Judging from the lack of reaction to the post on Part 1 of “Book of Murder”, I’m not sure how many of you are engaged with this OVA, but it’s certainly made an impression on me. And releasing a story on disc (this one originally played in theaters, in fact) is going to impact the following among non-Japanese fans, no doubt. That’s a shame, but if there were ever a story that was well-suited to the format, it’s this one. “Book of Murder” is as canon as it gets, yet works exceptionally well as a stand-alone story. It could have been an arc as part of a season, of course, but this OVA was just about the right length to tell the story and the choice to do so this way gives it an added air of distinction that’s quite welcome.
I’ve already written quite a bit about this series, including about the first part of “Book of Murder”, and I don’t want to repeat myself. Nor do I want to go into the details of the solution to this mystery – to say it’s complicated would be an understatement, but the way Toboso-sensei puts it together is (as usual) artistry. I will just reiterate, though, that I really do believe that Kuroshitsuji gets less credit than it deserves because of all the puffery and nonsense Toboso trades in. That pleases a certain group of fans and it undeniably adds something to the rich world-building, but I think it blinds some to just how sophisticated and often brilliant Toboso’s writing is. There’s a lot of cultural literacy at play here – she understands the time and place about which she’s writing very well indeed. Her plotting is intricate and elegant. And she’s telling a genuine modern tragedy about indelible and exceptionally interesting characters.
So much went into this grand web of deceit that we saw play out here. I can’t imagine even non-manga readers were too surprised to see that “Jeremy” was really Sebastian – indeed, I don’t think Toboso or Abe-sensei went out of their way to hide it. The fun – and the drama – came in watching it all play out. And indeed, in watching it recounted to the incredulous Arthur when it was all over. Indeed, this was all a game – a test from Queen Victoria to see if her watchdog was still worthy of the role after the disastrous “resolution” of the Noah’s Ark case. Indeed, the hangover from that dark and terrible story is a formidable presence in “Book of Murder” – even if the story itself is a somewhat less bleak one than “Book of Circus”.
Simply put, this episode was a blast – the Byzantine plans of Ciel and Sebastian, the way they use circumstances as a chance to noodge each other at every turn (Ciel slapping “dead” Sebastian with his rings on, Sebastian joking about his diminutive size, etc.) , Ciel’s acting skills, the unexpected surprises that turn up along the way. One thing that makes Kuroshitsuji tick is just how formidable both Sebastian and Ciel are – Sebastian is obviously much more than human, but Ciel can’t be sold short. He’s an incredibly shrewd and cool customer, especially under pressure. On the one hand it’s tragic just how broken he is, considering his age and just how innocent he was before everything turned black. But on the other, it’s hard not to admire Ciel’s sheer steel and ruthlessness – he plays hardball, this one, and you’d better not crowd the plate.
This was a pretty complicated story, but in the end it boiled down to everyone from Victoria on down having something they wanted to gain from it – eliminating a German weapons magnate, punishing an underworld arms dealer who broke the rules, even getting a budding genius mystery novelist over his writer’s block. And of course there was that huge twist at the end – “Book of Circus” wasn’t quite as over as it seemed. Snake (Terashima Takuma is really great here) was the odd man out at the end of that story, and he alludes here to the fact that he was the one never being told the truth – but the really interesting part of Ciel’s decision to invite him to join the Phantomhive staff. There are good, hard practical reasons for it, as Ciel explains – but is there more to this surprising decision? Is there a touch of guilt here, perhaps even a glimmer of truth about his feelings in the grand lie he tells the chained snake before freeing him? It’s a great twist (it has to be if even Sebastian and Ciel didn’t see it coming) and it puts a different spin on the end of “Book of Circus” (which was already spun differently in the anime version).
As a last morsel, “Book of Murder” offers up the grimly hilarious moment of Sebastian’s “resurrection” (his tombstone bears the Irish blessing “May you be in Heaven a half-hour before the devil knows you’re dead” – certainly ironic in this case). Yes, the “safety coffin” was a very real thing, springing from a time when fear of being buried alive was a widespread phenomena (indeed, there are even modern versions today). It was enough to fool the household staff, but not Tanaka-san I’m betting – and the entire sequence is another lovely bit of the black comic poetry Kuroshitsuji is so good at. Now the wait for more anime continues, but I think there’s a good chance we will see it – Kuroshitsuji continues to be a strong seller both in manga and on disc, and I for one am dying to see how Toboso-sensei decides to end this story. She’s one hell of a writer.