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[Black Butler: Book of Circus]
AKA: 黒執事 Book of Circus
Genre: Horror Fantasy
Length: Television series, 10 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently licensed by FUNimation, available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Content Rating: 16+ (Smoking, suicide, violence)
Related Series: Black Butler (TV series, 2008-2010,+ 7 OVAs); Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic (Movie, 2017); Black Butler: Book of Murder (2-episode OVA, 2014); Black Butler: Public School Arc (TV series, 2024)
Also Recommended: Akuma-kun; Princess Resurrection; Ge Ge Ge Kitaro; Moonphase
Notes: Based on manga by Yana Toboso, published by Square Enix
Rating:

Black Butler: Book of Circus

Synopsis

A rash of children's disappearances causes Queen Victoria to send her "guard dog", Ciel Phantomhive, to investigate (along with his "hell of a butler" Sebastian too, of course.)


Review

WARNING: One spoiler. Because something troubled me, and I think prospective viewers should know about it.

OK, pro tip: ALWAYS turn down invitations from Ciel Phantomhive to dine at his mansion. (This one starts like another one did in the series, with Ciel disposing of an inconvenient dinner guest.)

Anyway, the children's disappearances seem to be correlated with the arrival of a circus, so Ciel and Sebastian infiltrate the circus troupe. But they find their investigation obstructed by, among others, a Reaper (I believe he's their Supervisor), who's also infiltrating the troupe, and who HATES Sebastian. There's quite a contrast between his attitude toward our Demon Butler, and that of the Reaper who's infatuated with him, Grell. While this one doesn't keep Grell completely out of the picture (despite my fervent hopes), it does delay, and limit, his involvement in the affair. (I feel about Grell about the same as Stig and Tim feel about Yuri in Spy x Family.) The Reapers, like vultures, swarm to any spot where death- particularly mass death- is shortly expected.

Well, those "vultures" will have plenty of human carrion to feast on, as is pro forma in the climax of a Black Butler story. The only problem here is that it's kids this time. And the murder of kids has been kind of a taboo in commercial entertainment. And our hero, Ciel, turns it into a mass slaughter.

Some background: Yana Toboso, the author of Black Butler, seems to have done his homework on the period. Victorian ideology contended that if you were poor, it was due to your own moral failings; if the state was to intervene at all, it was to punish the poor for their indolence. And children were simply looked upon as a dispensable resource. This is the darkness that lurked under the veneer of piety and "compassion" that the Victorian upper and middle classes purported to believe in (and which I'm seeing ever-growing echoes of in the U.S. today- even the part about looking at kids as a disposable resource, as evidenced by the loosening of restrictions on child labor in several U.S. states.) Toboso presents the rot that existed in Victorian culture (in a heavily fictionalized way, of course), and his focus on the poverty of kids in London's East End shows how thoroughly he's done his research. (That was the same territory that spawned Jack the Ripper, whom we dealt with (Toboso's version of them anyway) back in the original Black Butler anime.) We'll say that the villain behind the child disappearances turns out to be a well-connected person gone utterly mad, whose own "compassion" for kids has turned into grisly exploitation, and whose inner sanctum (when Ciel finally finds it) is a house of horrors. There are layers upon layers of cruelty here, not just from the prime offender, but from hangers-on as well.

And Ciel arguably makes it much, much worse- but note I said "arguably". His own rationalization for his decision makes some sense, but I couldn't help feeling that there was an unspoken reason as well- that, as Victoria's "guard dog", Ciel feels obliged to cover up any incidents that might "embarrass" the Queen, and something like THIS, which occurred under the noses of all the PUBLIC watchdogs- and under the actual aegis of an (at least formerly) well-connected "philianthropist"- would certainly embarrass her. (I prefer "fixer" to "guard dog", since it's a more specific term for someone who does "extra-legal" (or just illegal) tasks for the benefit of another.) I've frankly worried about the lack of positive human role models in Ciel's life- I think the last one might have been Inspector Abberline back in the Ripper storyline. Given his own backstory (which we'll get a little more of here), no wonder Ciel's so cynical. By the way, it seems that Sebastian's particular appearance might not just be coincidence; he looks very much like someone in Ciel's past.

Speaking of Sebastian, at one point Ciel orders him to track down a particular signet ring crest by looking in the archives, but Sebastian takes the sort of shortcut exactly suited to a demon. It's interesting to have his nature reaffirmed, but his method is, really, just MORE human exploitation.

Comic relief for this very grim tale is once again provided by Ciel's bumbling housekeepers, though we're once again reminded that Ciel really didn't hire them for their housekeeping skills. At an early stage of a melee at Ciel's mansion, Elizabeth (Ciel's nominal fiancée, who's staying there) gets awakened, but is told she just had a bad dream. I would have loved to have heard what she was told when all hell really DID break loose there.

Other cast members include Indian Prince Soma, an earnest, albeit rather dense, admirer of Ciel's; he's usually used as a kind of desperation chess piece by Ciel. (He shows up again in the Public School Arc, which is currently airing as I'm writing this.) And the guy who supposedly "translates" for his snakes, who I mentioned in the Book of the Atlantic review, really DID debut here. But poor Ran-Mao, who's really my favorite character in the show (even though she almost never speaks) only has a brief walk-on at the beginning.

I'm really not happy about the body count of children here, no matter HOW logically Ciel tries to justify his part in it, and even if this IS here to make a point about the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of children in Victorian England. Though even with all that, I might have been inclined to go another star if they'd been able to keep Grell COMPLETELY out of it.Allen Moody

Recommended Audience: Crunchyroll's new ratings say 16, for "smoking, suicide, violence". Well, there's certainly plenty of violence, some of it gruesome, and much of it directed against children. There's also brief nudity, which I think Crunchy must have missed.



Version(s) Viewed: Crunchyroll video stream
Review Status: Full (10/10)
Black Butler: Book of Circus © 2014 Yana Toboso/Square Enix, Project Black Butler
 
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