• remind me tomorrow
  • remind me next week
  • never remind me
Subscribe to the ANN Newsletter • Wake up every Sunday to a curated list of ANN's most interesting posts of the week. read more

Black Butler: Public School Arc
Episode 1 & 2

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Black Butler: Public School Arc ?
Community score: 3.9

How would you rate episode 2 of
Black Butler: Public School Arc ?
Community score: 4.4


No matter who you are or where you're from, there will always be someone in a position of power hanging over you – and that's doubly true in the insular world of 19th-century English boarding schools. While girls' authors like Mrs. L.T. Meade created largely harmless stories of girls establishing their social hierarchies in her boarding school novels, such as 1886's A World of Girls, reality could be much more rigid, as Ciel Phantomhive is rapidly finding out. After his adventures on the doomed ocean liner in The Book of the Atlantic, Ciel's next task is undertaken at the behest of Queen Victoria, who oh-so-casually mentions to him in a letter that students are vanishing from Weston, a prestigious public school, including a boy named Derrick, whose parents are saddened and alarmed by their son's sudden cessation of correspondence. Ciel takes it upon himself to enroll at Weston to find out what's going on.

It's a little odd that Ciel has never attended school before, although it's not unheard of for young nobles to have tutors rather than going to a boarding school. It certainly sets the stage for him to be woefully unprepared for the social nonsense he finds at Weston. (Which, by the way, is a real school founded in 1845.) In Ciel's day-to-day life, he's the master of demon butler Sebastian and master of his earldom, managing the tasks that come with it with an aplomb that belies his youth. But no one cares about all of that at Weston – as far as they know, he's just a new student in the lower grades who needs to adhere to the school's system. That means obeying the older students and being as subservient as they demand, no matter how they treat him in return. Yes, Sebastian is there with him, but not as his butler; he's masquerading as the Master of the dormitory where Ciel lives, a role that the second episode explains is a combination of live-in tutor and regular teacher, with a side of dorm parent thrown in for good measure. He's there and can help Ciel behind the scenes, but they still need to play their assigned roles. So when Ciel is summoned to see the four head prefects (called the P4, which I find funny for no good reason), if Sebastian is meant to be supervising a cricket game, he can't just bow out and accompany what others would appear to be a random student. That means Ciel is on his own at school. After the stunt pulled by Maurice Cole in episode two, Ciel is increasingly socially ostracized.

There's an interesting parallel being set up between Ciel and Maurice. Maurice is the “drudge” for P4 member Edgar Redmond, a position of power, not unlike how in a household the lady's maid would be ranked above a parlor maid. Maurice, however, farms out his chores for Redmond, getting other, younger students to fulfill them before claiming their work as his own. That sounds horrible but when we look at how Ciel is doing the same thing with Sebastian, we have to ask ourselves why it's okay if Ciel does it but not Maurice. Within episode two alone, Ciel and Maurice have someone else prepare tea pastry for them and then claim that they did the cooking – is Ciel excused because he's the protagonist? Or because his “drudge” is Sebastian, an inhuman entity? Certainly, Maurice's motives appear more selfish, because as far as we know he's not helping out Queen Victoria, but it still feels a little too close for their behavior to be a coincidence.

This social system, a mirror in many ways of the adult world's social hierarchy in Victorian England, is just one of the details that these two episodes get more right than wrong. That's not always the case for Black Butler, although I admit that most of what the franchise gets wrong is women's clothing and hair. The boys' clothes may be lacking the hideous plaid suits so inexplicably popular at the time but the houndstooth pattern on the P4's pants is just right, and details like the maker's mark on a top hat and the way that rooms lit only by a single oil lamp look like they're only lit by a single oil lamp, rather than being artificially bright for our viewing pleasure. My only real historical complaint is that while care is taken to show us china patterns on teacups and saucers, dessert plates are stark white; technically speaking, each dorm (house) should have its own proprietary china pattern and the dessert plates would match the teacups and saucers.

Ciel's mission to discover what's going on at Weston is not off to a good start for him. He's run afoul of not just the P4 and their drudges, but also his cousin Edward, and is well on his way to being persona non grata among the students. Fortunately, he has Sebastian, even if the butler can't always be by his side, and by the end of episode two he's brought in a new ally. There's a clear learning curve for Ciel, but I do not doubt that he will adjust to it sooner rather than later – if only because he has no other choice.


Black Butler: Public School Arc is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

discuss this in the forum (20 posts) |
bookmark/share with: short url

back to Black Butler: Public School Arc
Episode Review homepage / archives