Saturday, November 24, 2018

REVIEW: Black Butler (manga, vols. 24-26) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura

Black Butler is one of my long-running vacation reads. Although I sometimes wish Toboso would finally get on with it, return to the primary storyline, and wrap things up, it's been nice to have this series to turn to when I need something with clean, gorgeous linework and easy-to-follow action.

I saved these three volumes for the very end of my vacation and thought I'd only have time for a couple of them. However, considering how volume 25 ended, reading volume 26 was a must, so I bit the bullet and made do with a little less sleep. I'm still not sure how I feel about the big twist in volume 26. On the one hand, it's nice that this series can still manage to surprise me. On the other hand, I feel like Toboso accomplished this by cheating. I doubt this particular surprise was planned since the series' beginning, and I can think of numerous spots where this information should have come up in past volumes and yet didn't. It irks me.

Okay, from here on out, prepare for major spoilers. As usual, I'll be cross-posting to Booklikes, Goodreads, and Librarything, where I can make use of spoiler tags.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 24) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura - Ciel has Sebastian pretend to be part of Nina's entourage (Nina is the Phantomhive family seamstress) so that he can search the music hall. Sebastian finds and brings back Lizzie, as well as blood collection equipment and bottles of labeled blood (Polaris, Vega, Canopus, Sirius). Unfortunately, he doesn't find the "Names of the Stars" (who are, apparently, not the members of the S4). Lizzie runs back to the music hall (bound to it in some way?), and Ciel hits on a plan - open his own music hall right across from Blavat's, with his own boy band, the "Phantom Five" (Edward, Clayton, Cheslock, Joanne, and Soma). The bonus inside illustration and Black Butler AU: "Black Dealer." There's also a bonus manga, "On a Special Day: The Butler, Lyrical," in which the Phantomhive manor celebrates Halloween in English, American, and Japanese ways.

This arc hasn't really appealed to me, and this volume hasn't changed my mind. Still, it was fun seeing Sebastian forced to try on a bunch of trendy outfits, and Ciel's "Phantom Five" looks great considering he threw them together and expected them to be a functioning band in two weeks.

There was also a subplot involving Grelle and Othello (a reaper from Forensics) investigating the deaths from blood loss. Still meh.

The bonus comic wasn't terribly interesting, although the Japanese "lantern festival" panels were amazing. Toboso's artwork is lovely.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 25) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura - Ciel manages to catch the Sphere Music Hall in the act of dumping a body - it turns out that his new music hall and the Phantom Five were part of a plan to limit the Sphere Music Hall's blood supply and increase the likelihood of deaths, in order to force this opportunity to happen ASAP. However, breaking up Blavat's operation (acquiring and typing blood for safer transfusions for a group of rich old men in renal failure) doesn't bring Lizzie back, for some reason. There's an encounter with Grelle and Othello, and Prince Soma admits that he knows Ciel doesn't consider him a friend and is keeping him at arm's length. He's determined to stay close to Ciel and help him somehow reconnect with the world. The volume ends with Agni seeing something shocking in an old family photo of Ciel's, and with Ciel (?) pulling a gun on Prince Soma.

I'm intrigued by Lizzie's continued absence, and I want to know what Blavat's true goal is. Also, what did Agni see in the photo scrap? And ooh, Soma turns out to be more perceptive than I thought. He's been comedic relief for so long that I forgot he had a serious side to him.

Black Butler (manga, vol. 26) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura - Agni sacrifices his life protecting Prince Soma from the killers in Ciel's home. Ciel and Sebastian arrive too late. This is when the other Ciel arrives. It turns out that the Ciel readers have known since the beginning of the series is actually a twin, specifically the spare (who, unless I missed it, is never once named in this entire volume). Flashbacks show their birth and childhood. The spare Ciel (our Ciel) wanted to become a toymaker, while Ciel was going to be the next Earl Phantomhive. Spare Ciel was sickly and, although no one ever treated him unkindly, there were frequent reminders that one day he'd be on his own. This volume's bonus illustration and Black Butler AU: Black Santa.

Oh boy. Well, that explains why Lizzie said she couldn't come back. She realized that she's actually the fiancee of the real Ciel (aka Evil Ciel).

I'm tempted to go looking up interviews, because I find it difficult to believe that this particular twist was planned for the more than the past two or three volumes. I don't own this series and therefore can't go back to look inconsistencies, but I can recall multiple times in the past when Ciel met with people who knew his parents who should have said something about the information revealed in this volume. I mean, there's no good explanation for why they didn't. Why would they be sad about the parents but never once think about Ciel's adorable and sickly little brother, even if he wasn't destined to be the next earl?

So on the one hand, I'm looking forward to reading the next volume and seeing where Toboso goes with this. It feels like we might be nearing the series' endgame. On the other hand, this twist feels cheap and annoying. And if it's revealed that real Ciel had a hand in spare Ciel's abuse and near-death after their parents died, I'm probably going to get snarly. There's no sign of it in the way they interact with each other in the flashback, so the main reason why I'm worried this development is a possibility is because it occurred to me that the people who killed Agni looked an awful lot like the robed guys who kept Ciel (spare Ciel) caged.

My guess is that spare Ciel is going to have a bit of a breakdown as soon as the flashbacks are over, but hopefully he'll snap out of it pretty quickly. Real Ciel might have surprise and a bunch of killers on his side, but spare Ciel has a demon, so I'm betting on the spare.

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