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review 2019-02-18 20:08
Book Learnin'
Book Learnin': A Pie Comics Collection - John McNamee

Like most comics collections I read, I was not really familiar with Pie Comics yet. The title and the cover however suggested that it had to do with books, so I just had to read it.

It was not what I expected. I'm not sure what I did expect, but it was more than I got. Sure, some of the comics were quite funny, but many were mwah and they were not about books unfortunately. While it wasn't for me, I'm sure fans of the comic will appreciate it.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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review 2019-02-17 14:21
Black Butler 5 – Bring on the Food Porn
Black Butler, Vol. 5 - Yana Toboso

Seriously, this has more food porn than Hannibal. Unfortunately, no one eats Viscount of Druitt.

 

It’s the second part of the INDIAN BUTLER ARC and here comes the Queens.

 

Queen Victoria holds a curry competition. The winner will be rewarded with the Royal Warrant, a signature for high quality and almost guaranteed to boost sales. Ciel wants to expand his business and plans to participate. The curry will of course be prepared by none other than Sebastian, butler extraordinaire, gifted with wicked skill at handling cutlery and a demonic sense of smell and taste. But there’s one problem: Indian butler Agni is one of the contestants as well, and he’s not only Indian, that “Right Hand of God” of his is also able to concoct the perfect blend of spices. Whose curry will sway the jury? Who will be favoured by the Queen? And why do we have to deal with handsome-but-pervy Viscount of Druitt again?

 

Frankly, this whole thing is more than a bit cringe-worthy, culturally insensitive, and smacks of exoticism. My main gripe is how Mina, Prince Soma’s nanny, gets vilified by the narrative, because honestly, that woman has a few good points to make.

 

Saving grace are the very sensual descriptions of food, and that another layer is added to Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship. Yes, Ciel wants the Royal Warrant, but even more than that, he wants to see Sebastian lose. This volume drives home how antagonistic their back-and-forth can become and gives a first taste of what Ciel is capable of when he’s bored. I love the expression on Ciel’s face when he realizes that his butler has the real chance of actually winning the contest. He’s so pissed.

 

The curry contest also introduces Queen Victoria and one of her servants, John “I wear my totally not anachronistic sunglasses at night” Brown. The volume is sufficiently different from the anime to offer some surprises, contains the trademark inane humour, and a rather touching moment

when Agni calls Sebastian a “friend”, something Sebastian has never experienced before

(spoiler show)

but it’s far from being my favourite instalment. Thank the gods it’s rather short.

 

More next month; I think I’m not yet ready to go through the Circus Arc again.

 

Ciel, you little shit, I may like you after all.

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review 2019-02-15 21:04
Black Butler 4 – Let‘s Spice Things Up
Black Butler, Vol. 4 - Yana Toboso

← Oh Bassy, too sexy for your gloves, aren‘t ya?

 

It‘s the INDIAN BUTLER ARC and there will be curry. Eventually.

 

In his capacity as Queen Victoria‘s watchdog, Ciel has been called to London to investigate attacks on English businessmen and soldiers who have recently returned from India. Their search leads Ciel and Sebastian¹ to the East End, where they team up with Lau. When they are attacked by angry Indian immigrants themselves, two new acquaintances come to the rescue: Prince Soma and his servant Agni, who are looking for Soma‘s nanny Mina – and now Soma just won‘t leave Ciel‘s side.

 

Frankly, this whole story arc is a bit stupid and boring. Not much happens. (To his credit, even Ciel is bored by the case. This game doesn‘t amuse him much.) This volume essentially serves to do three things:

1. to explain what Ciel‘s role as watchdog to the Queen and as one of the Aristocrats of Evil actually means;

2. to provide the first flashback to the traumatic events that let him summon Sebastian (who apparently wears hooker boots when no one is watching);

3. to introduce some new regulars: For one we have Ran-Mao, Lau‘s… whatever she is, another favourite of mine. She doesn‘t talk much, but when she does, she has a point, and she‘s generally bad-ass. Then there‘s Prince Soma Asman Gandal, son and heir to the King of Bengal – pretty, impulsive, spoiled Soma, even more of a brat than Ciel. Last but not least we‘ve got Agni, aka „The Right Hand of God“, a human imbued with superhuman strength. Soma and Agni aren‘t among my best liked characters, but I can see their significance.²

 

They serve as a mirror for Ciel and Sebastian: Ciel summoned Sebastian in a time of need, theirs is a relationship born out of hunger, hurt and despair. Agni turned to Soma out of gratitude, when the Prince saved the formerly brutal and selfish man from being hanged for his sins. Ciel created Sebastian, gave him his name and I assume also his form; Soma created Agni by letting him die a symbolic death and declaring him reborn, giving him a new name and occupation as well. Both butlers are loyal to a fault, but for very different reasons: for Sebastian, serving a master well is a demon’s aesthetics, for Agni it’s about love and faith.

(spoiler show)

 

Agni is also the only one who can compete with Sebastian’s capability as a butler, and even bests him in some regards. Much to Sebastian's chagrin, he even manages to put the Phantomhive staff to good use – through the sheer superpower of positive reinforcement.

 

I wasn’t too in love with some of the panels here. Sebastian’s movements are smooth, fluid, and gracious. You can really see this, especially when the two butlers are fencing. Agni is supposed to be wicked fast, so he’s often depicted rather blurred, and - I didn’t really like the look of it? But the full colour panels are exceptionally beautiful, and there are still many, many details to appreciate, like the intricate china and most of all the clothes. Oh, the pretty clothes. I love Victorian attire for men anyway, and then we have Lau’s Chinese robes and Soma’s Indian dresses (not to forget Bassy’s hooker boots)³… it’s all so very, very pretty. I also love how Ciel’s eye patch changes from casual to formal depending on occasion, and he apparently has a separate one for fencing lessons, too.

 

This adventure will continue for another volume of not-much-happening, but at least it’s nice to look at. And it still has it’s moments of humour…

 

hell of a deer

(That's from the anime, obviously) 

 

And we get a taste of Professor Sebas-chan:

 

¹ That’s pronounced Se-bust-chiun, btw, not in the American way.

² Btw, never look at character sheets. I've spoiled myself for one of the Big Twists that way. But at least, knowing what to look for, I can now see how carefully Yana Toboso set it all up.

³ Eh, I’m just jealous. I’ve never learned to walk in really high heels. Hell, I’m glad if I find shoes that fit (the disadvantage of having very long, but very slim feet)

 

 

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review 2019-02-12 23:33
Black Butler 3 – Psycho Killer Qu'est-ce que c'est
Black Butler, Vol. 3 - Yana Toboso

You know they say that when you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes?

It‘s your Cinematic Record, being reviewed and judged by the Gods of Death.

 

It‘s the conclusion of the Jack the Ripper arc, and there will be blood. Even more blood than there has already been. And there has already been so. much. red.

 

**some character spoilers, but it's pretty much the first thing you find about this character anyway, so I'm not really giving away too much**

 

With the example of Madame Red, the author shows how adept she is at providing her characters with a Tragic Backstory™. It‘s a bit cliché and not totally unsurprising, but it actually gives Madame Red more depth and makes the reader feel for her. The Tragic Backstory™ will become par for the course, and this first glimpse is already tugging at the heartstrings. And can it be that there’s just the tiniest bit of foreshadowing, just the most tantalizing hint in what is left unsaid, for the even more tragic event that sat the whole story in motion?

 

The author doesn't leave much time to dwell on this question, because tonight it‘s butler versus butler in an epic battle to death.

Under the uncaring eye of a full moon, it’s icy black versus fiery red, cold calculation versus hot passion, mastery of movements versus the brute force of lust, Romeo versus Jul--- erm, okay, it’s Sebastian Michaelis versus Grell Sutcliff. Demon versus shinigami.

 

The German translation gets wonderfully Shakespearean here, punctuating Grell’s taste for drama, and the ensuing battle is a thing to behold.

 

Yeah, Grell. Far from being shy and clumsy, Grell (sometimes spelled Grelle) is a shinigami, a God of Death from Japanese mythology – or a Grim Reaper, as they are called in the English version. The mangaka adds a nice spin to the myth, turning the Reapers into a kind of bureaucratic organisation. Members of the Grim Reaper Dispatch are tasked with reviewing human lives, shown as Cinematic Records at the moment of death, and to decide if the person is worthy to go on living or has to die for good. To reap the souls they use their Death Scythes, costume made and often anachronistic tools. Grell comes equipped with a chainsaw, William T. Spears, a shinigami of higher rank who also appears on stage here, uses pruning shears. I especially appreciate the fact that all Grim Reapers are terrible nearsighted and get to wear costume made glasses.

Grim Reapers are the natural adversaries to demons, as both species go after human souls; Reapers to lie them to rest, demons to snatch them away and devour them.

 

The fight scenes between Sebastian and Grell are beautifully realised for the most part; there are just very few panels that I found to be confusing. The opponents are not only quite evenly matched – at first – Grell is also an outrageous flirt, much to Sebastian’s dismay. You can tell that Sebastian is just done with that shit. Not that Grell cares, because Grell has a major crush on the handsome devil.

 

Full colour Grell Sutcliff. I’m a little bit in love.¹

Grell

 

It’s this weird mix of blood & gore and hysteric, sometimes improper humour that made me love the anime so much and that also works very well on paper. In addition, the mangaka uses the symbol of chess to great effect, showing Ciel’s cold, calculating side, as well as Sebastian’s careful manipulations of the soul he plans to eat some day.

 

After an intense battle and a moving farewell, we get a cute chapter of fluff. Okay, it starts with a not so cute nightmare, and then it gets almost worst, as Elizabeth “call me Lizzy” Midford and her mum, Ciel’s aunt Frances, come to visit.² And you do not mess with Aunt Frances! The prim and proper lady won’t have the boys wearing their emo bangs, and she’s very adamant that Ciel proves his worth as Lizzy’s future husband. Apart from being fluff, the chapter shows a different side of Ciel, a side that still cares about the people dear to him, and provides another glimpse into what Sebastian thinks about his young master.

 

Also, Ciel is a Sagittarius! That could somewhat explain the whole "forgetting about the revenge plot when some other stuff comes along" kind of thing. Us sags are some easily distracted squirrels.

 

All in all, this was the strongest volume so far. (I read it in German, not in Spanish, but I'm too lazy to add the proper edition.)

 

Ciel is *not* a morning person.

Ciel in the morning

 

 

¹ Considering Grell's part in the Ripper plot, it seems quite a marvel that the shinigami is generally well liked with the audience, and that the anime gets away with essentially playing the character for comic relief. Well, I’m just into redheards. And I bet the over-the-top personality, going from good-natured, if a bit vulgar flirt to murderous psychotic rage in the blink of an eye, plays a big part in the Red Reaper’s popularity. In a cast of characters that are extra, Grell is EXTRA-extra. But like with most characters here – and that’s even true for Elizabeth “call me Lizzy” Middleford – there’s more to Grell than it seems.

² I can hear Elizabeth’s voice in my head! I don’t want to hear Elizabeth’s voice in my head!

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review 2019-02-11 16:45
Black Butler 2 – Hunting Famous Killers
Black Butler - Yana Toboso,Tomo Kimura

Sebastian, demon butler of the emo hair, doesn‘t actually like to wear his hair this long. That‘s a titbit of information missing from the anime.

 

The manga provides more of Sebastian‘s inner monologues. In the anime, he seems rather unflappable; here, he smarts under his assumed role as a butler, bristles at Ciel‘s spoiled behaviour, and is quite exasperated with the less then helpful household staff. Poor guy really has to restrain himself. And what does a demon of a butler do when everything gets too much and he has to calm down a bit? He goes and pets a cat. Very relatable.¹

 

This issue opens the first real sub-story arc². Young Earl Ciel Phantomhive is not only an aristocrat and head of a successful business. Following in his ancestors footsteps, he works as Queen Victoria’s “watchdog” - consorting with London’s underworld to keep a balance between righteous citizens and criminals. Here we see him at one of his cases: prostitutes are getting murdered and Ciel has to hunt – dun-dun-DUN -

 

Jack the Ripper.

 

Well, it’s Victorian England, what did you expect?

 

With the help of Sebastian and a few acquaintances, the list of suspects is narrowed down to a certain Aleister Chamber, Viscount of Druitt, a pervy slime ball with medical experience, an interest in the occult, and a taste for very young girls. To catch his interest, Ciel has to dress up as a girl and go to one of Druitt’s parties. Of course he gets himself captured again and has to be saved by Sebastian – again.

This part of the story made me extremely uncomfortable when watching the anime. Ciel is heavily sexualised here. It’s played for laughs, but I guess I’m just too old for this kind of “fun”³. But remember when I said the good outweighs the bad? The good is a story that moves smoothly and consistently and has a few surprises up its sleeve. Because as a chagrined Ciel has to find out, Druitt’s eventual capture has not at all solved the case and the murderer continues their gruesome work.

 

The other good thing are the characters. As already mentioned, we get to see more of Sebastian, more of his sarcastic wit and sardonic humour. Ciel’s character is developed further, too. He’s a spoiled child, but also a severely traumatized child, who had to grow up far too fast, and who, courtesy of his name, has to live on the dark side of life, as one of the “Aristocrats of Evil”. In result, he often acts cruel and apparently without feeling. He sees life as a game and people as his chess pieces, to be moved around at will. But behind that all lies hurt. Ciel is a character whose motivations I can understand and whom I feel for, but I wouldn’t go so far to say I like him.

 

We also meet some other crucial characters: Ciel’s aunt Angelina Dalles, nicknamed Madame Red, her shy and clumsy butler Grell Sutcliff, Mr. Lau, head of the English branch of Chinese foreign trait, and Undertaker, a - surprise! - undertaker and Ciel’s frequent informant about the going-ons in the underworld. Some of this characters will become regulars, some of them – won’t.

 

From this cast, Undertaker is one of the most mysterious and intriguing figures in this story, and a fan favourite. Also a favourite of mine. He has helped the Phantomhive family since years, but his motives are as much a mystery (for now) as are his eyes. He has an evil sense of humour and requests to be paid in laughs. Not as easy as it sounds, but Sebastian finally gets a laugh out of him – and the reader can just wonder what he had to do for that.

 

undertaker

The Undertaker

 

And as the story progresses, we finally get to meet my very favourite character of Kuroshitsuji in all their extravagant, passionate, psychotic glory. (Well, almost all their glory, as the manga is restricted to black and white. The big reveal scene worked a lot better in colour.)

But that’s a story for the next installment.

 

Cat therapy for demon butlers

 

bb-cat

 

 

 

¹ Sebastian’s love for cats, driving him to complete distraction, is just the best thing about Kuroshitsuji. Cute as shit.

² The story arcs have individual names, but this one’s a tad spoilery, me thinks. And apparently spoiler tags don't work at the moment? It's not that important anyway. 

³ Viewed from a certain perspective, a lot of things in this manga could be seen as problematic. The sexualization of a 12-year-old is just one of these issues. I do notice that, and a lot of these things make me angry. But this is not your US-American, SJW approved comic book. If you’re looking for something adhering to US ideas about political correctness, better look elsewhere.

 

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