Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus – 05

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I’m not so sure Kuroshitsuji isn’t the best new series of the season.

I can’t help but wonder why more people aren’t watching Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus – or, if they are, why they aren’t talking about it.  The series scores highly on sites like Anime-planet and MAL, and seems to be just as popular in Japan as ever, on-track for strong disc sales as usual.  But even if this isn’t the best show of the season, in the English-speaking fandom it’s certainly the most overlooked.  Did that anime-original season do that much damage, or are people watching and just not talking?

An episode like this one, which packs pretty much every element that makes this show a powerhouse, really brings home just how good Kuroshitsuji can be.  In terms of transporting you inside its universe there are few anime that can match it, but it’s more than just a question of atmosphere.  The series starts and ends with the complex and utterly fascinating tangle between Ciel and Sebastian, of which all its many faces were on display here.  The mystery and suspense elements are far superior to most series which specifically identify as part of those genres.  And the intricate plotting in a big storyline like this one really shows off Toboso-sensei’s formidable technical abilities as a writer.

One of the highest compliments I can pay both the source material and the adaptation is that even knowing most of what was coming in this episode, it was still extremely tense and felt surprisingly fresh.  What we see here is Ciel truly facing up to his own limitations – in his own words, he’s “ay my limit”.  This pushes him to take risks he wouldn’t ordinarily take, desperate to bring this investigation to a close and return home (or at least to his London townhouse and Souma).  And this in turn reveals complexities in his relationship with Sebastian, who relishes that he can follow his master’s orders to the letter even if they seem to place Ciel at risk, and proclaim that he had no choice.  Yet there’s more than mischief here, and Sebastian is quite aware of protecting his investment.  And possibly something more than that, too, as scenes later in the episode prompt the viewer to wonder about.

Ciel’s plan is to search the first-stringers’ tents during the show, a plan which is considerably complicated when “Black” is drafted to perform in place of an injured Wendy (paired with a horrified William, who’s forced to fill in for Peter because of Black’s size).  Ciel forges ahead anyway, and in Beast’s tent finds old photographs showing what appear to be the first-stringers as children standing with what looks like a wealthy nobleman or merchant in front of a workhouse.  Most disturbingly, inside Joker’s tent he also finds a letter from “Tom, the Piper’s Son” with his name and considerable detail about him.  Well – perhaps most disturbingly he finds himself face to face with one of Snake’s charges when he tries to flee before Joker returns – Sebastian having released the snakes exactly as ordered, even knowing Ciel was still amongst the tents.

Fortunately for Ciel Doll is present, and helps him, feeling guilty about having violated his privacy at the baths.  Ciel’s plan is simple – pretend to be a thief, and he pulls his best Oliver Twist out of the bag.  At this point we learn one secret – Doll and the freckled “boy” who’s been paired off with Ciel are the same person.  Doll tells Ciel that she does this because she doesn’t sleep well on her own, and she and Ciel have a warm shared moment – punctuated by Ciel’s inner reflection that she can’t be trusted to keep his secret because humans can lie anywhere, any time.  Not excluding himself, of course.  It’s a reminder of just how cold as steel Ciel can be despite his age, but it’s clear there’s more to Doll’s helpfulness than meets the eye.  Joker and the others don’t trust Doll, and consider her too soft.

All the while Ciel has been exhibiting an ominous cough, ever-more insistent – almost unnoticed at first.  Doctor examines him and declares it to be asthma – a diagnosis which leaves Sebastian seemingly both genuinely baffled and genuinely concerned.  Turns out Ciel had asthma as a young child, and the combination of stress and the chill he got from the outdoor bath in winter has caused a major relapse.  Ciel drifts in and out of consciousness, flashing back to the Lady in Red, before finally giving Sebastian a secret order via Morse code tapped out on his palm – go to the registry and find the signet of the man who stamped “Tom’s” letter.  That means leaving Ciel alone and vulnerable in the hands of the enemy, but an order is an order – and Sebastian is about to carry it out when William once again intervenes to keep him from his appointed rounds  The difference this time is that Sebastian has been given a direct order to fulfill…

In terms of pacing, I’d say this episode was just about perfect – there wasn’t a lull of a single moment.  Honestly, this is how mystery should be done – layer in the atmosphere and character dynamics and it’s fabulously entertaining.  The extra touches like Terashima Takuma’s performance as the multiple voices of his snake spies add so much to the experience, though the cast is so uniformly strong that it’s hard to single anyone out.  All in all this is probably the best anime episode of the week along with Majimoji Rurumo – further proof that fanfare doesn’t determine quality.  There are some plenty good headline series this season, but it’s the unheralded ones which are really starting to rise to the surface.

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10 comments

  1. D

    Hmm – maybe you're on the wrong forums? There's a decent amount of Black Butler buzz over on Tumblr. The manga's pretty popular, though, so I think a lot of people watching the anime have already read the manga, and maybe they just don't feel the need to discuss the same story again in a lot of detail.

    Anyway, I have to agree with you. I don't have anything to compare it to as I'm one of the few anime-only viewers (I skipped Ssn 2, which sounds like a bullet well-dodged), but I'm really loving Book of Circus. The atmosphere is fantastic and the pacing/plotting are just about perfect. It's the first time the BB anime has made me really want to pick up the manga.

    Do you still read the manga, Enzo? I know it's a long series, but would you say it's worth the $7/volume?

  2. I'm not completely up to date with it, but I've never been disappointed.

    In general it would be fair to say that Tumblr has a fairly high percentage of females anime fans, wouldn't it?

  3. D

    Tumblr is like 75% lady-nerds, near as I can tell, so yeah, a fair number of them are anime fans as well. Tumblr has this whole geeky-feminist angle to it, which is a refreshing change from the rest of the Interwebs (and, you know, the rest of the world, mostly). If you ever decide to Tumbl, let me know. I'll send you a celebratory animated gifset. ^_^

    Also, wow, just realizing BB runs in one of the Gangan magazines. Love those guys. They publish a ton of great genre-bending stuff, and some of my all-time favorite shounen/seinen series. That makes me want to pick up the manga even more, now. I can hear my bank account crying already.

  4. Yes, I have big respect for Gangan – they do some really interesting stuff that doesn't neatly meet demographic boundaries. It just so happens that Kuroshitsuji is technically shounen, but has an overwhelmingly female fanbase. So its popularity on Tumblr isn't a big surprise.

  5. e

    On the not being competely up to date with the manga… I caught up with everything after the circus arc last week. In terms of powerful Ciel moments the latest arc definitely brings the goods. I'd definitely suggest you to check it out Enzo if you haven't reached it already. On top of this it features a… bewitching German setting hey :D.
    I wonder if they are ever going to animate more arcs one day… the current one and the Campania chapters would be great choices.

  6. As always it all comes down to sales. I'm surprised they waited this long as even the crap original season, did OK on disc, and the manga continues to be big-time. Early numbers look pretty good, but we'll see.

  7. A

    I really really hope the campania arc gets animated :(
    I don't want them to start adapting the manga only to stop after the murder mystery arc
    Especially considering how amazing the adaptation has been so far, I never expected for it to be so good.

  8. G

    I liked the 1st season and really disliked the second. So much so that I almost avoided even watching this season. But my rule of trying at least 1-3 episodes of every new series came into play and I was hooked.

  9. M

    Kuroshitsuji always leaves me wanting for more and that's just a testament of good it is. Besides the interesting story we have now,I always can't help but want to know more about Sebastian's past,the things he's seen & experienced,etc. It was the same for me during the 1st season,which makes me wonder if there isn't an arc dedicated to that or a few bits & pieces of dialogue scattered throughout the entire series. The series seems to like to tease us with that every now & then like when Sebastian said last "I've long since tired of ripping into every soul I see." to William. Whenever I hear something like that I'm like "CONTINUE! I want to know more !". Is there more to these to these little reveals than meet's the eye? Maybe,but we might never find out. Then again,I find this subtle teasing quite enjoyable despite also wanting to know more,so maybe it's better this way.

  10. K

    I am personally not into this series but there is no way it is underrated. As others have said you must be looking in the wrong places. This is definitely popular with both English & Japanese fans, although primarily the female side of fandom.

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