Twelve-year-old Ciel Phantomhive is, through as-yet-unexplained circumstances, the head of his aristocratic family. He lives in a beautiful manor house near London with his servants, led by the impressively capable Sebastian, and runs a company that manufactures confections and toys. In the first chapter, we witness Sebastian’s skill as he whips up dinner for a guest (hindered by the ineptitude of the other servants), and in the second, Ciel’s shrill and petulant fiancée arrives to dress everyone in cute outfits and break Ciel’s signet ring. Then she cries when he’s mad at her for it. Charming. This inauspicious beginning is tempered somewhat by the likable and enigmatic Sebastian and his relationship with Ciel, who is by turns acerbic and vulernable.
The story picks up the pace in the third chapter, when Ciel is revealed to have been given some sort of policing responsibility by Queen Victoria that makes him a target for an Italian fellow looking to sell drugs in England. When he learns his master has been kidnapped, Sebastian springs into action, easily defeating all of the thugs standing in his way (earning extra badass points for doing so with silverware!) and ultimately revealing more details on the nature of his service agreement with Ciel. This results in a second half that is much better than the first.
Black Butler has a lot of fans, and I can certainly see why. Although I gave this first volume a B-, I did enjoy it overall and feel that the series has a lot of promise.
The first, and most important, step the series can take towards achieving greatness is to jettison the completely unfunny household staff. I’m not even sure why they’re there. Am I actually supposed to find their painfully stupid antics amusing? At one point, I thought one of them might get killed by a sniper and I thought, “Oh, so that’s why they’re there!”, but alas, it was not to be. You know you’ve created some annoying characters when three chapters in I’m rooting for them to die.
I’d also like to see the series develop a plot worthy of its central character. Sebastian is both urbane and lethal, a fellow whose appearance and manner—“You’re nothing more than a romeo swanning around in a swallowtail coat”—bely his true intentions, and he deserves better than whiny fiancées and two-bit drug dealers.
I found Toboso’s art to be kind of generic, but attractive. The action scenes are easy to follow, even when Sebastian’s doing impossible things like throwing bullets into his opponent’s foreheads and slicing their guns in half with a serving tray. Yen’s packaging is also nice, with a couple of color pages and some substantial translation notes.
On the whole, while Black Butler falters some in this first volume, there are enough appealing elements to ensure I’ll be back for the second. I’ll be especially glad if the “comic relief” meets an untimely end in the interim.
Black Butler is published in English by Yen Press. They’ve released one volume so far. The series is up to eight volumes in Japan, where it is still ongoing.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.