I’m surprised by how happy I am to have Kuroshitsuji back. I always liked it but it’s not a franchise I’ve thought about all that much since the last OVAs appeared (in 2012, I believe). I think the reason is that the sub-par second season still affects the aftertaste, even if one intellectually realizes it’s not “true” Kuroshitsuji. This premiere was a reminder of just how good the canon material is, and I have an overwhelming sense of relief that the series is free of Okada Mari’s insipid ending and back on its own turf.
“Book of Circus” is going to follow a very specific arc from the manga – probably my favorite, and possibly the darkest in an always-dark series – yet it chooses to open with a very approachable stand-along re-introduction episode. I was surprised to see the season announced as only 10 episodes, and there’s not a lot of room to spare on episodes like this one, but I can certainly see the value in re-acquainting fans old and new with the Kuroshitsuji universe after such an extended absence. In that sense the episode works very well – and the OP sequence at the end is one of the most visually stunning I’ve seen in a long time.
The sacrificial lamb in the first episode is a tea merchant named Cedric Brendel (Shitayama Furoku), who’s having dinner at the Phantomhive estate in the company of Lau, under the premise of wanting to expand his business into the children’s market but in truth, wanting to eliminate an obstacle in his plan to make a fortune as an arms merchant using tea routes to run guns. The reality is he’s here to give the audience a reminder of what happens when you mess with the Queen’s guard dog – and of course his faithful akuma manservant. And if you know anything about Kuroshitsuji, you know that isn’t going to be pretty (though it will be elegant).
This episode is really a survey course in all things Kuroshitsuji – vaguely shotacon interactions between Sebastian and Ciel, Meyrin, Bardroy and Finnian being incompetent, Sebastian taking time out for slaughter while trying to stay ahead of his duties as butler (there’s no one better with forks), Ciel being a stone-cold badass. Kuroshitsuji is like a dance, really – well-choreographed, everyone going through their paces. It’s highly stylized, quite ridiculous and often very funny and very brutal at the same time. There’s an art to the way mangaka Tobosa Yana makes all this work together, and the new director for this round – veteran Abe Noriyuki – clearly gets that aspect of the series. This feels like Kuroshitsuji through-and-through in a way the second season never did.
What this is building towards, of course, is the world of Ciel and Sebastian colliding head-on with that of Noah’s Ark Circus – which we get a bit of a teaser of after that boffo OP, including the introduction of Miyano Mamoru as Joker (the casting is almost too spot-on, but I could never imagine anyone else playing him). I won’t go into detail for the benefit of those of you unfamiliar, but rest assured, as long as Yoshino Hiroyuki doesn’t take liberties in adapting it (and Lord knows, that’s no safe assumption) the Circus Arc is killer material, can’t-miss stuff. If you like what Kuroshitsuji does – and I can certainly understand why not everyone does – you’re in for a hell of a treat as long as Yoshino-sensei doesn’t fuck it up.
OP: “ENAMEL” by SID