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.