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Black Butler’s manga is still worth reading

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I came for the pretty eyelashes, and stayed for the mysteries

Yen Press

Black Butler was a hot anime series back in 2010. Many manga readers can recall watching the anime as teens, and maybe wearing a shirt with Sebastian on it from Hot Topic. While most interest around the show dissipated as the fanbase grew up, the manga still manages to keep you interested in the plot and not just the hunky anime men.

The latest arc flipped the comic series on its head, revealing a big family secret that has been foreshadowed quietly in many chapters past. Ciel’s past has come back to quite literally haunt him and take all his power and friends away. Now is a great time to pick back up with Black Butler.

If you’re not familiar with the series, Black Butler is about a boy, Ciel Phantomhive, and his demon butler, Sebastian Michaelis. Ciel lost his rich and powerful family to a fire, and was captured and tortured for about a month. His captors marked him with a demonic branding, hoping to summon a demon. The demon that came, Sebastian, notes that Ciel was the one who summoned him, and agrees to form a contract with the young boy in exchange for his soul. Ciel wants Sebastian to help him find out who killed his family and seek out revenge.

Mey-Rin, the sniper maid of the Phantomhive estate
Ciel also has other servants, like a maid who is a dope sniper
Yen Press

From its setting in Victorian London the show typically has other mysteries standing in the way of Ciel’s familial revenge. While the Phantomhives own and operate a toy company, the family is also the Queen of England’s “watch dogs,” which means they have to help her stop crimes, especially ones that are seedy or spooky.

That’s where the more interesting plot comes in. Each arc, Ciel is tested with a new mystery, and often it seems like magic is the answer. Weird things start happening, and if Ciel has a demon butler, surely there can be other magic in the world, right? Nope! Outside of grim reapers, who stay out of human problems for the most part, there’s not really anyone who can truly do magic. This means all these mysteries have to be solved in a relatively realistic way.

The creator, Yana Toboso, manages to lure you in with attractive looking men with long eyelashes, and then uses the time period the series is set in to help tell the story. The readers are reminded again and again that the series takes place in the 1880s, so a lot of these magical mysteries are just recent scientific advances, like toxic gas or different blood types. While there are random instances of modern technology woven into the series, you completely forget about it. With the later arcs especially, the solutions to the mysteries have begun to reach outside of the time period.

Grell asks Othello, another grim reaper, about what he’s doing
Even grim reapers in the Victorian era do forensics
Yen Press

At the end of every arc, after dispelling evidence of magic, the duo goes back to living their comfortable, yet weird lives. Sebastian makes Ciel tea and cakes while teaching him manners, and Ciel goes back to managing his business. However, the current arc seems like it’s hitting a point of no return.

[Warning: The following contains major spoilers for chapter 139 and beyond of Black Butler.]

The Blue Cult arc of the series, starting at chapter 108, flips everything we’ve ever known about Black Butler on its head. It turns out that Ciel is ... not Ciel, but Ciel’s twin brother. It turns out that the original Ciel Phantomhive, heir to the fortune and head of the family, also died while being tortured and was killed so that Sebastian could be summoned.

The entire country gets mad and turns on Ciel and Sebastian, forcing them to run. (They’ve been tricking everyone this entire time, while the rightful heir is alive, after all.) Favorite characters are dying; and others seem to have had their fun personalities sucked out, as even they resort to violence. And how is “Ciel” alive when the flashback showed him as a bloody mess on an operating table?

Black Butler is heading in directions that completely break its basic formula. How is Ciel going to figure out the mystery and have Sebastian tie up all the loose ends this time? We just have no idea how, and that’s what’s made this arc of Black Butler so good, and so surprising. Even 10 years later, the series is still filled with secrets and surprises that make it worth reading.