Black Butler: Book of Circus

Book of Circus: Episodes 1-4, streaming on Daisuki and Crunchyroll.

“To me, clowns aren’t funny. In fact, they’re kind of scary. I’ve wondered where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus, and a clown killed my father.” – Jack Handey.

Black Butler is certainly one of the more popular anime around, although some people were annoyed that the second series was based on a totally original storyline rather than on the original manga. This new series, Book of Circus, returns to the original source material, featuring a storyline that briefly begins in Volume IV, and continues to Volume VIII.

The first episode can be considered a bit of filler, re-familiarising people with the main characters, and several other profiles are explained as the series continues, so for those unfamiliar with Black Butler, here’s a quick overview.

Set in Britain in 1888, the titular “Black Butler”, Sebastian Michaelis, is the servant of 12-year-old earl Ciel Phantomhive: businessman, “Aristocrat of Evil” and “Watchdog” to Queen Victoria, Ciel’s job is to protect the crown from all who threaten it. Sebastian is seemingly other-worldly in terms of how brilliantly he does his job. This is because he is other-worldly, or rather under-worldly. Sebastian is in fact a demon who has entered into a Faustian pact with Ciel. Ciel wants revenge upon the people who murdered his parents and tortured him. Sebastian agrees to serve and protect Ciel, with the mark of the deal being on Ciel’s patched-over right eye. Once the deal is completed, Sebastian will consume Ciel’s soul.

It is in episode two where the real plot begins. Ciel’s latest job is to investigate a spate of child disappearances which seem to occur whenever a certain circus, the “Noah’s Ark Circus,” rides into town. Sebastian and Ciel go undercover to investigate the disappearances by joining the circus, where Sebastian is given the stage name of “Black”, while, to his horror, the gloomy Ciel is dubbed “Smile”. The duo try their best to investigate what possible connection the circus could have with the disappearing children, a task made even more difficult when another member of the circus, “Suit”, turns out to be a troublesome acquaintance: cold “Grim Reaper” / “Shinigami”, and enemy of Sebastian, William T. Spears. 

There are a few plus points on this series over the previous one. First, as mentioned earlier, it is a return to the original manga, which will please many of its fans. The story itself is a good one. As someone who has read the manga, I can promise you that there will be plenty of action in store. Secondly, the animation appears to be of a much higher quality than before. It is a lot more colourful than last time. It is a rather pleasing sight for the eyes, with the characters being particularly well crafted.

The main problem with this series so far has been the streaming. Daisuki recently had to delay the release of the fourth episode. There is speculation that this delay might have had something to do with Japan’s recent anti-piracy laws covering anime and manga (Yana Toboso, creator of Black Butler, has been known to have had problems with people pirating her work and has spoken out against it). However, Crunchyroll has been even more problematic, as for ages there were no English subtitles. These have only just become available. 

Hopefully, now that these issues have been sorted out, we can enjoy the whole series without any problems.

A new OVA, Book of Murder, is due out later in the year.

8 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. His debut book, CLAMPdown, about the manga collective CLAMP, is available now. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

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