Monday, February 22, 2010

Manga Monday: Black Butler

Black Butler (Volume 1)
Yana Toboso

There are a lot of mixed reviews of the first volume of Black Butler out there, but I for one, found it rather impressive.  The art, on one hand, is rather lackluster.  It looks generic without any real stand-out scenes.  At one point, the butler in question, Sebastian, points out what is supposed to be a fantastic stone garden to a guest, and the art just isn't strong enough to bring the vision to life.  But for the most part, the art is executed competently, with the action scenes illustrating clearly what Toboso is trying to convey.  And what Toboso lacks in artistic skills is more than made up for with storytelling prowess.

I wasn't sure what to expect when going into this book, and for all intents and purposes, it begins as a story of a butler in charge of the house of a young master.  Sebastian is competent at his job and makes up for what the rest of the staff (including a gardener, a nosy chef, and a clumsy maid) lack, often fixing the mistakes they make.  The twelve year old Earl, Ciel, has a patch over one eye, hinting immediately of some violent incident from his past, at least a violent accident.  But it becomes clear very soon that this isn't merely a book of manners.  Things sort of creep around the edges in this book.  At first Sebastian just seems very good at what he does, multi-talented with a mind to fix puzzles to impress those around him.  When he's able to create a stone garden and fix a few other problems at the same time in two hours, I just thought that Toboso was stretching a little, exaggerating just how good Sebastian is at his job.  But then things surpass the realm of possibility beyond a question, and you realize beyond a doubt that there's something really strange going on.  Well, the eye patch is indicative of a more violent past than most people would imagine in a book that starts out so quietly.  Toboso brilliantly, with calculation, draws the story out, slowly revealing things for what they are, as Sebastian is not human at all.  And very quickly, the story turns violent when Sebastian must rescue Ciel from machine gun-toting kidnappers, dropping the illusion of a purely Victorian/Edwardian setting quickly with the introduction of guns, cellphones and cars.  This subversion of expectations may feel like a cheat to some, but I appreciate Toboso's clever ideas, and while a great first volume and a fun hook don't necessarily translate into a great series overall, I will be there when the second volume hits the shelves.

1 comment:

Kris said...

Ah, your review explores the flow of the story rather well!
Mine ( http://comicattack.net/2010/02/bbwblackbutler1/ ) was mostly a fan girl trying to contain enthusiasm for a favorite title.
I'm actually rather surprised by how different some people are viewing the series; it's interesting.