Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Black Butler: Volume 1 by Yana Toboso

The head of the Phantomhive household is a successful businessman, does information gathering for the Queen and is only 12 years old. The secret of Ciel's success? A contract with a demon: the demon will work for him in exchange for Ciel's soul somewhere down the line. Most of the time Sebastian's work involves more mundane tasks of running a household to the whims of an owner who is still a child. But when the situation gets messy, Sebastian's weapons and unnatural powers come out, and nearly anyone who defies him or his master ends up 6 feet under in an unpleasant way.

I still don't really get the attraction of this series. I found this book quite bland. None of the characters really interested me, what little plot there is often seems overdramatic, the artwork is rather overly-smooth and neat and the design (while lavish) is very commonplace and standard-looking. There wasn't a sense of an author telling a story with their own flair and style, so much as an author with a huge marketing scheme behind them waving over-used fanservice-y scenarios at otaku who are determined to always be reading the popular series, and who fell for the idea that because it has as many anime/manga tropes crammed into it as it can hold (and some extra that really didn't fit) it must be the most anime-ish anime around.

There's really nothing that is easily pointed at as "this is what makes it a frustrating read" so much as a general sense that this could have potential, but is too busy running the characters around in drag, creating crazy (but commonly seen) hijinks that only the Super Awesome Guy can solve, and attempting scenes that seem to simply be there to fuel fanfiction rather than providing anything useful to the series itself.

This is definitely better than the anime, which I found so exasperating I could barely force myself to watch the half-dozen or so episodes I felt I had to watch in order to give it a fair try. There are hints of character depth and interesting backstory. It is interesting to look at. Characters have personalities and emotions. Useful stuff like that.

The art is mediocre for the most part, but now and then I found some really good panels. I really didn't care for the look of a cast of generic bishies, but in the better panels the artwork conveyed enough emotion, movement and planning on the artist's part that one could ignore the weak points for a bit. I found it interesting that Sebastian's face in this manga is slightly mask-like, his expressions, poses and movement seeming subtly non-human. In the anime they seemed to try and convey this idea of his being non-human by removing all but the slightest trace of personality, resulting in a cardboard-standup type of character. (This idea is tried in so many animes/mangas, and it almost never works. Why do they keep doing it?)

This series has possibilities, and may improve in the later volumes if the author can focus on a plot rather than frippery that's meant to... I have no clue what the point of it is. I don't know how much effort I would be willing to put into tracking them down, though, as I don't know what the likelihood is that such changes will happen considering how popular this has been in its current form.

3 Stars

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