Friday, August 12, 2011
Genre: shounen;historical fantasy
Manga-ka/Artist: Yana Toboso
Published: 2010 by Yen Press in the US
Twelve-year old, tragically orphaned Ciel Phantomhive is nevertheless a young Earl and head of the world's most successful toy company. He's also inherited the Phantomhive distinction of being the Queen's 'watchdog' in London in these times of Victorian deceit and brutality disguised as kindness. Ciel's household servants are less than competent: every attempt of the gardener to make the enormous Phantomhive estate look presentable goes comically awry, and the cook and maid experience similar epic fails. Luckily for Ciel, he has his faithful, immaculate butler Sebastian Michealis on hand at all times to ensure that the household runs smoothly... and that any devious adults and criminals who try to take advantage of a child Earl will find themselves on the wrong end of neatly polished silverware. Of course, Sebastian is also a demon whom Ciel has promised his soul to, in exchange for Sebastian's assistance in helping him complete a series of yet mysterious tasks... including, perhaps, revenge on the arsonist who murdered Ciel's parents.
In Japanese, so I'm told, the kanji for 'butler' and 'demon' can be used as a kind of play on words. Similar to how, in English: words like 'saw' and 'duck' have multiple meanings. Go figure, right? Anyway, I really enjoyed both Sebastian and Ciel's characters. Ciel is a brooding, possibly even disturbed little boy-- terribly clever for his age and somewhat cynical. Still, there's nothing he likes better than sweets, and nothing he hates more than losing at games. Sebastian... I love his enigmatic smile and gangly grace. He's definitely crush-worthy, despite the fact that he's, you know, an avenging demon/butler. He's fantastic in the first chapter, when he salvages a ruined kitchen and lawn (courtesy of those pesky servants) into a fine, exotic dining experience for one of Ciel's guests. And when Ciel is kidnapped, we get to see Sebastian in action for the first time when he rescues his master, just in time to save the carefully prepared dinner back at the manor. Another character I liked was Elizabeth, Ciel's young betrothed, who upon visiting insists on throwing a frilly dance party at the manor house.
I'm not sure if I would categorize Black Butler as shounen-- it's really more shojo, as I think girls and women would be more intrigued by the humor in the story and the beautiful Victorian period costumes. I definitely recommend this series and am looking forward to finding out more about Ciel's past and the deadly deal he made with Sebastian. I don't think Black Butler will become one of my all-time favorite manga series, but I really enjoyed Sebastian's character and the spectacular art. My favorite Victorian manga will probably remain Godchild by Kaori Yuki.