As I said last week, I was more pleased than I expected to see Black Butler again, and I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the misguided second season causing me to forget just how good this series really is. There aren’t all that many anime or manga that you could really describe as having their own signature style, but this is definitely one that does – rather than being derivative, it’s one that has spawned many subtle imitations. Given that there are so many parallels between Victorian and Japanese society (which could be the subject for its own – lengthy – post) it’s odd that there aren’t more anime that explicitly rather than implicitly mine Victorianism for their setting.
If last week was a somewhat generic if highly successful (re)introduction into the world of Kuroshitsuji, this was the start of the “Circus” arc (ark?) proper. At that, though, it’s a gentle immersion, giving few hints of the events to come. It begins with a letter from Queen Victoria, containing affectionate platitudes for her “cute boy” Ciel, but also an implicit request to investigate the activities of the Noah’s Ark circus. Children have been disappearing all along their touring route, and the police unsuccessful in finding even a trace. Ciel and Sebastian being, in essence, paranormal detectives in the Queen’s hire (Ciel anyway) there’s nothing for it but to head to London town to investigate.
The first stop is a visit to the Undertaker, always a welcome addition (though Ciel may feel otherwise). He’s one of the many indelible, larger-than-life personalities peppering this cast, with Suwabe Junichi giving one of his most outlandish performances. He extracts a… performance from Ciel (no peeking) only to tell us that he knows nothing. But because Undertaker knows everything about the underworld, his not knowing is important knowledge – if there are no dead children on either side of the social fault line, then there must be missing children somewhere waiting to be found.
It’s hard for someone with knowledge of events in the manga to talk too much about Noah’s Ark Circus, it being so tempting to share this or that tidbit. Instead I’ll just say that it’s a treat to absorb the atmosphere of a Victorian circus with it’s period acts and gaslights, peopled with the strange and the singular refuse of society. Joker we met last week, but there are a slew of others who make their debuts – the trapeze act Peter (Tai Yuuki) and Wendy (Shintani Mayumi). The knife-thrower Dagger (Okamoto Nobuhiko) and the high-wire artist Doll (Takagaki Ayahi). The serpent-handler Snake (Terasima Takuma) and the big-cat tamer Beast (Kaido Yuko), whose Tiger, Betty (yes Ciel, “Tigers are cats!”) Sebastian volunteers to play with. And the Doctor who designs prosthetic limbs from ceramic, some of which Joker and Beast are currently sporting.
They don’t call them “circus freaks” for nothing – carnivals and circuses have always been a gathering place for social outcasts and outsiders, and by historical standards the folks we meet at Noah’s Ark actually seem pretty tame. But that aura makes them a perfect match for the creepy, sinister and flamboyant world of Kuroshitsuji, which I think is one reason why this arc works better than any other in the series. There’s no hint of anything specifically wicked going on here as relates to the missing children – though Joker does speak of the “real” troupe leader being “really scary”. With Sebastian worming his way into an audition for the troupe and planning to bring Ciel with him, it’s really a perfect canvas for Black Butler to paint its masterwork upon – it’s just a matter of waiting and watching.
ED: “Aoki Tsuki Michite (蒼き月満ちて)” by AKIRA