’s much to like in the manga, especially the interactions between the quirky yet sympathetic characters (Gareki, Nai, Yogi, Tsukumo) – and mangaka Touya Mikanagi’s many humorous little touches.

However, it has to be said that – in spite of the attractive artwork, the story-telling still leaves a little to be desired. It goes along in little leaps and bounds, almost as if the mangaka was not sure for how long her editor at ZERO-SUM was going to continue her contract. And sadly, one sees this slightly haphazard and episodic narrative method in too many manga series – yet, some mangaka seem to manage to juggle the conflicting demands of editors, readers’ polls and their own skills at storytelling rather better than others. In Karneval  there’s still no real sense that there’s a strong, well-planned plot underlying what happens on the page, even though the signs are there: the villainous organization Kafka that’s experimenting on humans to make them into monsters, always one step ahead of the shadowy figures controlling Circus (are they really the good guys?). The action is also impeded by well-meaning but frankly dead-end chapters, like Score 15 ‘The Mermaid’s Jar’ in which a play staged by Circus goes crazily wrong. Yes, Nai’s special abilities play a part in the denouement, but the rest is…not very good.

Yen Press continue to deliver all the delightful extras and colour pages, including the 4-koma gag pages and a preview of Volume 3. One extra that will delight all seiyuu fans (especially those that enjoyed the anime) is Touya Mikanagi’s illustrated account of meeting the voice actors at the recording of the first of the Drama CDs: there are thumbnail sketches of Mamoru Miyano (Yogi), Hiroshi Kamiya (Gareki), Eri Kitamura (Kiichi) and many other familiar stars.

In Summary

Plot-wise, Karneval, can be more than a little random and the various storylines are not yet developing as strongly as this reader had hoped, but the mangaka’s art and character interactions are good enough to still make this a different and engaging read.  

7 / 10


Sarah's been writing about her love of manga and anime since Whenever - and first started watching via Le Club Dorothée in France...

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