Sunday, December 20, 2015

Black Butler (manga, vols. 15-20) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura

I had some issues with this particular vacation read, but Toboso's art tended to make up for it all. She really does some lovely work, and her panels are always clear and easy to follow, unlike some of the stuff I read during my vacation.

I keep forgetting that, technically, this series has an overarching storyline. I have no idea if Toboso ever plans to give this series an ending, or if Sebastian and Ciel will be participating in short story arcs forever. As far as longer-running series go, Skip Beat! has done a better job than Black Butler at keeping me feeling excited and engaged, but Black Butler is still pretty good. This is another series I definitely plan on continuing during my next vacation.

All right, on to the specific volumes. As usual, warning, this post contains spoilers.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 15) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura – Ciel has been sent to Weston College to find Derrick Arden, son of Duke Clemens, cousin to the Queen, as well as other mysteriously missing students. He quickly realizes that the only way he'll be able to meet the headmaster is if he becomes the fag of one of the prefects. The best he can do is ingratiate himself with the fag of the fag of one of the prefects, with Sebastian's help, but things go wrong when one fag, Cole, lies and makes Ciel late to an important gathering. Ciel invites Prince Soma to the college because he'll be in Cole's house, and Ciel is able to use Soma's info to get back at Cole and into the prefects' good graces. This volume's bonus: Black Jockey.

This story arc and my American English clashed a bit – so much horror on my part when I initially misunderstood Ciel's plan, and even once I realized my misunderstanding, I still spent much of the volume flinching.

I do love Ciel when he's like this, sneaky as heck and willing to use whatever tools he has on hand to get his way. He made good use of Sebastian's skills (I adored Sebastian in his “housemaster” getup), and Prince Soma was like an eager puppy (with an elephant!). Soma is a walking stereotype, but he's a good counterpart to Ciel's seriousness.

I had forgotten how absolutely gorgeous Toboso's artwork can be. Clean, pretty, and delightfully easy to follow. After reading a few manga volumes with not-so-great artwork, this made me sigh in relief.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 16) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura – Ciel continues to try to find Derrick and the other students that were supposedly transferred from Red to Purple House, going so far as to start a fire at Purple House. However, Derrick turns out not to be there, leaving Ciel with the Headmaster as his last hope. He learns that he has a chance to meet the Headmaster if he distinguishes himself at the big cricket tournament. Under Ciel's direction, Blue House uses both tricks and outright cheating (a bad meat pie) to beat Red House. Meanwhile, Green beats Purple (that combo gives me B5 flashbacks). This volume's bonus: Black Quiz (basically, a Slumdog Millionaire/Black Butler crossover).

I do not understand cricket. And not even Toboso's diagrams were able to help me. But I did enjoy Toboso's attempts to capture the drama of sports manga in her cricket segments.

This arc has definitely snagged my interest. So far, it seems as though Derrick and the others may have been used for something nefarious.

One thing I loved about this volume was the flashback to Ciel's father, who used to be the prefect of Blue House. He looked like what I imagine Ciel will look like if he manages to live long enough to make it past puberty, and I'm sure he was just as devious as Ciel now is, considering that he used his cricket win to make Diederich his slave.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 17) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura – Ciel and Blue House manage to win by using some dirty tactics (including one that was just plain cheating, but only Ciel and Sebastian knew the specifics). Sebastian tries to confront the Headmaster, but the man keeps escaping, indicating that he must have some sort of supernatural skills. Ciel gets an invite to the “Midnight Tea Party” and finally sees Derrick Arden – Derrick has become a flesh-eating zombie like the ones in volume 12. And the Headmaster has been replaced by the Undertaker (who I had actually completely forgotten about). This volume's bonus: Black Dispatch.

This volume was incredibly sports manga-ish, complete with over-the-top imagery, including two Excalibur references. I was surprised that Ciel cheated so little during the game. Bravo, I guess?

The author's note comic at the end was nice. Toboso discussed researching cricket, including asking the CEO of the Japan Cricket Association for a list of dirty cricket tactics. I'm sure that was a fun convo.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 18) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura – Ciel learns that one of the prefects killed Derrick because he's spent years lying and bullying other students and had even had the vice headmaster in his pocket. The other prefects covered up the murder in order to protect the school's reputation. Ciel tries and fails to capture the Undertaker with Sebastian's help, but Sebastian does destroy the zombies. Ciel reports his findings to the Queen, who has the prefects expelled. Then we get a brief break with a story about Ciel marketing a new perfume before switching to the start of a new arc involving a “witch's curse” in Germany that's been killing people. This volume's bonus: Black Priest.

Oh dear. The Queen thinks having zombies as allies might be a good idea.

Meh. This volume was okay, I guess, but a bit of a letdown. The Undertaker's method for creating “almost human” zombies was a bit much. Grim Reapers can do just about anything, it seems.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 19) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura – Sebastian, Ciel, and all of Ciel's staff end up stranded at the mysterious Emerald Castle in Germany, the temporary guests of Mistress Sullivan, the witch in charge of the village (which seems to only have women in it). Ciel and even Sebastian end up injured by a miasma while investigating the surrounding forest. Sebastian serves as Sullivan's temporary butler while Ciel, caught up in terrible flashbacks that cause him to reject all but Finnian, recovers. This volume's bonus: Black Ventriloquist.

I really liked this volume. We got to see Sebastian in (chemically produced) tears – Toboso's artwork was absolutely gorgeous here. And we got flashbacks to the time Ciel was held captive (okay, not so wonderful, especially since there were strong indications in past volumes that Ciel was probably raped in addition to being forced to be ritual fodder) as well as flashbacks to Finnian's past as a test subject. And Toboso reminded readers that Sebastian is a demon and couldn't care less about Ciel rejecting him.

Seeing Ciel so weak and broken was...upsetting. There's so much about this series that only works as long as Ciel is his usual abnormally mature and haughty self.

Mistress Sullivan was kind of fun, although I couldn't help but imagine Elizabeth's reaction to her. All the girls love Ciel, and he just finds them to be embarrassing/annoying. Heh.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 20) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura – The Queen wants Sullivan, so Sebastian forces Ciel to snap out of it by telling him that choosing not to seek revenge voids their contract, so that means he can eat him. Ciel and Sebastian figure out that Sullivan was actually helping to make something more deadly than mustard gas – the old crone was her mother, who lied and built a whole web of fake folktales just to isolate Sullivan and make sure she'd keep working. At the end, Ciel gives Sullivan a choice: either come with him, or he'll shoot her. This volume's bonus: Black Exorcist.

Okay, so the thing Sullivan's mom did was needlessly complex. For 10-13 years, she and those working with her set up a pretend village with a genius little girl as its leader. They broke her feet so that she couldn't escape and made her think the formula she was working on was actually some kind of spell. WTF? And with no guarantee that all those years of work would pay off.

As for Sebastian... Yeah, there is definitely no warm, fuzzy protectiveness towards Ciel in that corner. Ciel is future food and current entertainment, and that's it. It was kind of nice to see Sebastian start to let loose a bit, and I absolutely loved the artwork during the bit where Ciel broke free of his flashback loop – Toboso can do some absolutely gorgeous double-page spreads.

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