Sunday, December 10, 2017

REVIEW: Black Butler (manga, vols. 21-23) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura

After weeks of not being able to write very much at all, I seem to be on a roll right now, so let's see how many more of these post-vacation posts I can knock out.

Black Butler is a series I've been reading chunks of every time I have a vacation. I always forget how enjoyable it is. I started reading the volumes I'd requested after slogging through a few mediocre manga, and it was like a breath of fresh air. Toboso's artwork is such a joy to look at that I'm willing to overlook that the main storyline may never get resolved. Do well all even remember what the main storyline is? Well, the arcs are generally fun, even if they don't necessarily have anything directly to do with Ciel's past and his investigation into his parents' murder.

I had thought I had finished the Emerald Witch arc during my last vacation, but apparently I wasn't quite done. I got back into it easily enough (that's what my spoiler-y post-vacation posts are for, after all), and it was lots of fun seeing Ciel's group do what they're best at, kicking butt.

There are huge spoilers from here on out. Continue on at your own risk.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 21) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura - Ciel convinces Sullivan to choose to live by telling her she could come up with the antidote to SuLIN. However, first Ciel and his group must successfully get her out. While Sebastian is retrieving the samples and killing everyone in sight, Ciel splits everyone else into two groups and acts as a Sullivan decoy. Sebastian catches up in time to save Ciel from a Panzer, although Ciel's father's old friend, Diedrich, also helps. Everyone makes it out, although Sullivan's beloved bodyguard is tragically killed. (Or so it appears!) Also, two German grim reapers are introduced: Ludger and Sascha. The bonus this time around is, I think, "Black Schoolboy" - the library stickers covered up most of the second word.

This volume was loads of fun, even though it didn't technically add much to the story. It was just nice getting to see Sebastian rip loose and Ciel's servants finally get to do the things they're actually good at. It's easy to forget that they aren't all just there for comedic relief.

Sebastian got to scare the crap out of everyone by surviving a massive dose of mustard gas, which he then blew in Sullivan's mother's face. Finny played the role of Sullivan's legs, transporting her faster than anyone except Sebastian could have done. Baldo got to play with explosives, Meyrin put her sniper skills to use, Tanaka cutting a bullet in two with a sword, and Snake got to use his snake-y communication skills to lead one of the groups. Oh, and Sebastian took out the Panzer by literally punching a hole in it and putting an explosive food tin inside it. So much carnage in this volume. Oh, and there's a brief flashback with Ciel's dad in it!

Toboso's manga looks so freaking good after reading bad or mediocre manga. Crisp lines, nicely done screentone, clear facial expressions, and easy-to-follow action.

The ending of this volume was a bit of a gut punch, although it was nice to see that even just one person truly cared about Sullivan.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 22) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura - This is the end of the Emerald Witch arc. Wolfram (Sullivan's butler and bodyguard), who was raised as a soldier since birth and given a name only after he was assigned to Sullivan, is miraculously saved. Ciel and Sebastian transport Sullivan and Wolfram to England. Ciel gives Sebastian one week to turn Sullivan into a young lady fit to meet the queen. Hilarity ensues. Wolfram is only permitted to complain about Sebastian's treatment of Sullivan if he can do so in English. Lizzie arrives and briefly thinks Ciel is cheating on her with Sullivan, but that gets cleared up pretty quickly. Ciel instructs Sullivan to give the queen the formula for mustard gas but to carry the formula for SuLIN to her grave - it's a way for her to secure funding for future research while limiting the horror she looses upon the world. Sebastian deposits the SuLIN samples deep underwater (that doesn't seem like a very good idea unless they're all sure that it won't affect the water, but whatever). The inside cover bonus this time around is "Black Diver."

As usual, Toboso ends the arc with a bit of comedy. I was glad that Wolfram survived, and watching Ciel torture Sebastian by forcing him to do the impossible, turning Sullivan into a lady and teaching Wolfram English in only a week, was fun. And then Lizzie arrived and forced Ciel to undergo some of the training too. Ha!

This volume included a wacky multi-page bonus comic based on the Japanese character popularity rankings. A character's ranking affected their page-time in the comic, so higher ranked characters got to appear more often. This led to them scheming to steal each others' rankings, which only ended after Sebastian took multiple character rankings to defeat Snake's ranking-superpowered snakes. Like I said, wacky. It ended on a surprisingly melancholy note, as the Undertaker tried to bring Ciel's father, Vincent, back to life by gifting him with a higher ranking. Which made me wonder about Vincent and the Undertaker's relationship, and whether that would get touched on in the next arc.

Another intriguing bit: the end of this volume indicated that Vincent might still be alive. I somehow doubt it - the wording was ambiguous - but I look forward to seeing what Toboso has in store for readers.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 23) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura - This is the beginning of a new arc. The four disgraced prefects from the Weston College arc invite Lizzie's older brother to a music hall. Lizzie gets her brother to take her, and she has her fortune told, resulting in her being mysteriously ensnared by the music hall - no matter how much Lizzie's brother tries to get her to come home with him and stay, she keeps going back to the music hall. Ciel investigates, on the order of the queen and in an effort to figure out Lizzie's strange behavior. The fortune teller, Blavat, seems to immediately know what Sebastian is and has him escorted out of the music hall. Meanwhile, Ciel has his fortune told and is told he's favored by the divine protection of Sirius. He's told to come back on a special day to take part in secret activities: a pop music concert (starring the prefects, who remind me strongly of the Uta no Prince-sama anime) and drugged sleep, during which the participants maybe have their blood drawn. Sebastian learns that some participants are turning up dead.

Meh. This arc isn't starting off on a very interesting note, although I did enjoy seeing the prefects and Sebastian act like chirpy pop stars. Also, it was nice to see Sullivan reappear in order to diagnose Ciel's puncture wound - it looks like she might turn into a series regular, the person Ciel can turn to whenever he needs a little scientific help.

Part of the reason why I was disappointed with this volume was that I was hoping this arc would bring the story back to the Undertaker and Ciel's father. It looks like that isn't going to be the case, unless this stuff with Blavat is somehow connected.

That said, I'll probably enjoy this more after being given time to get used to it. I'm looking forward to reading more of this series during my next vacation. Seeing the shock on Sebastian's face when Blavat instantly realized he wasn't human was a lot of fun - it'll be nice to see where this arc ends up going.

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