Manga Review: Black Butler, by Yana Toboso

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Black Butler, by Yana Toboso

Genres: Shonen, Dark Fantasy, Horror, Black Comedy

Volumes: 23

Status: Ongoing

Favorite Characters: Elizabeth Midford, Prince Soma, Snake.

Rating: ✮ +½

            “Love is a magnificent thing but, incidentally, it can also give birth to dreadful tragedy.”

I love Black Butler. I really, really do. I love the elegant drawing style, the gags, the violence, the cynicism, the Gothic touches sprinkled everywhere….It’s a beautiful manga.

What’s so special about Black Butler is that it is both a comedy and a tragedy. Set in the late 1880’s during Queen Victoria’s reign, Lord Earl Ciel Phantomhive works as her ‘watchdog’, handling her dirty work along with his butler, Sebastian—who is literally a devil of a butler. Three years before, his parents were savagely murdered and his mansion set afire, and Ciel was kidnapped and placed as a sacrifice for devil worshippers. In desperation, he summoned a demon and made a covenant with him: stay loyally by his side until he has his revenge.

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Many arcs arise, from Jack the Ripper to a murder mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, then a zombie apocalypse followed by a witching village in the forests of Germany. Each case hides a shocking secret which explodes into thousands more.

Ciel is described as “the aristocrat of evil.” He is not an average 13-year-old boy. Blighted by the horrors of his past, he has become cold, meticulous, and cunning. The only time he ever shows any heart is towards his fiancé, Elizabeth—who looks extremely cute but is actually a badass with swords—which is probably why I love her so much. I love that inside of his dark, foreboding heart, he has that one ray of light.

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Sebastian, the protagonist of sorts, is perfect to the point of absurdity. That has always been why I don’t like him very much. He’s a devil, so obviously he has superhuman capabilities, but it’s like there’s nothing he can’t do, and even though that’s the point, it annoys me a lot.

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Instead, I’m attached to almost everyone else: Elizabeth, Prince Soma, the Phantomhive servants, even Grell Sutcliff, though at first I couldn’t stand him.

The other thing is there are some serious historical inaccuracies. Some are acknowledged, but some are not. For example, Prince Soma at one point is excited about a television, even though this story is set mostly in 1889 and the first fully functioning television wasn’t invented until 1927. Next, Baldroy calls Sebastian Superman—more than once, I believe—when the character of Superman wasn’t created until 1933, and first appeared in 1938.

Despite that, it’s very enjoyable—however, it is not a very happy story. Black Butler brings out humanity’s ugliness, our flaws, our weaknesses. From the vantage point of a demon, it is easy to see how trivial we really are.

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This is the sort of story that shows how cruel humanity can be.

“Humans cannot reject temptation.

When they are plunged into the depths of despair, likened to hell, they will hold on to anything that may help them escape from the situation they are in, even if it’s merely a spider’s thread, no matter what sort of humans they are.”

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