I'm alive, internets. Missed you too.

The TL;DR rundown:
I just caught up with Kuroshitsuji, a few days ago, and am really happy I did. The Undertaker was in the latest chapters. And Grell! And Snake has been invited to join the Phantomhive staff. And Ciel's girlfriend Lizzy is one hell of a swordfighter. Best of all, she has a brain. :) Sebastian is as epic as ever. And he recently faked his own death, which was great.

The rest
Taking it by parts, I am thrilled that Snake turned up at the Phantomhive manor and wasn't killed on the spot. He's an interesting minor character that I didn't expect to ever see again. He is quiet, serious, and it is great to have someone like that as part of the stable cast. At least, I hope he's here to stay. Sebastian is great, but I get tired of the relentless silliness of the other servants. I really do. So Snake in this context, blunted affect and all, is perfect. It's the first time we've gotten to see Ciel recruit anyone, too. Everything with the other four happened before the story started. And it's kind of funny, watching Snake go from this vaguely BDSM get-up to a footman's uniform. Sebastian probably had the most dramatic transformation, in that respect, but this is on panel and fun to watch. I'd really like to see the rest of Sebastian's demon form, sometime. The hands and feet, at least, have been sexy, and sort of ambiguous about whether he was male or female or neither before he became Ciel's butler. Snake fits in really well with the somber side of the Phantomhive household. His snakes are sinisterly decorative, and he has a habit of only relating what they say. Snake reminds me of a mun who's been taken over by muses - basically a conduit between the people who don't understand them, and his snakes. He's somewhat self-conscious about his skin, which is scaly all over (he was a circus freak). But Ciel doesn't have any problem with it. I was nervous he was going to be killed off, and I kind of still am, because no one's joined the main cast before. Also because I'm not sure Snake is quite as crazy-competent, as a fighter, as the rest of the staff. He does suck less, as a servant, but I was glad to see him holding his own during the zombie plot. Of course, sooner or later he's going to find out that the rest of his adopted family was murdered, when they tried to come for Ciel ... but there's not much help for it. I'm just glad to have him around and alive. It sort of makes me laugh, in retrospect, that Sebastian put him in a wooden crate, along with all his pets, during the murder arc. But I probably wouldn't have reacted with what, wait, that's a human being you just - if I'd been reading more regularly.

Now, about zombies on the titanic? Yuck. Those pictures are brain pollution, to me. I dislike zombies, and don't understand why so many people my age are obsessed with them. I almost don't want to know, because they bother me so much. The gaping mouths and the cannibalism and the senseless, indiscriminate killing ... and mindlessness ... the fact that there's no one there just negates anything that might make them an interesting monster, for me. Or even a worthwhile opponent. Maybe I'd get it if I played more video games, but like this, I don't see the point. They're *literally* so stupid! :( It did give Sebastian (and Grell, for that matter) an excuse to kill and kill and kill. But they've both done this before. I mean ... Ciel isn't quite a villain protagonist, but he's dark enough that the blood runs freely in Kuroshitsuji on a semi-regular basis.

Anyway. The manga-ka came up with a convoluted reason for practically every character in the story to strike a silly pose. I have no idea what that was about, in meta, but it made the Undertaker laugh and laugh, so I came around and started enjoying it. Scenes that play off a character I like being embarrassed and made to look/feel foolish generally aren’t fun, for me. It's partly a villain-fan thing, from having seen too many moments when that's passed off as a fitting punishment. Overuse of the humiliation conga, and instances where shame is used to try to convince people to stay in their place... sort of make me unwilling to participate. Except that I like Undertaker, and I know he likes Ciel and Sebastian. He sincerely enjoys their company and helps them out when he can. I can’t be sure, with such a powerful shinigami, but I think he wouldn't find it all that funny, if they were being hurt. And he doesn't think they're too proud, or any of the other things that stories sometimes (ham-fistedly) try to fix by making a serious character look ridiculous. And the pose? He did it too. So ... when they were about ready to kill the Viscount Druitt, over it, and he basically said "No, that was fun. That was harmless," his opinion carries weight, with me. The first time Ciel and Sebastian did the pose, it felt like the manga had been hijacked by an awkward attempt at comedy. But as it kept happening, and other characters did it, in lieu of a secret handshake, I got over the shock and the "OMG, this is terrible." I mean, they don't stop having substance because they raise their arms, kick a leg up in the air, and shout "the phoenix!" They're made of sterner stuff than that. So maybe it's not so bad, after all. I still have no clue what the writer was thinking, to make them do that, but it turned out alright.

And Undertaker is fabulous. That scene where he threw Grell into the ceiling was breathtaking. I mean, I knew he could fight. I'd just never seen him in action, and he's downright graceful. And haah, wow, his face and the clothes under the cloak - we finally got to see them. He's skinny as a rail under all those layers, and handsome. But his best feature is still his smile, so I don't mind the way he's normally drawn.

Some of the stuff that happens in Kuroshitsuji has come to feel comfortably familiar. The obligatory Shinigami vs. Demon fight, whenever they run into Sebastian, for instance. I've come to expect it. But I don't mind, because I enjoy it. On the other hand, Sebastian (and sometimes Ciel's) habit of ignoring bystanders' cries for help and sometimes pleas for mercy still manages to surprise me. (Possibly because it's been over a year since I read the manga, but I didn't remember how he handled that.) I was particularly uncertain of what he would do when he found that one guest dying of snake venom. Since they hadn't set him up to die, as far as I remember, or otherwise be put out of commission, I thought maybe some obscure rule of hospitality would affect the way Sebastian behaved. Seeing as ... there are generally rules about not letting someone die when they are your guest? Lol. It was interesting to see that he didn't even hesitate. I guess he knew Ciel didn't particularly care what happened to this person.

Elizabeth. Ah, goodness. What to say about her dramatic reveal? I'm happy. I'm really happy about that, because I don't like having a recurring, major character that everyone constantly talks around, works around, and treats like an interruption. The sexism is unpleasant, of course, but the story! (Sorry. Despite my gender, the missed opportunities for cool plot bother me more.) I don't know if she's going to go back to being a "cute" girl that Ciel can save and take care of, and to a certain extent, I don't mind. Finding out that she was making a choice to rely on him made a big difference in how I was looking at her. And I like knowing that she belongs to the same world that Ciel does. It felt very lonely, watching him hide his life from her, very sad. Like one day, she was going to lose him and not even know what he'd really died of. Not to mention – being perceived as an innocent, delicate little thing cut her off from most of what was important to him, most of who he was. Given the deal with Sebastian, which I'm pretty sure she still doesn't know about, she may still have no idea why Ciel meets an untimely end. But ... at least she can share more of his life. I have mixed feelings about her being held to two different standards, the pretty, empty-headed English lady, and the capable human being. It’s not fair, but I don’t see that it’s innately more unfair than the rest of the deceit that passed for social grace and good breeding. They’re all expected to pretend a lot, and be whatever the situation requires. Anyway. I love that she was recognized as a genius with swords. Not just that she was one, but that people were willing to say so, within earshot of her. I can empathize with wanting someone to like you badly enough that you'd do things that made you less, and made you unhappy, though I don't approve of it, and I think it's a shame she couldn't enjoy her talents more whole-heartedly. Being really thoughtful with Ciel after his parents died, and he came back half starved, smaller than he should have been, and with this haunted, distant stillness in his eyes ... seems like the sort of thing a good friend would do, though. Even at the expense of being sensible. When focusing on him that much is portrayed as a choice on her part, an expression of love and caring rather than - having no self that she could be listening to - it looks completely different. Put in those terms, it's a sacrifice, rather than the blind stumbling of someone who just *is* the shallow doll they think they're supposed to be. As for Ciel, I think he was a very different person before his parents died, more irresponsible and easily intimidated. That is – he was younger and he’d been through a lot less. What he said about his aunt being scary strikes me as an expression of that: a little kid being alarmed by someone who comes on really strong. I just wish Lizzy hadn't given it such weight for so long.

Now, then. Grell. Okay, I only sort of caught a bit of the fandom upheaval, to do with Grell using a femenine pronoun. (Is that why we're hearing he's transgendered?) And I have no idea what's going on. The last time I read it, he was a man. A very genderqueer man, I guess, but definitely male. Nothing I read lately suggested to me that he wants to be parsed as a female. More to the point, I was really glad to see him! It cracks me up that he has a less senior shinigami working with him. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea? What about the time he was almost suspended? What about his work ethic in general, that completely goes out the window the moment he catches sight of Sebastian? That said, carving up undead was an excellent use for his chainsaw. It's a situations where the supernaturals overshadowed the humans, by a lot. Particularly in their whole ... attitude towards the problem. It's *fun* to see them not be scared, or even particularly impressed, by the unnatural death, carnage, and mayhem.

Which sort of leads into the other thing I wanted to talk about: Sebastian's apparent death (that wasn't). Bear with me, for a moment, because I'm going to go off on a personal tangent and then circle back. I hate suspense. I always have. I remember being dumbstruck, the first time I heard that writers did that whole "the hero just barely escaped by the skin of their teeth" thing on purpose, because they thought it made for a better story. I never enjoyed a story more because it kept me on the verge of a heart attack. I would ... tolerate that, sort of grit-my-teeth-and-deal, for a story that I liked for other reasons, but it was never something that enhanced my experience. I'm even less fond of when a character who is mortal, and knows it, and keeps getting into dangerous situations, treats their predicament as if it were just the appearance of peril. You know the type. Most characters who are put through enough situations where they almost die, but don't, start mocking it as if they aren't scared anymore. When ... they really still are, or they should be. It makes the whole predicament lonely, as well as stressful for me, when the part of me that's immersed in the story (and not thinking of it in terms of "this is the protagonist. They'll get out, somehow.") has to deal with characters that won't share their misgivings. Because - I'm having them, and they're having them, and being like "hahaha, I'm fine! Never better!" just makes me feel like I can't reach out and hug them. Though I want to. Anyway, one of the things I really enjoy with Ciel and Sebastian is that they can say, with perfect certainty, that they will be fine. And it's reasonable to believe them. So, with this death plot, I got to enjoy just about every second of it: the full strength of how much I missed Sebastian while he was, uh, "out of commission"; the way Ciel reacted to the knowledge that his invincible protector was gone; the over-and-over shock of seeing him as a body; the joy of having him back, when he took his disguise off; plus all the snarking and complaining and joking, as they revealed what all he'd been up to. I haven't had this much fun, with a plot like that, in ... well, possibly ever. The way he complained to Arthur that Ciel was disgracefully mean to him was just the icing on the cake. He's a demon. He's FINE. But it hurt, don't you know, to be stabbed repeatedly through the chest with a fire poker, and hit with the hand Ciel wears his ring on. XD; I love that they can tease each other like that. Hell, I love that they can handle each other without holding back, in perfect safety and confidence. It's very entertaining when I don't have a knot in my stomach.

More character study-thing with Snake
I sympathize with Snake’s (mild) displeasure at the way he looks. Or at least, with the way other people react to the way he looks. His features are nice enough, but because of the scales, he will never be conventionally handsome. I wonder if his being unsociable with people has something to do with feeling a little shut out – like no one’s going to look at him and just like what they see anyway.

He looks distracted all the time, in a serene way, like his thoughts are elsewhere. Literally “not all there,” but by choice. That attentiveness to something no one else is hearing is what reminds me of a mun. That, and the fact that his snakes are taking enough of his attention that the rest – dealing with people and so on – sort of gets what’s left over. He’s very shaped by the fact that he talks to snakes, and listens to them. Plenty of people work with animals without adapting their behavior to what that particular animal finds most acceptable. This is more like … if your closest friends were boisterous and loud, you’d probably pick that up from them. And if they flinched at noise or sudden movement, you’d learn how not to startle them. His whole demeanor, how he acts and carries himself, puts snakes at ease. Doing that, with most reptiles, is not easy for human beings. It goes against the ways that mammals move normally, and interact with each other. And with predators in general, some are a lot more predisposed to want company than others. To win the trust of venomous snakes, of all things, suggests that he’s someone pretty special. Someone who’s gotten past, not only the human prejudices against these animals, but also the fact that this particular group of animals is notorious for not giving humans the time of day.

It’s part of what gives him such a foreign air when dealing with other people, though. He has specialized in a way of communicating that is completely different from what we use, at the expense of becoming socially proficient … or even, really presenting himself as a human. Also, freak shows are all about making the people in them look as unusual and strange as possible, so I’d imagine that distanced him even more.

The story itself has brought up a few times the way Ciel and his household seem to have a charmed life. Not in the sense that nothing bad ever happens to them, obviously, but in the sense that they get to see the best and the worst of their era, have heart-wrenching adventures, and live to tell the tale. They get to be beautiful and extreme and a family, of sorts, caught in the eye of the storm. I was really surprised that Snake was invited to be a part of that, because he’s not like anyone they have, or anyone I’ve seen a manga like that have before. He’s not loud and silly and foolish, like the other servants that generally provide comic relief. He’s not (AFAIK) the sort of character who can break out the kung-fu, in a fight. And he keeps to himself too much to provide running commentary or scathing insults. Basically, he does about what I would do. A lot. Which reads as a very low-key sort of cool, compared to characters who can Execute The Enemy With Cutlery and … stuff. Generally, I don’t relate well with characters, when I suspect their express purpose is to give the readers someone to project themselves onto. They’re intrusively underpowered, in ways that make me question why the others put up with them. But Snake makes sense. (Though I wish I were doing a better job articulating how!) And I think I’d like him as a character even if I didn’t identify with him.

On hitting a certain demon/butler
Reading Kuroshitsuji again make me think more about the way Ciel treats Sebastian. I like the fact that he’s really rough with him, at times. It thrills me. And it feels dangerous, somehow, partly because Sebastian is an adult, and partly because Sebastian is so much more powerful, despite being Ciel’s servant. For some reason, it almost never feels out of place. Just … perilous. Almost like something Ciel does to say “you are all those things, and I know it, but nothing you are frightens me.” It’s an intimate gesture, despite being violent and one-sided. It’s almost an open acknowledgement of the fact that Sebastian is inhuman, and has no feelings to hurt, and won’t be put off by a little thing like being slapped across the face in public. It gives him a chance to show off how strong he is. How … he can bow very low, and not feel threatened or degraded, because obeying a human’s every desire doesn’t change what he is. I also think there’s a certain – Ciel can’t stand to be touched, but he needs someone he can interact with. Someone he can be exactly himself around, and know it doesn’t matter if he hurts them. And it’s the fact that he’s been hurt, so badly, that makes this last part important. He feels safe as the aggressor. Equality is unpleasant, for him, and not having the upper hand is scary, but he needs someone he can touch … without having to admit to himself that he needs that. Without feeling weak and needy, and I think being deliberately harder and crueler with Sebastian than he is with anyone human addresses that. I also think it brings them closer together, because they’re sharing a secret. Because Sebastian can take it, and Ciel wants him to.

I also wonder if Ciel isn't kind of angry at Sebastian, for helping him conditionally and at such a high price. Because the closest thing he has, to a friend, isn't his friend. Knowing that, and occasionally acting in such a way, both ... helps him remember (don't get attached to this monster), and shows Sebastian that he does remember. It keeps him at a distance, when he's getting too familiar. Sebastian seems pleased when his master does this, grimly approving of his emotional strength when he rejects false comfort. He's very good at deceiving humans into thinking he cares for them, and belonging to someone who isn't taken in is particularly unusual and appealing. He's much more than Ciel's executioner, but Ciel is under tremendous pressure to forget what Sebastian is eventually there to do. The fact that he doesn't makes Sebastian respect him all the more, as a strong spirit who will not be lied to.

It's kind of a double bind, though, because Sebastian shows caring (rarely), Ciel emphatically rejects it, and the fact that he does this inspires actual caring and regard, in Sebastian. Which are expressed as fond thoughts that never get to Ciel. Impossible men. <3
phoebe_zeitgeist: (Default)

From: [personal profile] phoebe_zeitgeist

I'm here via [community profile] anime_manga, and while I'm going to need to go back and read more carefully before getting into the fun discussion part of our program, I wanted to comment first just to thank you for doing this. I recently found the series and have wanted desperately to have more people I can babble about it to/with, so finding you and this post is a total delight.

(Also, so much agreement about the way Ciel will occasionally hit Sebastian. It's interesting and telling, at least to me, that he doesn't do that to anyone else; he's not taking advantage of his rank to dish out random abuse to people who have no choice but to take it. It's a specific pattern, that belongs to a specific relationship -- and as you say, is tremendously intimate in context.)
rubyprism: A girl in a white dress sits reading in an open window. (reading time)

From: [personal profile] rubyprism

This showed up really belatedly on my reading list, go figure. Anyway, how far ahead of the published volumes does this spoil? I've been reading just what's actually released in English, and I don't want to spoil myself. OTOH, I have a feeling that anything you say about this series is going to be highly worth reading.