Sebastian faces his most difficult challenge yet in having to deal with making curry.
Writer/Artist: Yana Toboso
What They Say:
For an impeccable gentleman's butler like Sebastian Michaelis, the word "impossible" is just not in his vocabulary. Everything demanded of him under the English sun is well within his grasp. But do his talents extend to things under the scalding Indian sun?! As Harold West-Jeb's plan to use Agni, Prince Soma's superhuman butler, in a curry battle to win himself a Royal Warrant is ex-posed, Earl Ciel Phantomhive sets Sebastian to the task of creating an incomparable curry to defeat the despicable West-Jeb. But how can Ciel's devil of a butler possibly best Agni, the man with the Right Hand of God?!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
With the fifth volume of Black Butler, it enters one of the more difficult story arcs as it focuses on curry. And unlike the anime version, there is no larger context to what's going on here to tie into things. The story runs with the recent arrival of the Prince Soma who ends up staying with Ciel for awhile and focuses on a particular event that's about to be launched. With the current festival approaching, there's some good natured jocularity between Soma and Ciel about just how good Soma's right hand man in Agni is and that has Sebastian deciding to take it to the festival itself. Agni is a pretty good straight man for a lot of this as he has the history and honor behind him with the curry he makes for his prince, but Sebastian is obviously a fair bit different in his approach.
What works with the story is watching the way Sebastian approaches the entire thing. While there's the background thing of having to win in the festival for the Funtom company and because Ciel told him to do so, there's also the pride of being one hell of a butler. Seeing him go through the trial and error of making curry is surprisingly fun, though it does go on for a bit too long, especially when they get to the entire chocolate and cocoa issue and we see the deeper meaning of it as it fits into the Funtom side. The actual festival has a lot of fun to it as well, with Sebastian shocking quite a few people with his non-traditional curry approach and the way he actually packages it all together. What brings it full circle is having the Queen show up there and make some key thoughts about it, which certainly makes issuing the formal warrant for Funtom a lot easier.
But it does all feel largely pointless in a way. There's a minor subplot involving Agni and a woman he's involved with and the use of the Queen herself in it feels surprisingly public and out of character, especially coming from the anime side where she was portrayed more as a proper figurehead that didn't get down into the trenches. Similar can be said of Agni and Soma as it progresses, where they're continually surprised by what Sebastian is able to do but it never seems like it truly goes anywhere. Sebastian makes out the best in this volume simply because he gets the most involved material and makes actual progress with things, but it's not entirely clear where they're really wanting to go with it. It feels more like just a bunch of side stories that ties together around curry and that's it.
Black Butler is a busy book and this one is no exception, though it's focus is more on food than anything else. There's a bunch of decent little character moments as Sebastian works through it and they all play off of him, or as he nudges them along in his own way. What's most apparent with Toboso's work is just how dense it can be at times, even when focusing on seemingly trivial things like a curry festival. There's a fair number of characters moving through this, even with the focus largely on Sebastian and Agni, but it just feels dense both in dialogue and artwork. Backgrounds may not be her strong suit with so many blank ones here, but the panel layout is pretty strong and it keeps you moving along with it while making sure there's enough there in each panel to linger with. This is a pretty fluffy volume overall and doesn't seem like it has much to it with any real meat, but it has its fun because the characters make it work.