Anime Reporter, (i.e. Yours Truly), brings things up to date with volumes 17 and 18 of the Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji in Japanese) manga series. If you’re totally new to the series, you can find my review of the first five volumes, as well as an introduction to the series’ premise here.
For everyone who’s up to date with the first 16 volumes (or 72 chapters) of gothic servitude at its grandest, we can press on.
When last we encountered young Earl Phantomhive, he was tricking and plotting and cheating and worming his way up the hierarchy of Weston College, eventually managing to land himself the coveted position of being the servant of a servant to a prefect. There was pretty much no way to make that achievement sound like it belonged to such a dark and dynamic series, but it very much manages to maintain any and all feelings of tension, drama and eeriness. Ciel’s investigation into the reported disappearance of one of Weston’s students takes a new direction as he spies an opportunity to enter the company of the apparently omnipotent but evasive principal of Weston College.
Every year, the school holds a cricket tournament between the four school houses which are definitely not associated in any way with Hogwarts.
While Blue House, of which Ciel is the newest member, typically places dead last, Ciel has learned that one player is selected every year to dine with the principal and the prefects. This makes for a golden opportunity for Ciel to get closer to his information and therefore closer to getting the hell out of this creepy, secretive boarding school.
In the lead up to the event, Ciel continues his investigation around the campus and the student population, coming up with dead end after dead end and no sign of Derek. The cricket game tournament proves to be an excellent feature of the story arc, with some inventive and intense manoeuvres designed to make Ciel shine throughout.
While the Weston College story arc doesn’t seem to fit into the macabre and occult setting of the series thus far, it does an excellent job of injecting some subtly cult-like tones into an otherwise ordinary boarding school setup. It would be easy for this relatively low-action plot to seem sluggish in comparison to its predecessors but the tension and the can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it sense of danger make it a mystery that many readers will want to get to the bottom of just as badly as Ciel.
This arc is also one of the instances where we see Sebastian utilised less and less in the grand scheme of things with his hands tied in the role of schoolteacher. It’s refreshing to see Ciel having to get his hands dirty with a minimal amount of assistance from the titular servant of the series.
Volumes 16 and 17 come to a close with the Weston College arc not quite finished but with some advances that should leave a few readers reeling and eager for Volume 18. Unfortunately, this brings us up to speed with Black Butler and it will be late October before the next instalment is published in English. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait!
Black Butler Volumes 16 and 17 push the boundaries of strategic mind games and manipulation, turning a few games of cricket into an intricate chess match. Needless to say, Earl Phantomhive proves to be more than a match for his schoolboy contemporaries, though that isn’t to say he has no obstacles along the way. Black Butler Volumes 16 and 17 are currently available from Yen Press.
Gothic chills: 6
Plot development: 7
76% – “A Hard Lesson” – Volumes 16 and 17 make up the bulk of the Weston College arc and offer a new side to the Black Butler series, emphasising espionage over demonic plots… mostly.