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A bit disappointing.
on 19 June 2013
Man, this has been a long time coming. It's been about six months since I reviewed a volume of Black Butler, and I swear both volume XII and XIII had lower print runs or something. The comic shop I order them in from had trouble getting their hands on them, and I could never find them in big bookshops like Waterstone's and W.H. Smith's.
However, I eventually got them, so on with the show. Here's the review for volume XII.
Volume XII, as a continuation from volume XI is just... okay. I mean, it's a bit of a patchwork mess, to be honest. This is around about the time where I started reading the manga every month as it came out in Japan, and reading something monthly means you tend to forget the little things that detract from the story. At least, I do. I was like: "Yay, Grell's back! Oh my god, now they're going to get the ball rolling in terms of story, and the arc is going to be awesome!"
...Except the Campania arc isn't so awesome, in hindsight. It just stuffs our characters onto the Titanic, and everything devolves into bland shounen fight scenes. Even in the slower scenes, where the characters are hiding from the zombies, or just interrogating the mad scientist who created them, it's not exactly paced very well. Things just... happen. I know that's a terrible description, but honestly, that's just the way it feels. There's no real cohesion between events in the story.
I mean, Sebastian disappears for half a chapter. We last see him activating the watertight doors in order to delay the ship sinking, then we see him climb up out of the ocean and muse on how the water is so cold, that Ciel would be very ill if he were to fall in. He's there one moment and there the next, and it's more than a wee bit jarring.
The Grim Reapers make their return in this volume (sans Will), and sure, it's fun to see them back again. Some of their gags are somewhat amusing too, like Grell demanding that she and Ronald copy the famous 'King of the world' pose from Titanic, and Grell's flirtations with Sebastian. I did also laugh at Ciel just leaving Sebastian behind as he was trying to hold back Ronald from slicing his face off with the world's most unwieldy scythe. Which is a gas-powered lawnmower. In 1890s England. Or on the Atlantic, if you prefer.
Perhaps the biggest event in the manga is Elizabeth's transformation from screechy little girl obsessed with cute things, to a capable swordswoman who can hold her own against a group of zombies. Still, though, Ciel is 14 and Elizabeth is 15. For Elizabeth to still act like a little girl, and have her existence orbit totally around whether or not her betrothed thinks she's cute or not, at that age... seriously. She even sobs that she never wanted Ciel to see this 'ugly' side of her. Sure, in volume XIII it's revealed that Ciel once remarked on Elizabeth's mother - his fencing instructor - as being scary due to her strict teaching methods, and Elizabeth took it as meaning 'he thinks she's scary because she's a woman who can use a sword', but come on.
All the characters are very disjointed from each other in this volume too. Yes, that's partly due to them being scattered - Ciel runs off to protect Lizzie, the Reapers go off to collect their souls, Lady Midford and her family are fighting zombies in the first class lounge, Sebastian spends the time ascertaining that ocean water on a cold night on spring is going to be cold enough to induce hypothermia, and Snake tries to keep mad scientist Ryan Stoker under his watch but fails spectacularly. (Also, I see what you did there, with Mr. Stoker's name - he creates undead beings who require sustenance from live humans, after all.)
Ultimately, this volume just feels completely bolted together, and not at all cohesive in terms of characters and their motivations.
Black Butler is one of those manga where the main, overarching plot takes a backseat in favour of what's currently going on in the arc, and only sparingly peppers hints of what went on before throughout the narrative, but it's starting to get really meandering and pointless now. Sure, the Curry Arc could be complete drivel at times, but at least it kept my interest throughout. I really liked the Circus Arc, and I actually did like the Phantomhive Mansion Murder Mystery arc, even if it got off to a shaky start.
However, the Campania arc falls completely flat. Sure, there's zombies aboard a sinking ship with people dying left, right and centre, and there's not really much reason to get invested in the plot at all. While it does have its moments, I can't really give this more than 2/5.