Black Butler: Book of Circus
by Rose Bridges,
In last week's review, I mentioned that I was worried about how the last episode of Black Butler: Book of Circus would fill itself out, since only a few plot threads were left hanging (and only a few characters were left alive, for that matter). This week proved that those worries were completely in vain, as the final chapter of this arc proved to be nearly as jam-packed as the penultimate one, and none of it felt like filler. What wasn't directly related to wrapping up remaining characters' fates (like Doll's and Snake's) was the kind of emotional and thematic closure we needed after the very abrupt, bleak ending of the previous episode—though it sure did nothing to stem the bleakness.
In fact, this episode gave itself a long to-do list: wrapping up Doll's arc, showing us what the heck William was up to (a question it never seems to fully answer), filling out the rest of the Noah's Ark Circus' backstory, dangling hints to the coming Book of Murder specials with Snake's survival and some mysterious white-haired people on Ciel's tail, and still cramming in our two leads somewhere amongst it all. It managed all of this without feeling like it was skipping between several different shows. For all of this season's animation problems, the direction—in these last few episodes especially—has been pretty stellar, and that was in full effect this week as it tied all this episode's loose strands together.
That said, the budget issues are still pretty apparent. This episode had some of the wonkiest-looking animation moments, such as the horses pulling Sebastian and Ciel's carriage. This is all easy to ignore, though, when this last third of the season has some of the strongest writing in the series so far. Ciel has always been good at keeping his emotions close to his heart, stoically weathering the darkness. It takes a lot to convince viewers that he's capable of the emotional breakdowns he had last week or this week. His mad laughter on learning that Lord Kelvin's orphanage was in ruins pulls off that transformation and then some, as has the progress of the entire Book of Circus story. Beyond the puzzling filler premiere, the pacing this season has been fantastic.
Black Butler comes off initially as a goth-steampunk fantasy-world version of Victorian England, but one of the more interesting aspects of the show is how frank it is about the period's darker side. Black Butler has never hidden how much it sucked to be among the era's poor, teeming masses, as is the case for many of the criminals Ciel chases after throughout the series. It's made clear that desperation, not malice, is why most of these people turn to crime, the same desperation that led Ciel to Sebastian in his hour of need. We were given smaller, individual examples of this in previous seasons—see Lau's monologue in season 1 about the Opium Wars—but with the Book of Circus, it really comes to a head, as the Circus members themselves are such potent examples of the Victorian era's stark class divides. Their tragic backstories, finally shown in full in this episode, are like something out of a Dickens novel.
It's hard to say, though, if this is the result of deliberate social commentary or simply a side-effect of Black Butler's extreme cynicism. The series took a serious turn for the pessimistic in these last few episodes of the Book of Circus, as we learn just how pathetic and illusory the lives were that the Noah's Ark Circus was defending. This is, of course, to highlight how Ciel's own quest for revenge may be just as futile as theirs, just as based on a false idea of his past and what still remains of it. He even says outright that he's just like them, which is when he loses it. Ciel's sunk to a level of depravity that even left Sebastian in shock this week. Ciel was laughing, but most of the audience was like his demon butler—wide-eyed with horror over where this would lead.
I said before that I thought this series didn't hold much for people who weren't already fans of the series. Now, I'm not so sure, since Black Butler: Book of Circus' last few episodes appear to be building toward a very different kind of show than the one we're used to from the first two seasons, with perhaps a different kind of audience as well. The elements that got the series so many fans—namely, the campy, stereotype-based comedy—are fading in favor of the darkness at the core of its Faustian premise. While the show still throws us a few comic bones by adding scenes of Grell fawning over Sebastian (that apparently weren't in the manga), fans who are mostly here for the laughs might find their interest waning. As someone who enjoys both of Black Butler's emotional extremes, though, I'm eager to see where this goes. The darker turn the series has taken in these final moments of its third season may be uncomfortable, but it hints toward something deeper and more resonant than we've ever seen from the series so far. Black Butler has plenty of potential for that, and as we head into the Book of Murder episodes this fall, I'm curious to see how—and if—it will use it.
Black Butler: Book of Circus is currently streaming on
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