Title: Black Butler
Author: Yana Toboso
Publisher: Yen Press
Volume: Volumes 6 and 7 (ongoing), $11.99 each
Vintage: 2009 by Square Enix in Japan, July 2011 and October 2011 by Yen Press
Genre: Victorian, black comedy, drama, supernatural
Ciel has been asked by the Queen to investigate a series of child kidnappings that appear to be related to the appearance of a traveling circus, Noah’s Ark. When they find little information about the children by slipping into the police file room or by paying Undertaker a visit, they decide that it’s time to visit the circus itself. After a humorous encounter between the circus’s trained tiger and Sebastian, Sebastian is invited back stage as an apology, and to assess his injuries. While visiting with the circus troupe, Sebastian learns that many of the cast members have some sort of disability (missing limbs, scarred features). He goes a little too far in his examination of a certain hot-tempered lion tamer’s leg, and ends up in a small altercation which allows him to show off his skills…and be offered a job in the circus. To better investigate the circus, he convinces Ciel to join up as well. Ciel is fairly useless, of course, so Sebastian works some tricks during his tryout to make sure he is able to join the circus. As Ciel and Sebastian are taught the basics of circus life, they realize that they are not the only newcomers. And old friend is also investigating the missing children. Although they have yet to find any evidence of the kidnapped children, the appearance of a Grim Reaper (William) undeniably means that something is going on at the Noah’s Ark circus. The Reaper and the Devil agree to stay out of each other’s way, but unfortunately, when room assignments come around, they find themselves stuck together. Ciel, of course, is separated from Sebastian to room with a young freckle faced boy. This arrangement makes it quite difficult for them to conduct their investigation. As Ciel gets more and more frustrated by his situation, he decides it’s make it or break it time, and devises a quick plan that will allow him to search the tents of the top tier performers. He finds a series of photographs that all feature the same older gentleman, and Sebastian notes that the man is wearing a signet ring with a symbol that matches one he has seen on the prosthetics of the circus performers. He also discovers a strange letter in Joker’s room (the ring master) that leads him to believe his identity has been discovered, but as he is about to leave, he is spotted by one of the top tier performers, the tightrope walker, Doll.
Doll turns out to be someone unexpected, and Ciel manages to slip away without trouble. However, while discussing their next move with Sebastian, Ciel has a sever coughing fit and nearly passes out. Sebastian is surprised to discover that his master has just had an asthma attack, a condition he was not informed about, but Ciel claims to have gotten over it. The cold weather and Ciel’s uncommon exposure to the elements has wreaked havoc on his body, and the boy has come down with a cold. Ciel gives Sebastian instructions to go into London and investigate the coat of arms that keeps popping up around the circus. Unfortunately, William won’t have the devil roaming about without his master, so Sebastian must find another way to accomplish his task. If we have forgotten that Sebastian is a devil to his bones, we are unquestionably reminded here, when he seduces the broken-hearted Beast and uses her weak emotional state to get her to tell him the name of their “Father.” With the devil literally whispering in her ear, Beast gives him a name – the Baron Kelvin. Their information gained, Sebastian and Ciel immediately leave the circus and return to the London townhouse, where Agni and Prince Soma have been staying. Ciel wants to continue the investigating right away, but when Agni and Soma see how sick he is, they insist he stay and rest. Agni even convinces Sebastian that his master’s well being should be his top priority, even overriding orders, and so Sebastian confines his master to bed for the day. Back at Noah’s Ark Circus, the performers are getting nervous, worried that their cover has been blown and the police might be on their way. With Joker having left the night before to speak with their Father, the others must make the decision to carry out their assignment immediately and promptly get out of town. They send Doll ahead with a message for Joker, while the rest head toward their assignment – the capture of Ciel Phantomhive. While the performers head off to the Phantomhive mansion, Ciel heads toward Baron Kelvin’s manor. When they arrive, they are shocked to be greeted by Joker, who courteously brings them inside and leads to them a dining room, where they are soon joined by a bandaged wrapped and wheelchair ridden Baron Kelvin. Confused by the Baron’s enthusiasm at meeting Ciel, they are caught even more off guard by the evening’s entertainment – the kidnapped children being forced to perform circus acts to their death. Completely appalled and infuriated, Ciel puts an end to it, and prepares to squeeze every last ounce of information out of the Baron before killing him. The Baron has one final secret, however; a secret related to the nightmares of Ciel’s past. Obsession and desperation have led to tragedy, but also bring Ciel one stop closer to the truth about the murder of his parents and his own kidnapping. Meanwhile, at the Phantomhive mansion, the bumbling servants prepare to reveal their true worth.
Sebastian has way too much fun at his master’s expense in volume 6. We’ve seen him tease and revel in Ciel’s frustration before, but he goes much further this time. During Ciel’s tryout, Sebastian hits Ciel with small stones to keep the boy from falling off the tightrope, and he quite obviously can barely contain his laughter. He’s delighted again when Ciel is made to smile, and then is actually named “Smile” by the troupe. He’s definitely taking pleasure in his master’s humiliation. Another smug grin graces his face when Ciel comes out of his tent in the morning having had to dress himself, and is a poorly groomed mess. His fun is put to and end, however, when Ciel comes down with a serious cold that inflames his childhood asthma. As Ciel coughs, wheezes, struggles to breathe, and even vomits, Sebastian stands by completely helpless, and indeed flabbergasted at his master’s symptoms. He is unaware Ciel has had asthma problems in his past, and so the disease is not something he has studied, leaving him at a loss as to how to deal with the situation. His face belies…perhaps genuine concern for his master. Or perhaps he’s just shocked because he’s rendered useless. I’ll go with a mix of both, since he is clearly worried when speaking with the doctor, and relieved when Ciel calms down. Enough to tease him about finding himself in bed with a girl who is not Elizabeth. We see again that he’s not infallible when Agni brings up the fact that a butler’s priority should be his master’s health and happiness. He still has much to learn about being the perfect butler. The highlights of volume 6 definitely include Sebastian and Ciel’s circus tryouts, as well as the very aristocratic Ciel trying to adjust to living in a tent, bathing outside, grueling physical training, and fighting for his food. Sebastian is content to tease his master until Ciel mans up and gets down to business, prompted by some chiding (or near insult) from his butler. Tragedy unfolds in volume 7, when we finally learn the truth about Noah’s Ark Circus. A mismatched group of kids, forgotten by society, but adopted by a wealthy Baron who gives them new bodies (prostheses to replace missing/injured limbs) and new purpose. Unfortunately, this new purpose is to kidnap children…and kill any witnesses who get in the way. The Baron, driven by his own obsessions, has completely snapped. Baron Kelvin, several years ago, found himself in the company of the previous Earl Phantomhive and a smiling child named Ciel. These people were beautiful, and clearly of a higher class than he, but he was drawn to them and desired to become one of them. This desire made him lose his mind, and he decided to undergo dangerous and intensive surgery to transform his entire body into a youthful and beautiful body fit for walking among the “special” people, like the Phantomhive family. Unfortunately, he was too late, and the Phantomhives were lost to him…until he once again found Ciel. Fed up with the Baron’s childish mannerisms and brutal treatment of the kidnapped children, Ciel gets about as dark as we have ever seen him, his fury at an all time high. It’s enough for him to dirty his own hands, when he usually relies on Sebastian to dole out judgement for him. It’s hard to tell if this pleases or angers Sebastian, who does his best to cultivate Ciel’s soul for his future feast, but as there usually is, I imagine once the dust settles there will be a intense conversation between master and servant about Ciel’s choices at the Baron’s house. The big thing coming, of course, is a display of the Phantomhive servants’ true abilities. It’s taken seven volumes of bumbling idiocy to get there, but we’ll finally be able to see why such useless servants are kept on at an otherwise impeccably run manor.