Ciel, the head of the Phantomhive family, is young in years but otherwise often seems like a little adult. His loyal and talented butler, Sebastian, keeps everything running smoothly, even as Ciel's other servants seem to make a mess of anything they attempt to do.
Only Ciel knows that Sebastian is actually a demon. After his parents were killed, Ciel bound Sebastian to him. Sebastian is Ciel's completely loyal servant, following his master's every command, even when those commands seem impossible. Ciel serves the Queen, as all heads of the Phantomhive family before him have done, but Ciel's ultimate goal is to find and kill whoever it was that killed his parents. In exchange for Sebastian's help in accomplishing this goal, Ciel has agreed to allow Sebastian to eat his soul.
Most of the things Sebastian helps Ciel with in this first volume aren't exactly earth-shattering. Sebastian makes sure that an important dinner with a Mister Chlaus goes perfectly, despite Finny, the gardener, killing the entire garden, Meyrin, the maid, breaking the tea set, and Baldo, the cook, ruining dinner by trying to cook it with a blowtorch. When Ciel's fiancee, Lizzie, arrives and redecorates the entire manor to make it more cute, Sebastian keeps Ciel from irreparably damaging his relationship with Lizzie when she accidentally breaks his precious ring. It's not until the second half of the volume that Sebastian gets involved in more dramatic events.
When Ciel is kidnapped by a member of the Italian mafia, Sebastian leaves the Phantomhive manor in the hands of Ciel's other servants and goes to rescue him, armed only with forks and knives. Thankfully, with Sebastian's superhuman fighting skills and speed, forks and knives are all he needs to defeat an army's worth of the kidnapper's people. Just before he can rescue Ciel, Sebastian is shot multiple times, making it look like the kidnapper won - except that Sebastian is a demon and the bullets do little more than mess up his clothes. Ciel's orders give Sebastian the power and ability to finally save him, and Sebastian takes him home. Unfortunately, though, as good as Sebastian is, he's not quite god enough: he didn't manage to rescue Ciel in time to prepare dinner.
I think some of my synopsis includes information that isn't quite clear yet in this particular volume, but I had problems separating what I remembered from the anime from what I remembered from the manga.
I've found that, usually, manga will take hinted at relationships and sexual (or near-sexual) content farther than anime, but in this case I think the anime goes father. Of course, this opinion is based solely on what I've seen in this first volume, so it's possible this will change. At the point, the manga and anime are still basically the same (although Madame Red makes more appearances in this portion of the anime than in this volume of the manga - most notably, a Sebastian butt fondling scene was added in the anime), although I've heard that the anime deviates from the manga quite a bit.
Art-wise, I like the anime better than the manga. Although the differences aren't huge, the anime art tends to look a bit cleaner to me, and Sebastian looks more like an adult. That doesn't mean I disliked the art in this volume, however - far from it. I just think Sebastian is more consistently sexy in the anime, and I think the character designs are, in general, more consistent throughout in the anime.
I know, I'm comparing this to the anime a bit too much. I can't help it, since my first exposure to the series was via the anime. I couldn't seem to stop myself from comparing everything in this volume to the anime. My comments about the artwork in the manga are nitpicks, really, although there is one thing about the manga that I would change if I could - the translation of Sebastian's catchphrase. The manga has him saying, "I'm a devil of a butler," while in the anime (sub) he says, "I'm one hell of a butler" (or something similar). I think the anime version works better and is more clever.
One thing I really loved about this volume was the humor - Ciel's clueless servants were hilarious, and Sebastian's amazingly successful attempts to clean up after their messes were fun, too. I hope that later volumes develop Ciel's servants more. In the anime, they sort of get the short end of the stick, with bare bones explanations for their various...quirks...given near the end of the first season. I think I might like a little more. Then again, I've heard some very fun things about future volumes in this series that will probably make me forget I ever wanted to hear more about Baldo, Meyrin, and Finny.
Overall, my feeling about the manga is the same as my feeling about the anime: it's not really something to rave about and spend all your money on, but it's still nice. It helps to be the sort of person who goes all fangirly over sexy male characters. Manga Sebastian, like Anime Sebastian, is awesome and sexy, although he's at a bit of a disadvantage without the benefit of Daisuke Ono's voice behind him.
Two full-color pages, one of which shows Sebastian, Ciel, Finny, Baldo, Meyrin, and Tanaka (who I can't believe I forgot to mention - he's adorable!); a 2-page comic showing how Black Butler came to be; 3 pages of translator's notes (very nice); and, on the inside back cover, an illustration showing what the series might be like if it were about the "'Phantomhive' host club" (get rid of the text and word bubbles, and I'd want this image as a poster, even if there was no chance of it ever being in color).
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Yet another fairly light series with over-the-top humor and plenty of fan service for girls.The main character is a girl who is attending an elite school on a scholarship. She gets mistaken for a guy and is forced to join her school's host club in order to pay back a debt. Each guy in the host club is a different type, both physically and personality-wise, so there's bound to be someone there to appeal to just about everyone. About the only potential red flag I can think of is the implied twincest - twin host club members who have a very close relationship. That part of their relationship isn't played seriously at all, but it might still bother some people.
- Godchild (manga) by Kaori Yuki - Those who'd like another semi-historical series set in England, starring a boy detective sort, might want to try this out. If I remember right, this one is more serious than humorous.
- Artemis Fowl (book) by Eoin Colfer - Again, not nearly as silly as this first volume of Black Butler, but it might be a good one to check out for those who are interested in something else starring an adult-like child and a devoted butler/bodyguard. Artemis Fowl is a child villain who uses his amazing intelligence to carry out thefts. His latest plan, to steal from the fairies, beings most of the world doesn't even believe exist, may end up being more dangerous than he anticipated.