One of the greatest things about summer isn’t that there’s no school or that you can go to the beach pretty much every day; it’s that there is a tidal wave of summer anime to watch. With new episodes released every week, it’s the equivalent of befriending a unicorn that produces chocolate. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and a number of summer anime are currently wrapping up – or have already wrapped up – their season. Will you be able to survive not having these shows in your life? Yes! How? By reading manga, of course! A number of 2014 summer anime were either based on or have a manga counterpart, meaning you can continue to follow these characters, or see the differences between the two mediums. These include Tokyo Ghoul, Fairy Tale, Love Stage!!, Akame ga KILL!, and Barakamon. While I’d love to talk about all of these series at once, I shudder to think of what the word count would be. So! For today, I’m going to focus on one series, or, more specifically, one storyline – Kuroshitusji: Book of Circus, aka Kuroshitusji: Noah’s Ark Circus.
Back in 2008, fans of Yana Toboso’s acclaimed manga series Kuroshitsuji were treated to a 24-episode adaptation of the tale of a boy and his demon butler. The first half of season one stays fairly faithful to the manga, but it creates a new story for the latter half. In doing so, the anime cut several arcs in the manga. It was thought that the second season would somehow rectify this, but season two primarily focused on two new characters. So when it was announced that season three – six years after season one aired – would adapt a certain circus arc, fans went wild.
Season three picks up in the middle of the first season, right before the anime generated its own storyline. The main ideas up until then – Ciel summing Sebastian, Madame Red and Grell playing doctor, Soma and Agni’s appearance – are shown in flashback. The ten episodes of Book of Circus cover the Noah’s Ark Circus storyline. The basic premise is that children are going missing, and there might be a connection with the circus. Sebastian and Ciel go undercover and join the circus to get answers.
The Noah’s Ark Circus story is generally considered one of the darker storylines in Kuroshitsuji because of its downer ending and overall body count. As usual with this manga, the tone always varies to keep you in suspense as to whether our “heroes” will save the day or not. The humor comes mostly from seeing Sebastian excel at everything he does and impress nearly everyone, from seeing Ciel’s inability to pass as a carnie without Sebastian’s help, and from the seemingly upbeat moods of the main circus performers. The circus setting of course lends a fun atmosphere, but the pain always looming over it gives us a nice contrast.
I’ve always found this particular arc interesting because of its lack of character development concerning Ciel and Sebastian. I know it’s a weird thing to say, but hear me out. In the first few arcs of Kuroshitsuji, mainly the Jack the Ripper arc, we’re shown just how merciless Ciel can be, how determined he is to harm those who harmed his family, and how aware he is of the dark and crazy life he leads. In Noah’s Circus Ark, Ciel continues to put his duties to the Queen first, and Sebastian continues to follow Ciel’s orders and generally astound everyone. What takes center stage (do u c wat I did thur), though, is Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship, or, more importantly, how they’ve created something healthy out of something unhealthy.
Coming into this arc, we already know that the two have a unique master-servant relationship on two levels: Sebastian serves Ciel and is thus lower-ranked than him, but Sebastian is the strong one, the one who gives Ciel power to accomplish things. We’ve already seen Sebastian save Ciel from a kidnapping and shield him from seeing brutal murders, but this arc shows us how much Ciel needs him on a daily basis. To put it quite simply, Ciel cannot function without Sebastian; he cannot join the circus without Sebastian’s help, he cannot cook, he cannot (or maybe he just doesn’t choose to) dress himself, he can’t take care of himself. Without Sebastian, Ciel would fall prey to those who would harm his company or family name, and he would fall prey to his own inability to survive. In fact, the one time Ciel had to act to survive – when he was going to be sacrificed – was when Sebastian entered his life. Coincidence? I think not.
Even when Ciel does try to do things on his own, something always goes amiss, and he needs Sebastian to bail him out. What the Noah’s Circus Ark does is force Ciel to regress, forcing him to come to terms with Sebastian being his savior. Could you call that character development? Maybe, in a backwards viewpoint. It’s also interesting how in this chapter that deals with missing children, we’re consistently reminded that Ciel is in fact a child; he cannot act like one due to his social standing, which perhaps makes him one of these ‘missing children’ as well.
Sebastian, for his part, remains as stalwart and unchanging as ever. He is sworn to obey Ciel until the covenant is fulfilled, he performs his butler duties, and he always remarks on how amusing humans are. He knows Ciel has to be cruel, and he also knows Ciel’s cruelty can only exist because Sebastian gives Ciel confidence to carry out said cruelty. But what makes him different in this chapter is a crucial moment towards the very end of the arc. Now, I won’t spoil it because that’s ruder than slipping a snake into someone’s cereal, but suffice to say that Sebastian actually hesitates to carry out an order Ciel gives him. When he questions Ciel in previous chapters, it’s usually a goading comment about Ciel faltering in his resolve. In Noah’s Circus Ark, Sebastian is able to recognize that Ciel is not in his right state of mind and is making a rash decision. Could you call this character development? Maybe. He is bound to serve Ciel, so we know the order will be carried out anyway. But it does bring together the idea that Ciel is more and more of a child when he is with Sebastian, which could possibly hinder his own growth. He can only grow more helpless the more he relies on Sebastian. Which, oddly enough, is something I don’t think Ciel cares about. He has a death wish; once his revenge is sated, he knows Sebastian will take his soul. Why bother growing if you know you’re going to die? That, I think, is what the Noah’s Circus Ark makes you think about, and why it was chosen amongst other Kuroshitsuji storylines to be animated.
I don’t want to leave the minor characters hanging, so I’m going to run through them quickly. The main circus performers we spend time with – Joker, Beast, Dagger, Snake, Doll – are some wonderfully complex characters. All of the main circus performers grew up together, and their camaraderie and devotion to family thrusts the plot forward. We also get some VERY cool scenes with Mey-Rin, Finny, Baldroy, and Tanaka. They usually provide the comic relief of the series, but this chapter allows us to see why Ciel and Sebastian would allow these particular individuals to work at the Phantomhive Estate.
Overall, this arc is good for those who want to see how Ciel’s past – when he is forced to directly confront it – clouds his judgment, reverts him to a childlike state, and forces him to associate survival with Sebastian. The artwork s gorgeous, of course; nice and stylized, just the way I like it. The anime adaptation is incredibly faithful, and it’s certainly worth checking out. The original voice actors returned, and the lovely Mamoru Miyano lends his voice to Joker.
Did any of this season’s anime inspire you to read the manga?