Blazing rings of fire, whips and wild cats, acrobats, and clowns–circuses have long been places of mystery and thrills. What began as Roman structures for naval battle reenactments, shows, and races later became the romanticized traveling tents many people think of first these days. I have never personally attended a circus, but have always been intrigued with the idea of running away to join one like many of the kids did in the books I read. Could I fly on the trapeze? Or perhaps befriend a lion? Even now as an adult, I have no idea what area I would have fallen into, though I like to imagine a variety of circus names I might have chosen.
Ciel takes none of that childish pleasure in attending or joining the passing circus, Noah’s Ark. As the dutiful Watchdog of the Queen, he instead focuses solely on divulging its secrets along with his ever present demon butler, Sebastian. As expected, Ciel has almost zero proficiency in any of the possible circus talents he could showcase, and his acceptance into the troupe is only made possible by Sebastian’s interference. While running away to join the circus sounds like an easy escape, the realities of becoming a member shouldn’t be overlooked. A limited number of the group are actually given the privilege of performing regularly, and the competition to be a part of the first string is especially fierce.
While modern circuses focus more on daring human acrobatics and less on questionable animal stunts, Noah’s Ark draws upon the strange and uncanny to keep itself afloat. The first line are mostly childhood friends who have a common oddness to their personalities and physiques that set them apart from the rest of the troupe. A number of them are missing limbs like an arm or a leg, and have high quality replacements that either look like the real thing, or have been custom designed. Just like the dolls later revealed at Baron Kelvin’s home, Noah’s Ark’s leaders are nothing more than puppets for play. What makes their fate even sadder is their involvement with the missing children along the traveling circus’ path–just as Joker and his crew put on a colorful act for the circus’ audience, so too do the abducted children float in an imaginary realm far out of their control. It’s as if the adults never grew up, opting instead to invite other kids to join in on the play.
Along with the fairy tale-like circus setting is the main troupe’s, particularly Joker’s, similarity to the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Many variations of the story abound, and it has its fair share of coverage in the anime realm, like in the show Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai Kara Kuru Sou Desu yo? Joker fits in well as an interpretation of the piper as Death with his skeleton hand and leadership role. He seems the closest to the baron, and is the one who prompts the rest of the troupe to gather “sweets” for Baron Klevin. But different from the transparent evil of the devil in traditional settings, Joker shows visible discomfort in the presence of the children’s deaths. Unlike his benefactor and “Father”, he takes no enjoyment from their botched acrobatics.
Kuroshitsuji has never been a series to shy away from death, almost glorifying in it through vengeance and retribution. I’m curious to see if the inner circle of Noah’s Ark will receive what I assume will be a beautifully choreographed death, or if only the baron will earn his just desserts. I can’t think of a more appropriate era or setting than the Victorian circus for this piper-esque, horrific comedy.
Note: For those of you unfamiliar with the Kuroshitsuji franchise, these stories follow Ciel, the head and sole survivor of the Phantomhive Estate–famous for their global business, Funtom Company, in toys and sweets, as well as for their rumored employment to the Queen. This employment entails handling any and all of her dirty work that is out of the capabilities of the local authorities. Ciel’s past is bloodier than many; his survival of the fire that killed his family and the torturous ritual that should have taken his life as well is due to his pact made with the demon who now goes by the title of butler and name of “Sebastian Michaelis”.