The Devil of a Butler
“Black Butler” seems like a manga that is designed more to provide ideas for cosplay outfits than to be a comic in its own right. The entire set-up comes from a wordplay pun that only makes sense in Japanese, juxtaposing the term “Aku made Shitsuji Desu” (“I am a Butler through and through”) with “Akuma de Shitsuji Desu” (I am a Butler from the Devil”). There is almost no story here, but every page is packed to the gills with Little Lord Fauntleroy outfits (complete with eye patch!) and frilly Gothic Lolita dresses.
The story (such as it is) starts with Earl Ciel Phantomhive, a twelve-year old boy who also happens to be the head of a giant corporation that produces candy and toys. Not that the Earl has much to do with his company, as he spends his days lazing around his manor house and making unreasonable demands on his staff. The Earl is served by three members, Finnian the Gardner, Mey-Rin the Maid and Baldroy the Chef, who are all hopeless incompetents with no redeeming qualities other than to accidentally destroy everything they touch. Fortunately for the Earl, he is also served by Sebastian, a butler of inhuman skills and perfection personified in every possible way. No matter what muddle-headed hijinks Finnian, Mey-Rin and Badlroy cook up, Sebastian is always there to set things right and save the day with elegance and style.
Most of the book follows this standard plot. An important guest comes to visit, but Baldroy burns the food, Mey-Rin breaks the China and Finnian wipes out the garden. Sebastian steps in at the last minute to cook up a meal, set out the decorations, etc. The Earl’s betrothed Ms. Elizabeth stops by, decorating the entire house with frilly lace and pretty bonnets. Sabastian is there to teach the Earl the Venetian Waltz at the last minute, so he can charm his future wife.
About half-way through, the tone abruptly from light-heated whimsy to a darker tone as the young Earl is kidnapped by the Italian mafia who want to use his toy and candy company as a front to push drugs into England. While the Earl is beaten and threatened, Sebastian works his way through the Italians, coming to the rescue of his master and revealing his demonic nature in the process, and why Earl Phantomhive has such a hold on him.
The second half of “Black Butler” definitely caught my interest more than the frivolous first half, and whether or not I continue with the series depends a lot on what style author Yana Toboso chooses. The art is good enough, although I am not personally such a fan of the lace and frills of the Gothic Lolita style which dominates the character designs. There might be more to the story, and an explanation why Earl Phantomhive doesn’t just fire the incompetent trio of Finnian, Mey-Rin and Baldroy. There is some potential here, so it is just a case of wait and see.