Saturday, August 15, 2020

REVIEW: Karneval Omnibus (manga, vol. 1) by Touya Mikanagi, translated by Su Mon Han

Karneval is SFF with mystery elements. I'm pretty sure I bought my copy new but steeply discounted, as part of the closure of my town's only new bookstore.


This starts with a child-like teen (young man?) named Nai being handed over to Lady Mine, possibly for sex but more likely for food (or, you know, both). They're interrupted by the arrival of a small band of thieves. The leader of the group, Gareki, sees Nai's bracelet and recognizes it as something valuable - it's the ID used by Circus, a special group devoted to hunting Varuga. He helps Nai escape in the hope of getting his bracelet and selling it. Nai, meanwhile, would happily give it to him but wants to ask permission from its owner first, someone named Karoku. Karoku is an important person to Nai, and he badly wants to find him again.

Gareki figures that Karoku must be a member of Circus, so he focuses on getting Nai to them. Unfortunately, Nai is a bit stupid and requires constant supervision. When they do eventually get in touch with Circus, there's no Karoku, but a little investigation results in some shocking revelations about Nai's identity.

I've wanted to try this series for a while, but I vaguely remembered hearing less than positive things about it. Now that I've read this omnibus (which collects the first couple volumes of the series), I can agree that this series isn't really worth my time and money.

The world-building is weird and nonsensical. There are Peacekeepers, who look into minor crimes, and Circus, which supposedly investigates both more major crimes, like murder, and hunts down Varuga, humans or animals that have been genetically altered to have special powers. Varuga generally feed on humans. After Circus completes an operation, they put on a show (like a real circus) for the local townspeople as an apology for scaring everyone, and somehow this makes everything better. It was the dumbest thing, and also illustrated the issues this series had with tone. Karneval aimed at being both light and fluffy, with agents who dress up as adorable mascots to make children smile and who play hide-and-seek to keep their charges occupied, and dark, with eyeball-removing serial killers and ordinary people having to be hunted down because they unknowingly have become Varuga. 

Nai was astonishingly naive and uninformed, to the point that he didn't even know what blood was. This was eventually explained, and his ability to hear sounds that others couldn't meant that he wasn't completely useless, but generally he couldn't be left alone for even a second without almost getting himself captured or killed. It was frustrating, and it's tough to imagine him having any role in the series other than "mascot."

Gareki was supposed to be the rogue with a heart of gold, telling himself that he was only helping Nai because of the eventual benefit to him when in reality he could have just taken the bracelet from Nai and left him. It was good that at least one half of this pair had street smarts, and Gareki had some dark and tragic history that the end of the omnibus volume started to explore, but overall the characters in this didn't grab me much. The Circus members introduced in this volume were mostly attractive but slightly odd guys, plus one cute and overly serious girl and one woman who preferred cute girls over guys. There are a billion other series with these kinds of character dynamics.

The volume's color illustrations were nice, but in general the volume artwork seemed a bit sloppy, particularly any instances of chibi-fied characters. For some reason their weird tiny spiky hands kept drawing my attention.

I could maybe see continuing this via library checkouts, if I lived near a library that actually had this in its holdings. Since I don't, it would require interlibrary loan requests, and I don't know that it's worth even that much effort on my part.


Six pages of full-color illustrations, a couple brief afterwords by the author, under jacket bonus comics from both of the volumes contained in this omnibus, three one-page bonus comics, the four-page pre-serialization one-shot that spawned Karneval, and the first few pages of the next volume.

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