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.