In volume eight of Kuroshitsuji, the circus arc ends. We open with Beast and the rest of team discovering that the Phantomhive servants serve as an eerily effective line of defense. Mae-Lin is a sniper, Finnie has super strength and seems fairly indestructible and Bardroy is an artillery expert. Even Tanaka has a remarkably terrifying side to him.
While the team is getting served by the Phantomhive staff, Ciel learns the full extent of the horror show created by Baron Kelvin. His reaction to this final revelation results in a swathe of destruction that does not go unnoticed. (And not just by William Spears, the shinigami. There are two other observers present and we will find out who they are in the next volume.)
Via William and a new shinigami named Ronald Knox, we learn about Joker and the little family he created for himself at the workhouse funded by the Baron. We also learn that the workhouse was surprisingly and anachronistically idyllic, and this is a large part of the reason for Joker’s extreme loyalty even in the face of the Baron’s corruption. (Historical asylums, almshouses and workhouses were extremely horrible places.)
I should point out here that one of things that struck me as particularly horrifying about this arc isn’t so much Sebastian’s manipulation of events (which are pretty horrible by themselves) but the shinigami’s overall behavior to their jobs and their interactions with humans. I already didn’t like the shinigami in this series in general, but this particular arc made me loathe them completely. (Note that I am completely aware that this is an extremely minority opinion.) I can’t help but feel that William’s actions in obstructing Ciel and Sebastian’s investigation are a contributing factor to the outcome of the case. (Also, it was pretty disgusting in general hearing William complain about overwork when he is in many ways the reason for his own overwork.)
The horror show doesn’t end at the manor however. After a brief and traumatic encounter with Doll, Ciel attempts to be charitable concerning the old workhouse. However, there is a problem: the work house is long abandoned and it’s implied that the person responsible is the baron. This causes Ciel to have another breakdown.
I really did not care for this particular arc, and it was nearly a deal breaker for the entire series for me.
While it was dramatically effective, it was also unpleasant to read on an emotional level. Toboso drops some fairly heavy horror-anvils on the reader and never really lets up. I also really didn’t care for what I felt was implicit victim blaming in the storyline. (Also, I find it disturbing that the apparent tipping point that turned a philanthropist into a pedophile was apparently meeting the child of a rich guy who does Black Ops for the queen. What is possibly even more disturbing is if Kelvin’s philanthropy itself was a front for his criminal activities, then Victor Phantomhive was using his kid as bait.) This is an ugly, traumatic arc for Ciel, and I found it extremely difficult to read.