There is more than one story to tell.
This may be the darkest tale yet.
Y’know, I don’t talk very much about manga on Otaku Haiku. Or rather, I don’t talk about it enough. I suppose that’s because many of the titles that I’m currently reading are not only anime series that I’ve already reviewed, but they’re also ongoing. I don’t give individual manga volume reviews for the same reason that I don’t give episodic anime reviews: I figure once you have an overview of the story as a whole, either you’ll read/watch them or you won’t, so why bother rehashing specific plot points? Plus it would be difficult to do so while upholding my “no spoiler” guarantee.
That being said, I just finished reading the latest English volume of the Black Butler manga, and I really want to highlight it here because the story differs so vastly from the anime. As anyone who has read even a handful of entries on Otaku Haiku knows, I’m pretty much obsessed with Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji), especially Sebastian Michaelis, my demonic true love. (If you’re completely unfamiliar with the story of Black Butler, try reading here first, then here, here, and of course here.) After watching season one, there was no question that I would pick up the manga in order to find out even more about Sebastian, Ciel, and all of the many colourful characters who cross their paths. What’s so interesting about the Black Butler manga, though, is that it takes such a drastically different turn from the anime. Most of the manga that I’ve read has the same basic story as told in the anime version, but then it keeps going where the anime left off. Anime series such as Vampire Knight, Fruits Basket, and Ouran High School Host Club all have perfectly satisfying endings, but lucky for us fans, you can read the manga to pick up where the anime leaves off and get the whole story. Black Butler is different, however. The anime and manga share a couple of key story arcs, namely the Jack the Ripper killings and the curry festival, but after that, the two couldn’t be more different.
The anime goes on to fully explain who destroyed Ciel’s parents and mansion, and furthermore shows why they did what they did. Season two introduces a new boy and butler combo and takes the original pair’s exploits to a whole new level. The manga, however, has thus far shown no hints that the end of the story will be the same as it was in the anime. In fact, as of volume eight, we are no closer to discovering who ruined Ciel’s life than we were in volume one. Instead, beginning in volume six, we’re immersed into a new and fantastic story arc involving a circus and a whole new host of characters. Sebastian and Ciel, under orders of the Queen, go undercover as performers in a troupe called Noah’s Ark Circus so that they might locate a slew of missing children. Sebastian’s stage name is “Black,” and Ciel garners the ironic moniker “Smile.” William T. Spears, one of the Shinigami they met during the Jack the Ripper arc, is also undercover as a circus performer called “Suit,” yet he has his own agenda. Sebastian and Ciel have to blend in while doing their best to be stage performers and camp workers and also trying to solve the mystery. Oh, and Sebastian and William have to try not to kill each other, as neither cares very much for the other. However, after some more investigating, it turns out that the circus troupe has been secretly on the lookout for Ciel Phantomhive, but why? It has something to do with their mysterious benefactor, a man they all call “Father.” Everything builds up until all sorts of confrontations take place in the epically bloody volume eight, which is full of non-stop action. Furthermore, the reasons behind it all are far darker and more twisted than any other tale told in this series to date. It’s certainly not to be missed for any Kuroshitsuji fan!
For the record, I will always dearly love the anime, especially seeing as how that was my first introduction to the series. However, either the Black Butler anime isn’t that dark, or I’ve just watched it so many times that I’m now immune to all the blood baths, occult rituals, and Sebastian banging nuns for information. But I was seriously thrown for a loop and rather shocked at how bloody, psychotic, and just plain messed-up the manga has become. In a good way, though. It brings to mind the Vertigo and Dark Horse and Slave Labor comics that I so loved as a teenager, those stories that were just written off by others as “oh, comics, that’s kids’ stuff.” I knew it wasn’t kids’ stuff, and I got a secret delight in burying my nose in stories that, to the untrained eye, appeared to be mere children’s collections, but in reality dealt with complex and adult issues ranging from sex and betrayal and death to good ol’ fashioned girls with guns. Reading the most recent volume of Black Butler gave me that same thrill of knowing that I’d found something unique that would entertain me while also making me think, all in the form of a “children’s book.” Overall, I’m so glad that I picked up the manga. The art is excellent, the characters are completely made of win, and the stories are intense and amazing. And since the stories don’t form a linear arc but instead branch out and form wide-reaching, gnarled tree limbs, it’s kind of like there are several Black Butler universes to choose from. And when it comes to a series this good, I say the more, the merrier.
Rating: ★★★★★ Talk about your page-turners!