Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus – 09

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Damn, that’s some depressing stuff right there.

I would have thought having read all this (almost – the anime has added a few bits and pieces) in the manga would have prepared me for the shuddering impact of “Book of Circus”.  But seeing these events play out live, with characters who move and (apart from the kidnapped children) speak give it all an even greater power to unnerve and unsettle.  This is probably the darkest arc in Kuroshitsuji, but even here there’s often a dissonance between the surface tone and the nature of what’s actually happening.

Speaking of dissonance, there’s really only one element of this episode and indeed this arc that doesn’t work for me, and that’s Grell.  I don’t especially like the character to begin with, but his ridiculous vamping seems especially out-of-place in “Circus-hen”.  And it always struck me that Toboso-sensei instinctively realized this and intentionally sidelines him for most of the story, but just couldn’t resist looping him back in near the end.  His role in this episode is one rare instance where I think Kuroshitsuji’s deliberate juxtaposition of light and dark is taken past the point of effectiveness.

I keep coming back to the question of victims, because I think everything in Kuroshitsuji comes back to that divide (and on which side of it Ciel falls).  And for all the terrible things they’ve done, it’s hard to see what we saw this week and not view the denizens of Noah’s Ark as victims.  That carries multiple connotations in Kuroshitusji – it mean they’re chum, grist to be chewed up and spit out by those that have real power.  But it also makes it hard not to feel pity for them as the Phantomhive servants dispatch most of them with cold deliberation.  These are terrifying people, emblematic of the two faces of Kuroshitsuji – when they’re “on” there’s no trace of the awkward comic haplessness that’s their usual persona.  They’re Gatling Guns and fine powder that turns kitchens into Hell, and they’re death for those foolish enough to imagine they can enter the world of Phantomhive and emerge alive.

The truth about Sensei and what the kidnapped children were for may have come as a genuine shock to Joker, but it falls well within the range of what one might have guessed based on the evidence. The last moments in Kelvin Manor aren’t the last act of a mystery, but a tragedy – it’s quite clear this isn’t going to end well even before Doctor shows up and reveals himself for the depraved lunatic he is.  Indeed, the really interesting part is what happens when Ciel puts two and two together and finally draws the connection between that terrible night when everything changed and this moment.  And in doing so, he reveals that while he may indeed be a victim himself, he’s certainly no innocent – not any longer – and the extent to which his disdain for philanthropy is genuine and not a pretense.

It’s obvious that among those that have read the manga, these events are going to stoke the fires of speculation (and you know what I’m talking about).  I’m not going to address that here because this is a venue for manga readers and non-readers alike, and it’s not possible to discuss those matters without referencing events that the anime hans’t covered yet (and as Kuroshitsuji continues to be a strong seller with “Book of Circus”, there’s every reason to think it eventually will).  So please refrain from referencing the topic in the question in the comments – there are other places where such things can be safely broached.  But just for the record, I don’t buy it and I think Toboso-sensei is gleefully trolling…

Kuroshitsuji is very good at making us reassess our views of its characters, time after time, and at reminding us never to allow what we see on the surface to make us forget what lies underneath.  I don’t think there’s any way to sugarcoat what Ciel does at the end of this episode – he orders Sebastian to burn the Kelvin house, along with everyone and everything inside it.  Though Sebastian clearly enjoys the act when he eventually obeys, even he is taken aback at the order at first – though one suspects primarily because it seems to be against the Queen’s wishes, rather than on any (HA!) moral grounds.  The notion of good guys and bad guys is largely meaningless in this series, even if it’s remarkably good at making us forget that sometimes.  That just makes the moment when it reminds us all the more shocking.

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11 comments

  1. m

    I remember feeling pretty disgusted with Ciel when he killed those kids in the manga, especially when he tries to hypocritically justify his actions in a later scene. But I think the animators realized that potential dip in character sympathy and purposely lobotomized the kids in the anime. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the original, they were just severely traumatized. In the anime episodes, I noticed there were lobotomy scars on their foreheads.

    I haven't read any discussions on Kuroshitsuji, so I'm freaking curious what you mean by the speculation. Could you spare a hint? :)

  2. I admit I didn't notice any lobotomy scars in the anime version, and I remember them being effectively totally out of it in the manga too. It didn't feel any less shocking to me, but I suppose no you mention it they might have been a little less robotic.

    Just Google "Kuroshitsuji theory" and it's the first bunch of hits. There are actually a couple of them out there, but the main one is the first one you'll see.

  3. m

    Ah, that. Yes. That. Meh. The third result pretty much sums it up for me.

    I suspect the lobotomy scars were there to justify Ciel's "They're better off dead" excuse (do delete this part if you feel it's too spoilery). It kind of feels like a cop-out, though, undermining the mangaka's gutsiness to write Ciel as increasingly callous and hypocritical while heading down that path of darkness.

    Either way, the adaptation has been fantastic. They made a fairly dark arc into something truly despairing. They not only nailed the mood, but enhanced it. While I'm enjoying Tokyo Ghoul's fairly unfaithful adaptation, at times, I wish they'd captured the dark, sketchier atmosphere from the manga. For me, the bright colors upped the campiness too much.

  4. C

    THE KIDS!?!? JOKER?! God dam Ciel…I'm not sure the darkness can really be balanced out when you go THAT dark. I still find Grell pretty funny though. Honestly I just wish there wasn't such a huge gap between season 1 and this one because it's seriously im(de)pressing me 😛 Can't wait to go through the manga!

  5. D

    While I generally agree with you about Grell here, his matter-of-fact "Nothing of note" to summarize Beast's (and in effect the entire circus troupe's) life might have been the most quietly heartbreaking line of the episode.

    And can we all just take a moment to appreciate the brilliance that is Miyano Mamoru? I've heard him in three shows three days in a row this week (Nobunaga Concerto, Tokyo Ghoul, Book of Circus), and not once did I get "seiyuu burnout" or feel like I was hearing the same character. And bonus points for his BoC performance because, gah, he made me feel feelings with Joker today. So many feelings.

  6. He was my male seiyuu of the year twice running with Okarin and Taichi, and it's hard to imagine two roles more different. For me there's no doubting the guy's bona fides.

    Heck, he even managed to make Crowds watchable…

  7. Z

    It was because he was so OTT in Tokyo Ghoul and Death Note that made those roles really (Crowds too).

  8. H

    I don't really like Miyano's breathy-ness in sober/serious roles. But he's spectacular when he hams it up.

  9. s

    That is sort of the way i feel about him as well; he has great energy and can really inject an almost unparalleled amount of eccentricity in roles that require them; an admirable skill of his that i give him major props for; but there are times when i think he misses certain dramatic notes when they call for it. By no means can he not sell drama (chiyafuru is a good example of him selling drama pretty well), but he cannot do it as well as he can do eccentric characters (i recently watched HAL and i wasnt too impressed with some of his delivery in that movie)

  10. g

    The Circus' arc changed an overall atmosphere of the manga, it was much more comedic at first, with a parody elements (an ultra modern sunglasses for queen Victoria, stream punk mobile phones, mentioning Superman).
    When I red the Circus' arc I was so shocked. This little hypocrite creature (I mean Ciel)…so evil but so young. I've understood then Ciel isn't only pretty messed up but a moral bankrupt too. From that time I wish he will die and be devoured by Sebastian at the end, with no mercy.

  11. w

    I didn't notice the lobotomy scars, but this ep was really sad. With what happened to the kids, it's of course possible that they will never be the same and can never function well in society even if they do get rescued. In the end they may act as good as dead already with how empty they appear. It may be surmountable, but with how still lacking in better psychology services in the period this is set, it's altogether difficult.

    Redemption has never been quite a huge thing in this anime or in the manga, and while that is sorrowful, it's somewhat a mirror of how cruel things can get. How not everyone survives from making big mistakes or certain uncontrollable circumstances.

    As to Grell, I never was fond of him. While he can be funny, he is also rather shallow to me.

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