Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus – 08

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Side characters in Kuroshitsuji really shouldn’t buy any green bananas.

A few weeks ago a commenter (I apologize for forgetting which one of you it was) mentioned that “Book of Circus” bears a certain resemblance to last year’s Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen.  And as time passes I sort of see it, in that we have two series with a largely vestigial first episode and after that, what feels very much like a complete and self-contained story told with elegance and tremendous style.  In each case, too, we have the anime adding and tweaking just enough to make it an even more compelling experience than the original was.  From the first strains of the OP, there’s nothing in “Book of Circus” that feels out of place – it’s a show that gets everything it possibly can out of the story it’s telling (and that’s a lot).

This week Ciel more or less echoed my thoughts of a few weeks ago, when I divided the world of Kuroshitsuji into victims and those who victimize, and described the series as the story of what happens when those in the first group try to move into the second.  He describes it “those who steal and those who’re stolen from”, but the meaning is essentially the same – since I didn’t remember that speech from the manga has been percolating in my head all this time, or the story is told so artfully that the conclusion is inescapable if you’re paying attention.

Taken in that context, it’s easy to see “Circus-hen” for what it is, a vehicle to shed insight into the essential drama of Kuroshitsuji – which is of course that of Ciel and Sebastian.  That makes everyone in it frankly expendable, which makes Toboso-sensei sort of cruel for making the inhabitants of Noah’s Ark Circus so interesting.  They, it seems, are destined to be victims no matter who it is doing the victimizing – all Kelvin was doing was victimizing them in a different way than English society as a whole was doing (and in respect of its depiction of this element of English life in the time period Kuroshitsuji is far from unrealistic).  And in trying to be loyal to him, they make victims out of a great many more innocents despite knowing just how wrong it is.

One might even argue that Baron Kelvin himself is a victim, though I myself wouldn’t go that far.  What he is most definitely is a small man with dreams of being large, a twisted and depraved psychopath and probably a pedophile.  That he wasn’t responsible for what was done to Ciel and his family by no means excuses him for what he’s done since, nor does the fact that he’s made a victim out of himself by letting Doctor (you didn’t really think his hands were clean, did you?) turn him into a freak.

Kuroshitsuji is a tragedy at heart, and that’s the feeling watching the events of this episode play out.  Ciel doesn’t judge Joker for what he and his “siblings” did, because they were protecting their world, just as he’s doing by “stealing their futures“.  And just what Finny, Bard, Mey-Rin and Tanaka are doing when Joker’s subordinates descend on the Phantomhive Estate with the intent of kidnapping Ciel.  It’s easy to feel sorry for the likes of Jumbo, Wendy and Peter because they really have no idea what they’re getting themselves into – which is remarkable because in terms of intent, they’re here to kidnap a young boy to a fate worse than death to satisfy the urges of their venal “father”.  This is the sort of thing that happens when victims try and become victimizers.

Ultimately, this is the central theme of Kuroshitsuji I believe, and it’s much larger than “Circus-hen” – whether it’s really possible for a human to move from one group to the other, and whether Ciel can ride his hatred and sheer force of will to be the one to do it.  If someone has to sell their soul into eternal damnation to make the jump, that would seem like a Pyrrhic victory at best – making oneself into a different sort of victim rather than escaping victimhood itself.  And the eternal and deathless like Sebastian and Grell and William watch human beings dance like puppets on strings, some content merely to cut them when the show is over, some keen to be the ones pulling the strings.

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  1. e

    Just to remind us of the Break The Cutie factor of this story: pre-tragedy Ciel was both an awfully pretty and seemingly sweet child. Anyone feeling like hugging the screen in tears?
    I must say I was expecting a screenshot of him as a little kid here.
    About the Baron not being directly involved in the Phantomhive's slaughter… there's a passage making me doubt he wouldn't have done that if he could. When the other creep brings him the news about Ciel being their next sacrficial lamb the man also tells him 'you'll be luckier next time'. So uhm… he was already a regular in this kind of event and would have been fine to torture and kill his beloved child had he been there? Because back then he couldn't know what would befall the perpetrators so it's not like he was the one going to die that night ( or even if he was going to end of life after Ciel's death that would have played out like some twisted Romeo and Juliet scenario in his mind I suspect ). Basically it looks like theyre heavily implying the Baron had been digging his own dark pit since he met Ciel and his father in the flesh but also that his actions had escalated since before their supposed death.
    When confronted with the very event sealing his ultimate powerless victim status Ciel reacts at his most merciless homo homini lupus. And interestingly enough during this part of the episode and steal vs stolen speech the one bright spot (visually and figuratively) is Lizzy. Can't really speak about her in detail because manga spoilers but at this point in the anime having her popping up like seems to make her a (partial? total?) exception to the rule.
    Talking of the young lady, oh boy can she seemingly sleep like a log :p.
    Another memorable bit in this arc: the servants showing their true colours including Tanaka in srs bsnss non chibi mode.

  2. I never suggested that Kelvin wouldn't have gleefully participated in Ciel's defilement if he'd been able to – merely that he wasn't directly responsible for that or his parents' deaths (though his father could be argued to have been largely so). Kind of like a drunk driver who happens to make it home without killing anyone.

  3. e

    I missed a bit while pasting my comment in the box I'm afraid. I had the impression that your ' what he has done since' referred to 'since what was done to Ciel and his family'.
    Going by the creep's 'lamb… next time' bit instead I got the impression the anime was suggesting us Kelvin was already doing some sick stuff. So the unforgivable factor to me starts even earlier. It's not just 'since' to me, it's 'even before that'.
    I should have also phrased what was my point more clearly in my previous comment in hindsight. And yes my point is probably souding quite merciless and cold here. Absolute zero Kelvin if you want.
    Hark, a bad pun!

  4. A

    i think kuro is really underrated, people wont watch it cause 'yaoi' -.-
    i watch it for the tragedy that kuro is

    and hey, didnt you find that scene where baby ciel is being introduced in fathers flashback kinda weird and off?
    actually ciels torture flashback is pretty weird too
    its almost like the anime is going out of its way to prove the two ciels theory :/

  5. e

    @Adeeba Raydah:
    On baby Ciel: the scene seems to be told mostly through Kelvin's POV, the off feeling is quite literally in the eye of the beholder…
    About that theory… Dissociation and the feeling of watching yourself from the outside are very possible PSTD reactions. When recalling a traumatic event (THE traumatic event) even more so. Personally I'm in the 'one Ciel' camp.

  6. In the interest of safety I think it's better if we don't go any further down that road…

  7. e

    Yes, My Lord 😀
    More seriously, that's my opinion since first watching and reading this scene. It's all PSTD Ciel recalling that day plus some 'omniscient camera' angles (and the bit with him in the cage holding the bars could be both of these mixed with Sebastian's POV) with his memories coming in bits and pieces and in jumbled order.

  8. w

    I haven't read this manga arc, so I wouldn't know if it is so faithful. By your reviews, it seems it is as much as it could.

    Victorian period is appealing to me, but its dark sides do sadden me too. It was a time when child labor is still rampant, I think, and a pedophilic or sadistic society may not be out of the ordinary.

    I'm torn when it comes to the Circus guys , but their end did not sadden me too much. And I think, what Ciel says in this ep made me feel so because those guys stole the futures of more children than there ever were of their main group. Still they could have been kept alive, but of course, they may just be hanged instead.

    I haven't read this arc, but Undertaker's presence in previous Earl Phantomhive's billiard room is intriguing.

  9. There are all kinds of saucy "intriguing" things thrown into flashbacks in Kuroshitsuji, which lead to wild theories like the one above. The reason I don't want to discuss them is because inevitably, someone will use something that happens later in the manga as part of the case for or against. But the mangaka loves to fan the flames, I don't think there's any doubt about that.

  10. w

    I understand. I wouldn't want to get spoiled too though. ^^ Btw, thanks for the review~

  11. m

    I'm utterly late to this party as I've just caught up on Kuroshitsuji. For some reason, the anime feels much more depressing to me than the time I read the manga, so I've been delaying it for a bit.

    But that last line: "And the eternal and deathless like Sebastian and Grell and William watch human beings dance like puppets on strings, some content merely to cut them when the show is over, some keen to be the ones pulling the strings."

    This line truly elevated Kuroshitsuji in my eyes and I can only thank you for that. This is why I keep coming to your blog. It's without a doubt the most insightful I've ever seen.

  12. Thank you for that. I confess it's never been more obvious to me than it is watching this arc that Kuroshitsuji is deep. For all the fanfare and posing and fanservice, this is a very dark and profound story being told. Full credit to A-1 here, and yes, to Yoshino Hiroyuki – they've made this great arc better than it was in the manga.

  13. j

    Is it just me or did Vincent come off as way more creepy than I imagined? Then again, it's not as if Ciel was the first Phantomhive to take part in underground dealings, but Vincent was presented a bit more sinister than I thought.

    This Book of Circus remake is the best thing that's happened to the anime. A manga arc adaptation done right.

  14. Vincent was about what I expected. This is not an innocent man we're talking about.

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