Tom, he was a piper’s son,
He learned to play when he was young,
And all the tune that he could play,
Was “Over the Hills and Far Away”…
It’s the CIRCUS ARC – and it’s all fun and games until people start to die.¹
I know I’ve said I wanted to review each volume separately, but these three books form one coherent arc that hangs too well together to be torn apart; and I couldn’t really review the third part without spoilers. I think I’m going to stick to this method for the next story arcs as well, till I reach the more recent volumes.
So, what gives?
Queen Victoria has used her appearance during at the curry competition to assign Ciel with a new case. All over England children are disappearing. The incidents have one thing in common: the appearance of a travelling circus troupe shortly before the children vanished. Now, Noah’s Arc Circus is visiting London, and, after installing Prince Soma and Agni as caretakers in Ciel’s London town house, Ciel and Sebastian are off to investigate. When visiting the circus show, Sebastian gets enchanted by a lovely, fluffy tiger – who isn’t quite as enamoured with the demon as he is with her and shows her teeth. But Sebastian knows how to use his chances, and before long he and Ciel are invited to join the troupe – which gives Sebastian ample opportunity to show off, and to delight in teasing his young master for his clumsiness and for being quite unsuited for circus life.
Yep, this story shows the two main characters at their most antagonistic again. But it also shows a more nurturing side of Sebastian: When Ciel falls ill and suffers from an asthma attack, Agni and Soma shame Sebastian into caring. Serving his master well is a demon’s aesthetics, after all. Of course, Ciel absolutely hates it.
I laughed way too hard at that scene.
The circus world is beautifully realised. Toboso’s artwork is striking, extremely rich and detailed. The troupe are a cast of varied, colourful characters; there’s Joker, the show’s host; Beast, the big cat tamer; Dagger, the knife thrower; acrobat Doll; and, not belonging to the troupe’s first cast, but a character to pay attention to, Snake, who names his snakes after famous poets and speaks only with and through them.
And there’s someone else, too. An old acquaintance, whose artistic skills match Sebastian’s: William T. Spears of the Grim Reaper Dispatch, and. Worst. Undercover agent. Ever. The shinigami is on a secret mission, because there are going to be a lot of souls to collect in the immediate future. Being the stiff upper lip, by the book bureaucrat that he is, Will is not exactly pleased with this assignment – and even less pleased with meeting demon Sebastian once again. The antipathy is mutual, at least. So, of course those two have to share a tent.
After some fun shenanigans for Sebastian, and flashbacks and asthma attacks for Ciel, Sebastian interprets one of his master’s orders rather freely, and shows a bit more of his devilish side. His method proves to be successful and leads our spies to the man who could be behind the abductions. And that’s when the story takes a harsh turn to the dark side.
Tripping on the dark side comes with further flashbacks into Ciel’s past, introducing his father, Vincent Phantomhive, former head of the Aristocrats of Evil – who looks a lot like Sebastian. Or rather the other way round. Sebastian’s human form looks a bit younger, his hair is longer, but the faces are very similar. I can’t believe that’s a coincidence. (Maybe that's why Sebastian can't crop his hair, because then everyone would mistake him for Vincent.) But Vincent also shares Ciel’s mimic. That’s in fact really well done, kudos to Toboso. The reader also learns what the seemingly inept Phantomhive servants, Baldroy, Mey-Rin and Finnian, are really capable of. Seeing especially sweet little Finny going berserk is kinda scary. And very, very sad.
Erm, Bassy, do you call *that* "researching in the Code of Arms"?
As sad as the rest of the story. Toboso does a great job of humanising the circus troupe. Not only do they come with the required Tragic Backstory™, the reader also experiences events from their perspective. They become people, kids with dreams and hopes for a better future; kids who end up as yet another set of chess pieces being moved by forces out of their control. This, Ciel’s breakdown, and the bitter, bitter end turn the Circus Arc into an intense, heartbreaking story. Even the shinigami shenanigans by William and his young colleague Ronald Knox can’t ease all the pain. (The anime adaption manages a better balance between heartbreak and dark humour – because Grell, just mentioned in passing here, actually shows up, and that’s more hilarious than it has any right to be given the circumstances.)
(Grell, Ronald, William)
This is a very strong story that connects well with the overall plot, manages to answer a few questions, and provides a few new ones, too. Like, what is Undertaker’s part in this game?
And it wouldn’t be Kuroshitsuji if there weren’t a chapter of cute fluff after all the intense heartbreak. Certain events during the Circus Arc have left the Phantomhive manor in a rather dire state, and a lot of Ciel’s clothes got destroyed. Elizabeth invites a seamstress and some fun times ensue. Well, maybe not so fun for Ciel.
The manga continues to be fun. But I’m not only into it because it’s compulsively readable, ridiculously entertaining, with beautiful artwork. I’m also drawn to it because I can relate. Ciel and I went through traumatic experiences at about the same age. Although those experiences are of a different nature, I know what it feels like to be so helpless, so utterly, completely powerless – and I know the desire to lash out, to retaliate, to hurt. At the end of the day, I’m not a very vindictive person, I don’t believe in repaying misery with misery; but then again, I never really had the opportunity. If I had had the means – who knows what I would have done? That is to say, I can recognize a bit of my 13-year-old self in Ciel. Not the most likeable kid, but I can understand him in a way.
¹This got adapted as season #3 of the anime, BOOK OF CIRCUS. Here’s the German trailer, giving you an impression of Bernhard Völger’s really, really very pretty voice. Unfortunately not of Undertaker, the ever reliable Michael Pan; I haven’t managed to find a non-spoilery snippet. (One of the joys of watching the anime in German is that Undertaker has the same voice as Saul from Breaking Bad/ Better Call Saul.)