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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Manga Review: Black Butler GN 18

Black Butler volume 18
Author: Yana Toboso
Yen Press
176 pages
Their elaborate schoolroom deception at an end, Earl Ciel Phantomhive and his peerless manservant, Sebastian, finally hit upon the truth behind the incident of the vanished students at Weston College. Just what tragic steps did the elites of the school, spurred on by their overwhelming sense of justice, take to stamp out the bullying running rife in the halls of their institution?! What began as a seemingly simple case of missing persons goes round and round, spinning out of control into a great menace, one capable of perplexing even a devil...
After finishing the latest volume of Black Butler, I spent a good five minutes trying to nitpick the contents of it, looking for a major flaw or distraction. I found none. Maybe it needs more old man Tanaka? Okay, every book could use more Tanaka, so that doesn't count as a valid nitpick.
In this collection of chapters, Yana Toboso has packaged together a perfect combination of her signature stylish art, madcap action, thrilling plot twists and screwball humor for the conclusion of the Weston College story arc. Amid the eighteen volumes of Black Butler released so far in English, the newest one is truly among the top of the crop.

As the latest book of Black Butler opens, the truth behind the disappearance of Derrick and the other Weston students comes to light as well as why the Undertaker, rogue shinigami, is attempting to bring the dead back to life. Naturally, Sebastian and Undertaker battle, and Sebastian's sworn allegiance to Ciel is tested.
Meanwhile, the Weston College arc isn't the only event of volume 18: there is also a chapter covering a recent business scheme by the Phantomhive corporation, and the start of a new arc set in the dark woods of Germany, where a mysterious illness leads to the Queen of England dispatching her favorite agent to investigate the cause and the cure. Ciel even brings his servants along, which may be to his advantage later.
If you are looking for action, Black Butler's got it, not only in the fight between Sebastian and his colleague but the flashback to the night Derrick disappeared. It is certainly not a bloodless volume, and there's a fair amount of brutality across both arcs, but Toboso deals it out with an even hand and it never feels like a cheap shock tactic. She even manages to further explore the Ciel/Sebastian dynamics through the fight with the Undertaker, and we see again to what measures Sebastian will go to honor his demonic contract with young Ciel.
Even with all the revelations of what the prefects of Weston College has been up to, this is not a completely dark and depressing book. A chapter of much-needed levity is wedged between the end of the College arc and the beginning of the werewolves' forest arc, in which Ciel and Sebastian must put into place a new advertising campaign for Funtom's newest ladies' scent. Although, even in this chapter, which involves a hijacked carriage and Sebastian in disguise, more hints are dropped about the Undertaker's true motivations and personal history. Still, it's nice that Black Butler remembers that Ciel Phantomhive is not just a young boy bent on revenge for his dead family and the Queen's lapdog but also a very, very young businessman who has a major conglomerate to keep running.
Nothing about the eighteenth volume of Black Butler's manga seems superfluous or tacked on. The artwork is as detailed and lush as ever and Sebastian continues to be one hell of a butler. Now that the story has shifted to the forests of Germany, in which supernatural forces may be lurking in the shadows, Black Butler might be changing from a college bound zombie arc to a fantasy one of witches and werewolves. I'm looking forward to how Toboso will integrate these new elements into the already established speculative canon of Ciel's London.