This show has me torn. I really like it, but at the same time I can sit here and count off more flaws with this show then I can positives. We kind of go back and forth between two people like the shows the main character, Masaru Saiga, and Narumi. Depending on where you are in the plot is who the focus remains on. Most characters use Marionettes as weapons to fight, Narumi being an exception as he fights with his martial arts.
To start with the good, the show has a fantastic cast of characters. The character arcs are nothing you haven't seen before, but they are done very well. You have the selfless Narumi who constantly throws himself in dangers path for others, the emotionally stunted Shirogane, and then you have Masaru who is a young boy being targeted by others for the fortune he has inherited and is forced to deal with the more messed up aspects of the world at a very young age. As the core characters of the show, they do a great job with the relationships and dynamics between them.
I'll get into the side cast in a second, but first I kind of need to explain the plot. The first few episodes do not reflect the kind of show you are getting into. Masaru has run away from home a short while after his grandfather died. His Grandfather, Shoji, said that if he ever felt unsafe and strange things began occurring, to seek out Shirogane to protect him. He stumbles across Narumi who protects Masaru from his pursuers even though he is unsure of what is going on, he just feels he needs to protect the child. He is unable to do much to some of the pursuers though, as they are actually marionettes which makes his Martial Arts a bit less effective.
Shirogane was apparently told by Shoji to protect Masaru when he appears at the circus. She is able to use her own marionette, Harlequin, to easily dispatch the pursuers. This becomes the story of the first few episodes, the two of them working to protect Masaru. That is up until a, and very minor spoiler here, Narumi sacrifices himself to protect Masaru. Of course, and this is pretty easy to see coming, he doesn't actually die.
Then the story starts getting bizarre as hell when he is given a dose of Aqua Vitae and becomes a Shirogane. Turns out this is the group Eleanore, who we have known by the name Shirogane up until this point, was a part of. They exist to hunt down the Automaton who spread the disease known as Zonpha, which Narumi suffered from up until the Aqua Vitae. Now the story becomes focused on multiple groups and a centenaries old grudge surrounding a love triangle. You find out how the Saiga family was involved in all this, there are people who are reincarnations of those involved in the events that took place all those years ago, and this becomes an almost entirely new anime.
For a good stretch of the show, only little time is given to Eleanore and Masaru, and most is focused on Narumi helping the Shirogane destroy the Midnight Circus, the group of Automata. After that arc is over, we once again feel like we are on a different anime as focus shifts back over to Masaru and the attempts of Bai Jin to claim the boy's body for himself so that he may continue to live on.
While it is one big tale being told, I kind of like the shift in tone as things progress. Every part keeps from feeling stale while there is one grand narrative being built around it all. The events that took place a century ago feel so huge and earth-shattering when you get to see all the different effects the fallout from it actually had. While I'm not always fond of a show where some kind of love story becomes the driving force, this show does such a great job at making it feel so big and important.
A side character I want to highlight here that I absolutely loved was Lucille, possibly the oldest of the Shirogane, and the one who turned Narami into a Shirogane. Two hundred years before she was in the town where the original Automata attacked and spread their disease. She was also the first one who became a Shirogane. You see her before in some of Eleanore's flashbacks, and she defiantly seems like a rather cruel and tyrannical woman. And while that is definitely true, as you learn about her history, motivations, and the things she has done to defeating the automata she becomes a fascinating character you can oddly get behind, despite her less than compassionate approach to her goals.
And the action is fantastic throughout the show. All the different puppets are fun to watch, and there is an incredible variety to see. Almost every fight feels fresh and fun, and there is a lot of fights. Some great ones are the full-on assault on the midnight circus giving you a barrage of fight after fight. The stakes are high, it's nonstop, and you learn a lot about everyone involved. This really lived up to the hype the show was putting behind it.
I have praised this show a lot so far, but the problems are obvious early on. A big one being how choppy the story ends up feeling. A lot of times the stories don't feel like they are really given time to breathe as the show just insists on barreling forward. While some characters get a good amount of time, like the main cast or Lucille, most of the time the show barely gives you a reason to care. For example, in the first arc, there is an assassin that is trying to kill Masaru but ends up joining Masaru when offered a good chunk of money and learning he was basically being used and that the plan was for him to end up dead along with anyone else anyway.
After a bit of a time skip, you find out in a matter of moments he has been using the money earned as an assassin to stave off his boredom. You don't see him leaving Masaru's service, you are never given a hint he was getting bored in his initial arc, you are just suddenly reintroduced to him and told this. I like him, but his whole story just feels a bit unearned.
Then the show does something I can only think to call 'A Reverse Araki'. Araki, the creator of Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, has a bit of a habit of forgetting things. For example, Golden Experience, after episode 2, seems to be missing two powers he demonstrated, reflecting damage and causing out of body experiences, and it just never comes up again. This is the polar opposite of that.
The best example is around episodes 5-7 there is a character introduced, I just forget the exact episode, named Lise. Part of a circus, she had maybe two minutes of screentime where she mentions her sister died failing to tame an animal named beast, and she is encouraged by Masuru to continue taming beasts and not to let this stop her. This character then completely disappears from the story up until episode 24 it is revealed one of the Automata is a Beast Tamer who used the brain of Beast to create some powerful monsters to tame and use, and suddenly she joins Masaru in going to the villains' headquarters to stop them, and now tames some of the creations to help fight even though she was not a fighter at all up until this point.
The show does this a lot, it will drop one odd and inconsequential bit about a character that is important to nothing, and suddenly make it a thing several episodes later. These are things that, honestly, could have been cut with nothing lost in order to give more time to some of the more important aspects of the show, something it desperately needs.
Then there are the things that happen that are incredibly dumb and make no sense. To start is the fake-out death of Narami early on in the show. He is shielding Masaru from a burning building that is caving in on their heads. You know the whole 'If they died off-screen, they didn't actually die' thing people say? Well, this is the most ridiculous example of that. You get a zoom-in of Masaru and Narumi's arm wrapped around him. When the camera pulls back, the rest of his body just... isn't there. At all. But still, somehow that is never explained adequately (Nor do you even realize how the fucking body detached from the arm in this situation). I know it was supposed to be a big moment, but tell me this scene doesn't look plain silly.
This is where I am going to, oddly enough, say this show sort of has a similar charm to Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. See, like Jojo's, there are a lot of things that normally you would criticize or dislike in other shows, but there is so much energy and passion behind it, and it comes at you with such energy you kind of just... give up and enjoy the ride for what it is.
Despite a rather large number of flaws, it's almost like they don't really matter (Except the arm thing, that is still really stupid). It is a great action show full of a lot of fun and interesting characters, backed up with some fairly decent themes and a fantastic premise. The less the desirable parts do hold the show back a bit, but it's one of the more enjoyable anime I've sat through this year. On a plus side, the show concluded, so you don't have to wait for a new season, definitely worth a watch.