Anime Reporter sets out the good silverware and serves up my take on Black Butler volumes 11-15. (Volumes 1-5 reviewed here. Likewise with 6-10). I hope you’re hungry; this one comes with a lot of courses.
Firstly there’s the fallout from Volume 10’s spectacular murder mystery. Prepare to have any niggling little doubts silenced once and for all as the details of each and every murder and obscure clue and summarised for our convenience with the utmost grace. What’s more, and at the risk of running into a heavy helping of cliché, a familiar face returns to join the Phantomhive estate.
After everything is very neatly tied up, the plot moves onto something suitably gothic, grand and downright stylish as Ciel, Sebastian and co. head off on a voyage of, dare I say it, titanic proportions. Ciel is roped into a voyage to New York alongside his adorable fiancée and her rather elitist family. Naturally, Ciel wouldn’t be up for this type of lying about, but as it happens, a rather suspicious group claiming to resurrect the dead is having a super secret meeting on board. That’s right Scooby-fans! We’re talking zombie cruise-ship!
To be fair, at the moment, zombies are everywhere. Film, comic books and TV are saturated with them, but Black Butler handles the walking dead in a way that makes the genre feel refreshingly new and completely organic to the story and the mythology already built up. This story arc flies across a few volumes, rather charmingly blending the familiar and the original with a smile and a wink. While it would seem easy for this to have been a throwaway story, it’s instead used as a device to promote character growth. Sebastian can’t use his demonic powers freely against the inevitable hordes of limping corpses, but this gives a few characters who have happily dwelt within the shadows thus far to give us all a jolly good surprise. Ciel’s fiancée, Elizabeth, in particular shows herself to be much more than the mild irritation she began the series as.
The focus moves away from Ciel and Sebastian and allows us to the intricate detail that has actually gone into the world of Black Butler and its populace. A lot of thought has been devoted to this story and it plays out beautifully.
We get to see more evidence of this in a brief interlude illustrating Ciel’s very first moments with Sebastian as his servant. We get to see just how Sebastian become the sterling servant he is and how he whipped Ciel into shape from a bawling victim to a stone cold master of the house. We learn a lot about both characters and their pasts in a way that grants a new perspective on their relationship and their shared past. After that the zombie-cruise story drifts to a close and a new story arc begins.
Following a light-hearted aside about an Easter egg hunt, the plot moves on to more covert territory. On direct assignment from the Queen, Ciel is tasked with investigating some abnormal behaviour stemming from a private academy. As an Earl, Ciel manages to charm his way into the school but gets no further assistance from his rank. Within Weston College, Ciel’s rank is mud and he has to bow and scrape to earn the respect he needs to get close to putting a bow on things. Making things significantly more challenging is the fact that students aren’t allowed to bring their servants to school. Still, little will stop the resourceful Earl Phantomhive from solving the case (i.e. getting the queen to owe him one).
Volume fifteen comes to an end as we see Ciel just warming up in his Ocean’s Eleven or Thirteen (I don’t count Twelve) style manipulation of the powers that be at Weston College. The College is divided into four different houses, each with a symbolic animal and colourful emblem. Students are sorted into each house depending on their aptitudes for studying, creativity, nobility and wanting to kill Lord Voldermort. No wait, that last one should be “sports”. This makes navigating the school at large difficult and Ciel is forced to call in some low-key backup to help stake the place out.
Volume 16 promises to contain a lot of conspiracies, mysteries and the password to the Chamber of Secrets… I definitely meant “action” that time.
Black Butler Volumes 11-15, and a few more, are available now from Yen Press and keep the plot moving forward at a truly exciting pace.
Mythology Development: 9
Character Development: 10
88% – “Expertly Executed” – Black Butler Volumes 11-15 pan out somewhat to reveal a much larger story and fleshed out cast. The story builds on its wonderful premise and just keeps on giving!