Black Butler opens by introducing young Ciel Phantomhive, the head of the Phantomhive family and of the Funtom toy and candy corporation, and his butler Sebastian Michaelis. Sebastian is a butler above par. There seems to be nothing he can’t do: create a Japanese rock garden in two hours, catch dropping parcels with his feet, dodge flying bullets. This first volume sets up the characters for the story (with Ciel’s inept staff as the comic relief) and reveals that Sebastian is, indeed, not human. He is a demon in a covenant with Ciel.
Volumes 2 – 4 continue the story of Ciel, his family, how they became the watchdog of the Crown, and how Ciel acquired his covenant with Sebastian. Bits and pieces are revealed as the story evolves. Volumes two and three cover a story arc having Ciel hunting for the killer Jack the Ripper. The family involvement that is ultimately revealed in this case, also serves to explain some of Ciel and Sebastian’s story. Volume four sets up a new story arc with Ciel trying to end a drug smuggling ring in London. At the end of volume four, there is still a lot to learn.
The drawings in Black Butler are strong black and white line drawings. Yana Toboso has a great command of layout and design, the characters flowing from one panel to the next in a way to best convey the plot. These are very active pages, with the layout on one page rarely matching the layout on the next.
Toboso uses her writing to good effect, conveying the emotions and intentions of her characters while moving the plot along. I found it useful to read the notes on translations in the back, as Toboso uses word plays that don’t always translate properly in English.
The humor in this series, could lead one to believe that they are light-hearted books, good for younger children, especially as volume one has very little violence in it. Despite this humor, I am rating them Teen because of the frequent and unexpected dark turns the series often takes. For example in volume two, Ceil, at the behest of the Queen, is hunting for Jack the Ripper. When he finds him, it involves blood, very sharp teeth, a death scythe, witty repartee, and more blood.
Black Butler vol 1 – 4
Vol. 1: ISBN: 978-0316080842
Vol. 2: ISBN: 978-0316084253
Vol. 3: ISBN: 978-0316084260
Vol. 4: ISBN: 978-0316084284
Yen Press, 2010-2011