Kuroshitsuji: One Hell of a Butler

by Shannon Hochman

Imagine for a second that your entire family was murdered and you were presented with a chance to seek revenge. Would you do it no matter what the cost? Would you pay with your soul? Ciel Phantomhive did, and for the price, he’s gotten top-notch service. Mysteriously reappearing after the fire that took his parents, Ciel takes his place as the new Earl Phantomhive, a butler named Sebastian dressed all in black at his side.

So is the premise of Yana Toboso’s manga Kuroshitsuji, or simply Black Butler for those who are not familiar with the Japanese title. The story chases Ciel and Sebastian as they take Victorian England by storm, tearing through the underworld that soils the Queen’s empire in search of the ones that destroyed Ciel’s childhood. Playing off his demonic talents as the expected duties of a good butler, Sebastian gives Ciel the upper hand in this quest as they combat everything from Jack the Ripper to Ciel’s obnoxious fiancée, Elizabeth.

The appeal in Black Butler obviously lies mainly in the Faustian relationship between Ciel and Sebastian, who both have their own dark motivations that tie them together. But more so than that, the dark, intriguining story is balanced incredibly well, easily transitioning from flesh-ripping action for a well-placed laugh or a sentimental moment, keeping this manga in the nebulous realm that hovers between shonen and shoujo. The artwork is also a treat, and though it is not quite as tight as your typical shonen title, it hits the mark when it needs to. Toboso does not take any shortcuts when it comes to drawing action scenes and doesn’t shy away from backgrounds or detail. If anything, sign on for the incredible Victorian era wardrobe, which is authentic enough to place the period, but modernized with a flair of Loli-Goth that is rather fitting for some of the story’s darker tones and the stuff of cosplay fantasies.

The manga is now being printed by Yen Press and definitely worth checking out, even if you have already seen both seasons of the anime (the first of which is being released in North America in early 2011). The manga’s story goes in a completely different direction than that of the anime, much like Full Metal Alchemist. Though already popular on the convention circuit, it’s clear that Black Butler is on the cusp of exploding onto the mainstream scene, so be sure to jump onto the bandwagon quickly so that you can say you were there before it was cool.

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