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Black Butler: Public School Arc
Episode 9

by Rebecca Silverman,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Black Butler: Public School Arc ?
Community score: 4.2


The hints were there all along. Even if you missed seeing the Book of the Atlantic film, which introduced the concept of imperfect human reanimation into Black Butler's world, the statements dropped by Sebastian about “no souls” being left in the Violet Wolf dormitory and the careful way that the prefects avoided mention of Derrick all hinted at something beyond a boy merely running away from school. His reappearance in his Scarlet Fox red tie last week cemented that something was very, very amiss before it all came clear in this episode: Derrick Arden is no longer alive.

He's also not entirely dead, but not, regretfully, in the Princess Bride sense. What Derrick is is a zombie, an animated corpse with a taste for human flesh—courtesy of the Aurora Society and the man known as The Undertaker. Both are references to Victorian culture—The Aurora Society sounds a bit like The Order of the Golden Dawn (or, more properly, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), a not-as-secret-as-they-thought society that existed in the 19th and 20th centuries to explore the occult—something that “raising the dead” certainly falls under. That Ryan Stoker is one of its named members is just the icing on the cake, given that he's almost certainly named after Bram Stoker, author of the Victorian vampire novel Dracula, one of the more famous stories about the undead. As for The Undertaker, his profession (and name) is wrapped up in the exquisitely detailed world of Victorian mourning culture. You may be aware that after Prince Albert's death, Queen Victoria remained dressed in mourning for the rest of her life (as the show beautifully acknowledged last week) and the rules governing death and mourning during her reign were complex. Regular undertakers were essentially stewards of the grieving process, working with the ostentatious details of conspicuous public mourning. But Black Butler's Undertaker is perverting the process, reversing the natural course of life. He's the antithesis of the dignified mourning Queen Victoria espoused.

Of course, all of that assumes that Derrick was worth mourning in the first place—and that is definitely in question. The bigger reveal in this episode is not that Derrick is undead or that the Head Master is the Undertaker but that the four prefects murdered Derrick in the first place. It seems to have been an accident rather than a deliberate act but the fact of the matter remains that they discovered Derrick engaged in horrific acts of bullying and subsequently killed him. Or rather, Greenhill swung the cricket bat into Derrick's head; the others are complicit. Again, this contextualizes a lot that we've seen before: how the P4 are so tight-knit even for a group of friends; Greenhill's reaction to Ciel's winning stratagem at the recent cricket match; and how they govern the student body. They've been holding this secret for what must feel like forever and the “help” they sought from Stoker was anything but. When undead Derrick immediately goes for Greenhill's arm, it's almost like he's toying with him, letting him know that although he's no longer alive, he hasn't forgotten what the other boy did to him… or at least, that's how it likely looks to Greenhill.

Help has arrived at last, however, in the form of Sebastian, or so it may look to the prefects. Ciel is in an uncomfortable position as the keeper of everyone's secrets now and it's clear that he's not thrilled to be metaphorically back on the Campania again. The flashbacks/recaps of his time at sea are handled quite well, using a different illustration style to convey that we're seeing the events of the past, which beats a clip show any day, and that we get so much past in this episode feels less like a recap and more like the pieces are finally coming together so that we can see the full picture. The revelation of Derrick's true state means that Ciel and Sebastian have at least a partial map for how to proceed. But as Bram Stoker's characters could tell you, just because you've fought off the undead one way in the past, it doesn't mean that the same thing will work a second time.


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

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