Thursdays this season have it covered when it comes to big-scale Miyano Mamoru performances and boys with eye patches, that’s for sure. Kuroshitsuji is definitely one of those series that’s easy to take for granted – it never seems to draw much attention in the Western community, but in terms of atmosphere and complex character dynamics it plays in the big leagues – and when it’s in good hands (as it clearly is here) it makes for a marvelous anime experience.
The word I would choose for Kuroshitsuji when it works (which is basically whenever it follows the source material, though there was some excellent original content in this episode) is “immersive”. This is a show that grabs you and pulls you in for 22 minutes, allows (or forces) you to see the world from its perspective. So far in “Circus-hen” that’s been a relatively painless experience – creepy and unsettling at times, certainly, but offering only fleeting glimpses of the underlying truth. The world of a Victorian circus is attractive in its own way – exotic, bizarre, strangely beautiful, the sort of place that’s fascinating to spend time in as long as you know you can go back to your comfortable reality afterwards. But this is Kuroshitsuji after all, so you knew that had to change sooner or later.
There are two narrative tracks running side-by-side here, aligning with the double-life Ciel and Sebastian are leading. There’s the matter of trying to blend in to circus life and adapt as Black and Smile – unsurprisingly far easier for Sebastian than Ciel. And then there’s the search for the truth of what’s hiding underneath. Joker gives us our first real clue to that at last, telling the other first-string performers that “Father says there aren’t enough sweets for the main event.” Their reaction is telling – clearly, this isn’t welcome news. Meanwhile William and Sebastian (who’ve been assigned as roommates) have laid their cards on the table – each has something to accomplish here and they’ll stay out of each other’s way, but especially on William’s part this is a grudging truce at best.
Ciel, meanwhile, has been assigned to room with an unnamed boy who seems quite cheerful and helpful. Being separated from Sebastian is traumatic for obvious reasons, though. The boy offers Ciel a special “Funtom Sweets” lollipop as a sort of consolation. And when silence falls over the tents after the performance, the first-stringers head off to town in silence. Sebastian moves to follow but William blocks him from leaving their tent and Sebastian complies with uncharacteristic meekness, owning that he hasn’t been ordered by his master to shadow the troupe.
The performers descend on London and set their sights on a young flowers-seller who’s just sold her last blooms to a kindly bobby with a daughter the same age. I don’t think the scene that follows is in the manga (I don’t remember it in any case) but it’s a good ‘un – a really grim and disturbing contrast of the illusion Joker is foisting on the girl and the reality of what’s happening to the cops trying to save her. Amidst the carnage it’s Doll who seems most hesitant and unsure, which earns her a scolding from Joker. And a golden-haired Shinigami (Kenn) is standing by to reap the souls of the policeman who fall in the onslaught.
The other standout of the episode is seeing Ciel in a truly vulnerable state, very much the child for once. For all his force of will and precocious intelligence, Ciel is pretty much helpless without Sebastian at his side – and a world of communal cold showers (outdoors in winter) and peeling barrels of potatoes is more than he can bear. We see a real breakdown here – and it’s only after Sebastian comes to him with a towel and gruff consolation that he’s able to pull himself together and reassert his dignity. It’s no secret that his trials are only beginning, though – and it’s the way this arc allows us to see the main cast in a different light while also telling a gripping story that makes it Kuroshitsuji’s finest hour.