Saturday, November 23, 2013

Black Butler (manga, vols. 6-14) by Yana Toboso

Back when the events covered in the Black Butler anime and manga were the same, I tended to like the anime more. The art and action looked better, plus I got to listen to all those wonderful voice actors. I'm now firmly past the point where the anime and the manga diverged, and it's turning out to be a lot more fun than I expected. Also, either Toboso's art has become even better or I'm more used to it, because some of the volumes I read during my vacation were beautiful.

This was one of the best manga series I read during my vacation. I finished every volume I had checked out and would have loved to have continued on if I could have.

Read on for spoiler-filled synopses of each of the volumes, plus a few more comments.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 6) by Yana Toboso – Ciel and Sebastian go undercover and join a circus in an effort to find the children that go missing whenever the circus comes to town.

I think this is the start of the Circus Arc.

Toboso's art is pretty, and I enjoyed the humor in this volume. Sebastian, charmed by a tiger! Sebastian and William T. Spears, forced to be roomies!

Out of Sebastian and Ciel, only Sebastian has the natural ability necessary to become a member of the circus. However, since Ciel needs to join as well, Sebastian gives him a little bit of help...which is bit suspicious when Ciel turns out to be nowhere near as good later on. And then there's the whole issue of trying to adjust to rougher circus life. Ciel isn't really cut out for pretending to be a commoner.

I enjoy the little “if Black Butler characters starred in other types of manga” extra that's on the inside back cover of every volume. This one has Black Golfer.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 7) by Yana Toboso – Ciel's dislike of living at the circus, plus an asthma attack, prompt Sebastian to seduce one of the circus folk into telling him the name of their master. After Ciel has recovered, he and Sebastian visit Baron Kelvin and learn that he has turned the children he kidnapped into a macabre circus. Furthermore, Baron Kelvin reveals that he was almost part of the group that used Ciel in a dark ritual and tortured him (and also raped him? I'm not sure...).

The villain in this volume is almost laughably over-the-top. He went so far as to get plastic surgery to try to be as beautiful as Ciel's father and friends and to become worthy of Ciel (there is not enough “OMG ick” in the world). To be fair, Ciel's father was super-gorgeous. By the way, he briefly appears in a flashback. Yay!

It's almost like Toboso decided to balance out the creepy, vile Baron with an extra helping of easy-on-the-eyes fan-service. Not only did Ciel's father make an appearance, but Sebastian had a sex scene.

Inside back cover extra: Black Dancer.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 8) by Yana Toboso – The troupe takes on the Phantomhive manor, not realizing that all the servants are deadly as heck. Every single troupe member who attacks the manor is killed. Meanwhile, Ciel has the remainder killed and orders Sebastian to burn down Baron Kelvin's place, children included (they're empty shells, but still living). After all the carnage is finished, things quiet down again as the manor is rebuilt (in a day! Sebastian is magical) and Ciel has new clothes made.

This volume is incredibly tragic. Joker, Beast, everyone. The flashback to their early days, the revelation that the Baron hadn't fulfilled his promise and cared for their friends back at the workhouse. Even though the Baron could be almost laughable at times, he really was a nasty piece of work. The volume's ending was almost over-the-top light, fluffy and humorous, but necessarily so, in order to help readers wind down after all the prior darkness.

I really wish Ciel had refrained from killing at least a few people. Although I suppose they'd have been his future enemies then, always seeking vengeance for the ones he didn't spare. I was shocked at how totally Ciel had Sebastian destroy the Baron's place and his work.

Inside back cover extra: Black Track.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 9) by Yana Toboso – Ciel gets a visit from the “Double Charles,” the Queen's private secretarial officers. They're there to investigate whether Ciel spoke the truth about burning down the Baron's place and all the children inside it being a necessity. They request that Ciel hold a banquet for a special visitor. There are several illustrious guests – and one mystery writer, a man named Arthur. It's not long before two people, plus Sebastian, are murdered.

This volume confused me. I couldn't see how the stuff with the Queen's secretarial officers fit in with the larger murder mystery portion of the volume. I was also dying to know what was really going on, because there was no way Sebastian had truly been killed.

Arthur, the young, unknown mystery writer, was clearly based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It wouldn't surprise me if Arthur-the-character was only vaguely like the real person, but I still enjoyed seeing a “real person” (one I actually recognized on my own!) pop up in the series.

Inside back cover extra: Black Chief.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 10) by Yana Toboso – With Sebastian dead and the murderer(s) still on the loose, the banquet goes on – until the arrival of Vicar Jeremy, a Sherlock-type character who helps investigate the three murders that occurred. With Jeremy's help, the murderer, Woodley, is apprehended. Arthur is still on edge, though, and then he realizes Vicar Jeremy's true identity: Sebastian!

The resolution to the murder mysteries is convoluted, and I can't help but think that Sebastian somehow framed Woodley.

I love that Toboso shoehorned yet another mystery-related reference into the story, in the form of Vicar Jeremy, who was basically Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.

Inside back cover extra: Black Esper.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 11) by Yana Toboso – Sebastian reveals to Arthur the truth about the murders at the banquet – almost all of which involved Sebastian's frantic machinations. Siemens was actually killed by Earl Grey, to punish Ciel. Ciel framed Woodley to save himself and take Woodley down for his own crimes. The whole tale affects Arthur's writings (he learns that Sebastian is a demon). After that, Ciel takes Snake on as a servant (with the promise of helping him find his circus friends, who, if you remember, were all killed...by Ciel's various servants). Snake, Ciel, and Sebastian board a ship to catch the Aurora Society, which is supposedly raising the dead (and creating zombies).

Sebastian's recounting of his parts in the murders that took place in the previous volumes was absolutely hilarious. I suspected some of what was going on, but I guess I forgot that Sebastian could do impossible things, because there was lots of other stuff I didn't even guess at. That man (er, demon) is amazing. I honestly don't know whether Ciel's servants are really as dumb as they appear of if they're just so grateful for what Ciel and Sebastian have done for them that they don't care about all the incredibly bizarre stuff that happens around the Phantomhive household. One last thing: Sebastian didn't have a part in Tanaka's sudden display of martial arts skills. Which means Tanaka really can kick butt when he wants to. Wow.

This volume not only explained away the questions I had about the murders, it also explained why the Queen's secretarial officers were involved in the first place. I appreciated that, although the explanations (for everything, including the murders) were sometimes a little hard to follow.

While part of me is looking forward to seeing how the addition of Snake to the cast goes, part of me is a bit shocked at Ciel's gutsy move. If Snake ever finds out what really happened to his friends, Ciel is toast unless Sebastian can save him.

Inside back cover extra: Black Gourmet.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 12) by Yana Toboso – Ciel and Sebastian try to deal with the zombies and save Elizabeth and her family. Meanwhile, Ronald and Grelle are reaping souls like mad and investigating the cause of this whole mess. Then, all their paths cross and Elizabeth reveals herself to be just as kick butt awesome with a sword as the rest of her family.

There was so much about this volume that I loved.

Grelle is back! And I love Ronald's long-suffering behavior while he's with him. I can imagine that being assigned to work with Grelle would be...exhausting. To say the least. The Titanic-ish situation they found themselves in gave Grelle a chance to reenact the King of the World scene with Ronald (although Grelle would have preferred Sebastian). Never mind that the movie was filmed long after the time period when this series is supposed to be taking place.

Anyway, the other wonderful thing: Elizabeth. OMG, Elizabeth! I did not know she was so awesome. She's always been Ciel's annoying and naive fiancee, not good for much besides humor and reminding Ciel that life isn't all about dealing with scumbags for the Queen. I wasn't expecting Elizabeth and her entire family to be able to expertly fight off zombie hordes. Now I'm hoping for another season of the anime and for the writers to figure out how to fit sword-fighting Elizabeth in, because that would be amazing.

Inside back cover extra: Black Idol.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 13) by Yana Toboso – Flashback to Elizabeth's childhood as a sword-fighting prodigy. She hid this from Ciel because she thought he'd view her as scary and un-cute. In the present, she saves them all, Sebastian finishes things up, and then Sebastian gets her to safety so he and Ciel can find out who's at the root of the problem and take care of them. The person behind everything turns out to be the Undertaker, who's really a Grim Reaper. The Undertaker cuts Sebastian with his death scythe and sees Sebastian's cinematic record of the time he and Ciel first met, as well as their first days together.

Toboso keeps the good stuff coming. I can't say this enough: Elizabeth is freaking awesome. I desperately want to see her and Ciel grown up and married, although Ciel's contract with Sebastian makes this unlikely. Between the two of them, they could probably rule England's underworld with an iron fist. I'm so happy that Ciel wasn't a jerk about Elizabeth's feelings of awkwardness over her sword-fighting skills. He actually blushed after basically telling her that he liked how capable she was.

Speaking of things I loved: the scenes of Ciel and Sebastian's early days together were great. And also a little confusing. Sebastian appeared to both hate Ciel and be charmed by him. Which I could understand, because, as vulnerable as Ciel occasionally was, he could also be a horrible, rude, spoiled jerk.

Inside back cover extra: Black Spy.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 14) by Yana Toboso – This volume starts with a longer look at Ciel and Sebastian's early days of learning to be the perfect young earl and perfect butler – it was rougher than I expected, but not totally unsurprising when I thought about it. Sebastian survives what the Undertaker did to him, but the Undertaker gets away. Sebastian saves Ciel from the shipwreck and zombies, and they're eventually rescued. Then, a brief break for an Easter egg hunt. The next arc starts after that – Ciel has to pretend to be a student at Weston College to find some missing young men. Sebastian pretends to be a new House Master.

I had thought that the scenes of Sebastian and Ciel's early days would be over after volume 13, but, happily, that wasn't the case. I loved getting to see more.

Somehow, I had thought that Sebastian had always been an incredibly capable butler, but that turns out not to have been the case. Sure, he could do amazing things, but he didn't always understand humans and he needed to learn how to be less obvious when using his demonic abilities. Seeing both Ciel and Sebastian trying to become perfect in their respective roles was a lot of fun. They seemed to relish punishing each other for making mistakes, but they also clearly enjoyed eventually getting things right.

I admit, I'm still a little confused about what Sebastian and Ciel's true feelings are for each other. Ciel has moments when he can be very vulnerable and in need of what comfort Sebastian is able to give him. At those times, it almost seems like Sebastian cares for him. Then there are times when Ciel acts like a spoiled little jerk, and I get the feeling that Sebastian will be happy when he can finally eat Ciel's soul and be done with him.

The Easter egg hunt was pure fluff – not quite as good as the fluff at the end of volume 8, but still nice. I'm really looking forward to the next arc, with Ciel and Sebastian sneaking into a school for rich young men. Ciel is either going to be bullied big time, with Sebastian coming to save him before things get too bad, or he's going to cultivate a group of minions and rule the school. I hope for the latter but suspect the former is more likely.

One last thing: This volume had me wondering just how indestructible Sebastian really is. The damage from the Undertaker's death scythe gave him some difficulty, more than any other wound ever has, but he still held up awfully well. Is it possible he might be killed at the end of the series, thereby allowing me that scene in which Ciel and Elizabeth get married and take over England? On the one hand, I'd miss Sebastian. On the other hand, just the thought of seeing an adult Ciel and Elizabeth together gives me much joy.

Inside back cover extra: Black Baseball.

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