Tuesday, January 16, 2018

REVIEW: Black Butler: Book of Circus (anime TV series)

Black Butler: Book of Circus is a historical-ish series that mixes mystery and fantasy. It's licensed by Funimation.

This review includes slight spoilers.

Review:

Black Butler: Book of Circus could, I suppose, be considered the third season of the Black Butler anime. However, I think it's a good thing it wasn't called that anywhere on this boxed set, because that isn't quite correct. Calling it a reboot isn't entirely accurate either.

Those who have only seen the anime and haven’t read the manga might be a bit confused by the anime timeline. Book of Circus does something very similar to what Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood did, rebooting the series in order to follow the manga more closely, but instead of starting from the beginning it starts from the point in Season 1 where things went in their own direction. The arc involving Ciel’s aunt was true (and gets a few references in Book of Circus), but beyond that the slate was wiped clean. The very shaky Season 2 might as well not exist. For those wondering which volumes of the manga Book of Circus covers, it’s volumes 6 to 8.

In Book of Circus, Ciel is charged with looking into the mysterious disappearances of several children. The Queen believes they’re tied to a certain circus that’s always in the area at the same time as the disappearances, so Ciel and Sebastian check it out. They end up joining the circus to get a view of things from the inside. The things they uncover are shocking and horrible, and turn out to be more connected to Ciel than either of them originally anticipated.

Although the areas where the Black Butler anime differed from the manga had their good points, it was really nice to return to content that came straight out of the manga. One thing that struck me while watching this: although Toboso definitely enjoys including the occasional bit of fanservice, her stuff doesn’t seem to go as far as I recall Season 2 of the anime going. In Book of Circus it’s fairly clear that, while Ciel and Sebastian definitely benefit from their relationship and Ciel occasionally has moments of weakness, when it comes down to it they really don’t like each other. Ciel is Sebastian’s future prey and they both know it - the contract is what keeps everything civil between them.

The circus folks and their benefactor were like a mirror version of Ciel and his servants, in some ways. The circus folks and Ciel’s servants both had to do terrible things to protect their masters, and neither side was what I’d call “good," although Ciel was definitely a lighter shade of gray. I still wish the ending could have worked out a bit differently. If there had been time, and if Ciel had been in a better and steadier frame of mind, maybe a few of the circus folks could have been shown the truth and joined Ciel’s household. They’d still have led lives that occasionally would have required them to kill, but they’d have lived, and Ciel generally tries to operate without purposely hurting innocents.

I enjoyed a lot of the final showdown. Watching Ciel’s folks in action was a treat, even though the results were tragic. It was more of a shock to watch how coldly Baldroy and the others dealt with their opponents in the anime than I remember it being when I read the manga, although it’s been several years since I last read the volumes this boxed set covered, so I might have just forgotten my reaction.

I watched this in Japanese with English subtitles and preferred that, but I may rewatch the whole thing with the English dub turned on at some point, just because the stuff Matthew Mercer does with Joker is so interesting. He uses two accents, an Irish one for Joker’s performer self and a more proper British accent when he’s with his benefactor. I think I might have noted a change in how Joker spoke in the original Japanese, but not nearly the same way I noted it in the English dub.

All in all, this made for some nice viewing. I’m glad I stopped waiting for Netflix to add it and just got myself a copy while it was on sale. I’m a little appalled at how much Funimation is charging for both this and Book of Murder, though - that’s a lot of money for a very short season and an OVA, with only a skimpy selection of extras. I’m sorry, but a nice cardboard box isn’t worth that much. Funimation has a history of being one of the most affordable anime distribution companies, for good or for ill, and I hope this isn’t a sign that that’s changing. Or, if it is, I hope they start including enough with their sets to make it worth it.

During Right Stuf’s holiday sale I also ordered a copy of Black Butler: Book of Murder, another boxed set I’d likely never have gotten if not for sale prices. The timing of my order should have allowed me to go straight from Book of Circus to Book of Murder, but unfortunately I’m having my first ever shipment problem with Right Stuf in my more than ten years of buying from them. I realized a week or so ago that I still hadn’t received my package even though it’s been almost a month - it turns out it never left Iowa. At this point it’s unclear whether I’ll ever get what I ordered or, if I do, how long I’ll have to wait.

Extras:

I just realized that this is one of the few (only?) boxed sets I own that doesn’t include a “clean” opening and closing. It's a shame, because the opening and closing animations for Book of Circus are fantastic. Here’s what the set does include:
  • Episode 4 audio commentary - I listened to this and enjoyed it. If I remember right, the folks doing the commentary were Brina Palencia (Ciel), Mikaela Krantz (Doll), and Ian Sinclair (ADR director, Baldroy).
  • Episode 10 video commentary - I watched a few minutes of this before I decided I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Video commentaries don’t really work for me. I want to see what is the actors are talking about, rather than the actors themselves as they’re watching the episode they’re commenting on. The little box at the bottom with the episode doesn’t cut it.
  • U.S. Trailer for Book of Circus
  • Other Trailers
Additional Comments:

My Blu-ray discs had occasional video glitches - moments when something green briefly flashed on the screen and then went away. Yet another reason this boxed set’s price is appalling.

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