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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Manga Review: Black Butler GN 16

Black Butler volume sixteen
Author: Yana Toboso
Yen Press
176 pages
Earl Ciel Phantomhive and his invincible butler Sebastian may have succeeded in sneaking their way into the elite Weston College, but their investigation quickly hits a wall. To earn an audience with the headmaster, Ciel's only option is to attend the "Midnight Tea Party," an exclusive gathering hosted by the elusive head of the school. And the only way a lowly first-former like Ciel, earl or no, can land a seat at that table is by being elected the Most Valuable Player in the College's annual storied cricket tournament. (Source: Yen Press)
If you had told me last year that one of my favorite Kuroshitsuji/Black Butler story arcs would have involved Ciel infiltrating an elite boarding school and playing cricket, I probably would not have believed you. Several volumes of prefects and fags and Unexpected Soma! later, and the Weston College arc has become a personal favorite of mine, up there with Ripper arc, Soma's introduction, and the Circus arc. Not only does it do a good job switching between school hijinks and drama, but it expands upon the existing background of the Phantomhive clan, something I've been waiting for for a while.

The sixteenth book opens up with Ciel's questioning the P4 about Derrick Arden, the very student he was sent to Weston College to find. Naturally, finding about what happened to Derrick isn't so easy and practically no one in P4 wants to talk about it. Even Sebastian's methods do not come up with anything from his fellow masters. Obviously, if Ciel wants to find where the college has put Derrick and the other transfer students, it will be by less traditional methods...
A highlight of Black Butler's sixteenth volume is the seamless, effortless relationship between Ciel and Sebastian, lord and butler. When they have a goal in mind, they work together without questioning the other's ability. Sebastian is in the best position possible to get Ciel close to the headmaster while keeping the boy in high favor with the prefects. And no one questions Sebastian and Ciel's closeness since Sebastian is a master and Ciel a top student. Sometimes the best disguises involve being more open, although I'm sure Soma's usual joyful nature has given their plan some unexpected bumps.
One thing this volume tries to do is teach the reader how to play cricket. I'm not sure if it succeeds fully - cricket has always been a part of English culture that has been beyond my comprehension - but I think I understand the cricket scenes a little better now. It does help that the cricket matches have that underlying shonen feel, where every throw is like a special move and the winning tactics are usually the most underhanded and un-cricket (the pie, for goodness' sake!).
A lot of interesting things happen connected to the cricket tournament, including a flashback sequence that calls back to Ciel Phantomhive's own family. There's also the scene in which the four teams get together in full regalia to mark the opening of the tournament. With the costumes and the lighting of the torch, it's all very Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The Sapphire Owls, with their chosen birds and long robes, would not look out of place in Hogwarts.
Despite all the drama, this is actually quite a humorous volume. We have Mister Agares, who is always tripping over his own feet, Soma and his elephants (not to mention Soma in cricket gear!), the appearance of the Viscount of Druitt as well as the Midford family, and practically all the cricket scenes which have some kind of comedic element. Speaking of the cricket tournament, another fan favorite appears during the game which - well, I won't spoil you that appearance but it totally fits, although it makes you wonder who the heck called him in and if he knows Ciel is about!
I also have to point out how wonderfully striking the art in this book is. Yana Toboso has really gone all out, from the gorgeous color art on the cover, to the great full page art that starts off each chapter. I've also really enjoyed Toboso's more dramatic scenes because of her art, which usually use white space and shadows to her advantage. But her more lighter in mood scenes also have great art, like when Sebastian arrives via elephant to Purple House or we see the head prefect of Blue House being teased by his overwhelmingly female family members. I would love to see all the Alphonse Mucha-style art she's been putting in as chapter openers in full color, by the way!

But let us applaud Black Butler for something, even more than reaching nearly twenty volumes and not slowing down. Let us applaud Black Butler for making cricket interesting to non-English folk. That is something most cannot do! Now the question is - how will we survive the wait until July?