Black Butler: Book of Circus

Black Butler: Book of Circus

IMG_1302.PNGIn Victorian London, the breathtaking performances of the Noah’s Ark Circus have captured the attention of people all across the city. But the spell of magic and wonderment woven under the big top is not without consequences. Children have suddenly started to vanish, and some suspect that the mysterious Noah’s Ark Circus performers are responsible. In an attempt to get to the bottom of these disturbing disappearances, the dashing duo of the dark demon butler, Sebastian Michaelis, and his young master, Ciel Phantomhive, will infiltrate the circus and uncover whatever darkness lies at the core.

Black Butler (or Kuroshitsuji) is a popular franchise, and having read some of the manga, I was keen to see how the anime held up under scrutiny. One first view, it would seem that the anime does suffer from a divergence in plot with its manga counterpart after overtaking the source material. Whilst this third series disregards over half of the currently aired episodes as ‘non-canon’, this risky move somehow pays off and Book of Circus proves itself to be a very compelling Black Butler story arc.

IMG_1303-0.PNGFor both those new to the story, and even for those that know how things go, there’s no denying that Book of Circus is initially somewhat confusing. The first episode in particular draws a heavy comparison earlier scenes towards the beginning of the story, and mirrors events to such an extent that it starts to feel like a retelling of the story (at one point I wondered if this series was starting off with a filler episode – eek). Though these repeat references are useful to those new to the world of Black Butler, the episode is full of things only those who have seen the first series (or read the manga) will understand. After the initial introduction, Ciel and Sebastian leave to investigate Noah’s Ark Circus and the show’s focus, thankfully, shifts dramatically.

To begin with, the storyline does jump around quite a bit, but by the time you’ve got your head around things you’ll be ready to forgive Black Butler everything. Book of Circus is very intriguing and action-packed, and the story it tells is by far the most interesting arc in the show so far. Although it’s not very common for anime to religiously follow manga story lines by the letter, I feel that someone really tried to get all the best aspects of the arc in here. One of the reasons I like Black Butler is because of how dark it is, and I’m pleased that even some of the darker elements were well-adapted here. In Book of Circus there’s a stronger relationship with the source material than ever before, and this not only gives the show a solid, rigorous structure, but it brings a real dark tone and humour that is unique to this particular anime.

IMG_1301.PNGThe story centres around Noah’s Ark Circus, which Ciel and Sebastian are tasked with infiltrating after children start disappearing within all the towns it visits. The setting is wonderfully creepy, the mystery is fascinating, and the circus antics that follow are very comical. This arc has a surprisingly good supporting cast that come across as sympathetic and well-developed despite how little screen time some of them receive. Each character has a moral ambivalence, and as the show progresses it becomes quite clear that simply splitting the troupe into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ categories would be an oversimplification and do the troupe themselves an injustice.

This is particularly evident in the show’s ending, which is not only incredibly climactic but also exceptionally dark. As usual, the protagonists are also surrounded by an air of moral ambiguity – Sebastian being “one hell of a butler” again – and the show is rounded off with some incredibly disturbing scenes. Ciel’s traumatic backstory is explored and adds explanation to the vengeful and ruthless side of his personality that we are beginning to see unfolding.

IMG_1305.PNGAlthough well-structured for an anime of only ten episodes, Book of Circus seems to be over too soon. Whilst being left wanting more is never a bad thing, Ciel and Sebastian only end up spending a few days at Noah’s Ark Circus, and their adventure feels like it reaches its final act prematurely. Still, it’s not really much of a criticism from me, as all too often I feel like I see anime that I feel overstay its welcome. There’s also the promise of more Black Butler on the horizon, with the next manga volume scheduled to be adapted into a film titled ‘Book of Murder’. Here’s hoping that this one makes it over to the UK sooner than later.

IMG_1311.JPGOverall, Book of Circus delivers what it promises, and more. The story is well-layered, interesting on multiple levels, has an excellent atmosphere and a jarring and disturbing ending. The focus on the manga source material utilised here brings the dark tone and inappropriate humour to a whole new level and builds upon many of the themes that made the show so great in the first place. I will leave you with the Book of Circus opening theme, which is one of my all-time favourites.