Circus Wonder is a collection of three short stories by Kusunoki Kei, two horror and one comedy. This entry is obviously about the title story, which takes up about half of the tankouban. Of course it may have been wiser to pick up one of the other, shorter ones to meticulously look up all of the kanji for, but I guess it’s better than one of the longer series I have.
Circus Wonder focuses on a high school girl who ends up going to a circus which is really run by fairies and so on from a different world. They end up using her in the show and taking her away with them; their leader, a creep wearing a clown mask most of the time, tells her that she’s his sister and not a human at all! Her classmate and romantic interest, who is also the only person that hasn’t forgotten her, sets out to save her.
Detailed summary behind the cut. Pictures coming if I ever get my scanner to work.
Before I even start summarizing, let me mention that the main character is named Madoka. That doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary until you consider that her name consists of the kanji for yen (en, whatever). I’m not too familiar with writing Japanese names, but google tells me that there are many other ways to write “Madoka.” I think it’s pretty ridiculous and unfortunate to have one’s first name be written identical to your country’s currency symbol, and whenever I came across her name, I thought “Yen!” before remembering that it was just Madoka.
Excessively Long Summary
The manga kicks off with an ominous page of a clown babbling on about a circus filled with dreams coming to your town, followed by a panel of some fantasy creatures asking to be taken away from darkness. Cut to a girl sitting in the library drawing. Her friends come up and ask her if that’s a drawing for the next anthology (Of what? I don’t know.) and ask her where she always gets the ideas for her drawings from. This one, for instance, happens to be a mixture of a centaur and a mermaid. She tells them they’re her own thoughts, which creeps them out a little. One says that the centaur-mermaid she drew is something from a classical painting, and tells her that it’s a “ikuchuoken” taurus (I hate katakana and could not figure out for the life of me what the first part what supposed to mean.). Madoka had no idea; her friends don’t believe her.
At this point a first year student, Yuki, bursts through the door to invite her to go to the circus with him. After yelling at him for being so loud, Madoka agrees once her friends also express interest in tagging along. Yuki leaves to get changed while Madoka’s friends tease her for seemingly liking him.
They all meet up at the school gate, where Yuki and Madoka wander off on their own. Yuki mentions that it’s sure a big crowd and wonders if they were all here with free tickets that a clown was handing out earlier. As Yuki then drags Madoka to the tent so that they can get decent seats, Madoka notices a clown – the same one from the ominous first page – looking at her.
Once inside, Yuki asks Madoka if she knew that this is their first date – only to subsequently get yelled at, of course. The show starts, and the first attraction is the “strongest man on earth,” Golem (He’s later revealed to be a homunculus, so I guess that’s just his name.). He splits a log in half with his bare hands, and somehow the audience is impressed. Next are the three acrobat sisters “Urz” (Uruzu in katakana), “Berzandi” (Beruzandi), and “Uurd” (Uurudo). I thought Kusunoki was going for the norns of Norse mythology with the names, but while two of them resemble Verdandi and Urd, none of them are in any way close to “Skuld.” Oh well. In any case, Madoka thinks that she sees them really hovering above the ropes, but Yuki tells her that their bodies are probably light and that’s all there is to it. Next up is a lion, whose cage they throw a white cloth over and then stab. The cloth immediately turns completely red. Yuki thinks it’s cool; Madoka freaks out and wonders if they killed it. At this point they rip the cloth off to reveal a mermaid. The crowd goes wild, but Madoka thinks that there’s a creepy feeling to this whole circus and considers that there may be more to it than meets the eye.
For the next act, a fortune teller named Salamander (Saramandora) claims that they’ll need to help of an audience member and gazes into her crystal ball to reveal that that person is a girl born on October 31 named Kamitsuki Madoka. She hesitantly goes up to the stage and is stuffed in a box by the clown, which freaks her out once again. The box is opened to reveal… Madoka sans head. It’s closed and opened once more, and out comes happy Madoka in one piece. Yuki tells her that that surprised him as she walks toward him, but she completely ignores him and continues on out of the tent. Yuki follows her to ask her what’s going on and what happened, but when he grabs her hand to stop her, she falls apart. It wasn’t Madoka at all, but just a doll.
Yuki hurries back into the tent, where he catches sight of Madoka’s three friends and lets them know that Madoka has been taken away. They just stare at him and asks who that is – they were only a group of four when they came. Yuki sees that they’re not going to be much help, and fights his way through the crowd until he reaches the clowns, who is named Takeru, by the way. He yells at Takeru to tell him what happened to Madoka, but Golem plucks him up off of the ground while Takeru just replies that he knows Yuki is still excited from the show but he should really go home now. Yuki isn’t a match for Golem, so he ends up having to leave. Takeru is left wondering why his magic didn’t work on this one boy – everyone in the town was supposed to have forgotten Madoka.
Yuki runs around a bit frenzied and decides that he should go by Madoka’s house before heading to the police. Her mother doesn’t remember her, however, and her room is not being used. Once Yuki is back at his own house, he notices that she’s gone from all of the pictures he had of her and starts wondering if she was ever real to begin with. Cue a flashback to them first meeting: Yuki says something about being a new fan of hers and Madoka starts crying and (later) thinks that through Yuki she had become complete. Unfortunately, she then wakes up to find herself in the circus surrounded by Takeru and some dolls. She wants to run away, but Takeru stops her and tells her that he had always, always been searching for her. A little boy comes up and tells him that he’s scaring her and should at least take off the mask. Madoka wonders why there’s a little child, but he corrects her and tells her that he’s not a kid at all and can also read her mind. Madoka now tries to escape from him, too, but is stopped by Takeru. He tells her that he’s not a human at all but a fairy accidentally born into the human world. On top of that, she’s his twin sister. When she doesn’t believe him, he does what any normal person would do and slashes his finger to get her to drink his blood. Right, I’m sure that’ll convince her. She pulls away and runs right into a bunch of dolls controlled by Salamander, who is angry that she’s so rebellious when all they had done was come save her. Takeru runs up, pulls her down, and hugs her as she kneels on the floor. Madoka notices that he smells like her before presumably passing out.
Back to Yuki, sort of. He had heard Madoka cry out when all of the freaky dolls were holding her, so he’s convinced that she was real and heads back to the circus to rescue her. Takeru, Saramander, and the others are sitting around her crystal ball discussing Madoka. Saramander says that they need a heart to bring her back, but at that point she also notices Yuki sneaking around the circus (in her crystal ball, of course). Takeru is pissed (Madoka is his!) and yells that they should kill him and use his heart to bring Madoka back. Meanwhile, Yuki comes across the mermaid in a big glass tanks and fears that she’s going to die in the water like that. He clims up and reaches his hand in the water, only to be saved by Berzandi who pulls his hand back as the mermaid lunges out to eat it. Apparently she has no eyelids so Yuki understandably took her for dead when she was really just sleeping. (This is probably the only creepy thing in the whole story.) She’s also a flesheater and would have taken his hand right off. Berzandi tells him that everyone is out to kill him and implores him to take her back instead of Madoka. She was also born as a human and sort of want to go back. Yuki doesn’t care much and heads on, causing her to yell at him that everything they do – her flying, Takeru’s magic, etc. – is real and Madoka is one of them, too.
At this point things go sort of haywire. Or, rather, Berzandi sort of looses it. Left behind by Yuki, she figures that if Madoka is so great, she’ll just become her. Literally become her. She shows up in the room where the little demon was guarding Madoka and lops his head off with a sword/dagger without further ado. Turning to Madoka, she explains that Yuki has come to take her away from here and tells her to give her her body before he gets here. Berzandi further explains that magic and so on would run out in the human world along with their long lifespan, but if she had the body of a fairy, 50 years or so would be added on. To do that, she only has to eat Madoka’s heart. Nothing to worry about.
Before she can do that, however, Uurd steps in and calls her a backstabber. Since Berzandi was running toward Madoka to stab her, Uurd gets killed instead. As Berzandi kneels beside her, the lion, which got out of its cage during all of the commotion ealier, comes and eats her. Urz is horrified and Madoka feels as if everyone’s going insane.
Yuki had come upon the circus stage earlier, where he was greeted by the entire troup. Salamander tries to take care of him first and sics the dolls and then Golem on him. Unfortunaly, before Golem can murder him, Urz bursts into the scene and starts yelling at Takeru. Because of what happened with her sisters, she’s now convinced that those who were born in the human world should not return to the other world again. While everyone is preoccupied with her, the lion comes up and bites Golem’s face and throat, killing him. Takeru burns both the lion and Golem. Yuki is still somehow convinced that everything is just some elaborate trick and Takeru has gotten to the point where he summons up Yuki’s heart in his hands when Madoka bursts in. She runs toward Yuki, but Takeru tells her to stop lest he crush the heart and kill Yuki. Takeru’s masks finally falls off to reveal that he really does look like her.
Yuki yells that she shouldn’t be deceived and lunges toward the heart to grab it, but Madoka finally remembers that it’s all true! It’s too late for Yuki, since Takeru crushes the heart as he tries to keep it away from him. He dies in Madoka’s arms. Takeru comes up all happy that she has finally awakened, but Madoka just calls him a murderer and flies up with her newly sprouted wings to scream that she hates him a whole lot. Takeru uses some sort of magic, although Saramander tries to stop him, and reveals that he loved her and had only wanted to lead her out of darkness. After some panels of young Takeru crying because he doesn’t want people to hate him, everyone is back at the circus. Madoka and Yuki step out of the box together, but while Yuki is only amazed because they were just in the audience a second ago (obviously not remembering anything), Madoka starts crying. She, too, doesn’t really remember any of what happened: she thinks she just had a dream. Eventually she manages to remember the name Takeru, which she says questioningly as she walks away from the circus.
Circus Wonder is certainly not a story with any sort of depth let alone profoundness; it’s pure entertainment. It’s not even entertainment on the same level as, say, Magic Knight Rayearth; it’s kind of like going to see some really cheesy horror movie. Almost guilty pleasure-ish. But entertaining it is. The story moves at a nice pace that never really gets boring, and Kusunoki even manages to make some of the characters feel familiar by the end so that you care, at least a bit, to find out how everything will turn out. Even more laudable is the fact that she managed to keep Yuki from getting annoying. I mean, this is a fantasy/horror story. The supernatural things going on are obviously supposed to be real, but here is Mr. Sceptical who refuses to believe in any of it after repeatedly being confronted by happenings that can’t be explained in any other way. Maybe it’s because by the point where he was really harping on it, the focus of the story was on Madoka and Takeru instead of him. I don’t know.
There are a few points in the story that seemed a bit puzzling: Why didn’t Yuki ask Berzandi to come along and help him when she was obviously the only one of the fairy folk that felt amicable toward him, even if only for selfish reasons? Why did he feel the need to grab the heart from Takeru – what good would that have done him?
Thankfully these are rather minor issues (Well, aside from the heart bit.) and no horrid pitfalls of story-telling.
The Japanese in here is not too difficult to understand. If you have a decent grasp on all of the different types of verb conjugations and a good Japanese dictionary (I like the one at j-talk.com, myself.), there shouldn’t be any problems.
While certainly not exquisite or anything like that, the art isn’t abysmal, either. In other words, it’s pretty average. There are a few scenes that look good; there are a few scenes where characters look slightly wonky. Oh, and that one scene where Madoka sprouts wings which looks absolutely ridiculous. Until then, Kusunoki had drawn more flimsy, ethereal wings, but Madoka’s gets outlined so that they look silly. It works to tell the story, however, so I’m not going to complain any more.
A nice piece of entertainment, which may be made more attractive to me by being the first manga in Japanese that I really read through and understood (previously the understanding part was at least half-way nonexistant).
Definitely worth the 50 cents it cost me.