If you haven’t heard of Black Butler (aka Kuroshitsuji), first of all, you should check it out. While it definitely comes with some heavy trigger warnings, it’s a dark and awesome story about the shenanigans of a young noble and his demon butler in the heyday of the Victorian era, and the manga art is basically just gloriously pretty. It also has multiple characters of color as well as queer and trans characters—laying waste to the assumption that non-cishet non-white people only just started existing recently. (If you are interested in checking it out, actually, I’d skip this post, as it does play fast and loose with spoilers for the first two seasons.)
Now, the Black Butler anime has always had a casual relationship with its manga. While the still-ongoing manga has gone through half a dozen or so long-running plot arcs, the original anime was a closed arc. The climactic battle was a with a filler character created for the single season, and the final episode closed on the main character, Ciel, finally completing his mission of avenging his parents and ceding his soul to his demon butler as payment for completing his contract. Pretty final, right? I thought it was a satisfying ending, at least.
But then came Black Butler Season 2. Season 2 was downright confusing, and entirely filler from the manga’s perspective. When I first saw the promos, I thought that maybe they were just going to do another story about a totally different kid and their demon butler. “What an eminently sustainable idea!” I thought. “They can just keep making new shows with the same basic premise forever and I’ll totally keep watching!” However, Season 2 ended up tying heavily into Season 1, retconning its satisfying ending and replacing it with the biggest anticlimax of all time, and turning Ciel into the anime equivalent of Bella Swan. (Apparently his soul was just so special and perfect that all the demons wanted a piece of it, even ones who were contracted elsewhere.) It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I generally pretend it doesn’t exist.
Then, this summer, promos appeared for a new animated Black Butler arc—the fan-favorite manga arc Book of Circus. Book of Circus follows Ciel and his butler Sebastian as they infiltrate a circus whose members are suspected of kidnapping urchin children. It’s a deeply disturbing arc, as it taps into the trauma Ciel himself experienced when he was kidnapped by child-trafficking cultists (the situation, no less, in which he first summoned and contracted Sebastian).
Although I was as excited as any other fan about the anime’s revival, my distaste of Season 2 left me nervous. Something that bugged the hell out of me in the Bleach anime when I was still watching it was that, after a long filler arc concluded, they carried some of the filler characters over into the real manga-based arcs, and we had to deal with them in places where they should rightfully not exist. I was terrified that they would try to make Book of Circus compliant with the mess that was Season 2. Thankfully, however, someone out there seemed to think that was a downright terrible idea. Book of Circus is totally manga-compliant—in fact, it’s more canon-compliant than the first season of the anime even was. It’s less of a return to the manga story than it is the first time a Black Butler anime adaptation has ever been faithful to it.
One downside to this was that, because the original anime is relatively old in television years, Book of Circus often did info-dump flashbacks when it introduced us to a character whose backstory we might not remember or which was changed for the Seasons 1 and 2 plots. While I understand this is just good form, being considerate toward new viewers, I found it kind of tedious.
Also, although I mentioned at the beginning that this story features a variety of diverse characters, this is not an arc that particularly showcases them. The Indian prince Soma and his butler Agni appear a few times, but without a solid plot arc relating to them, they just end up being the butt of jokes. Meanwhile, my favorite precious child, the bisexual trans lady shinigami Grell Sutcliffe, only got a few scenes, and one of them is entirely spent on her lamenting that Sebastian, on whom she has a huge crush, has slept with some other girl. While this is an admittedly small step up from previous seasons where her entire flamboyant personality is treated as a joke, it definitely doesn’t showcase the full breadth of her character as portrayed in the manga. If the manga does continue to get these bite-sized arc adaptations, we will see her more developed in later arcs, but who knows if that will happen?
In general, though, this was a lovely adaptation and I hope that it’s the start of a trend for the series. I know that the next arc, Book of Murder, is getting an OAV in the next few months, and I look forward to seeing later arcs as well. Whether you’re a newb to the series or a veteran fan of the manga, I definitely recommend you check out Book of Circus—at only ten episodes, you don’t really have an excuse not to.