The Queen is at it again giving Ciel an unhelpful request to host a dinner party but then one of the guests is murdered and of course due to a storm the suspect must be amongst the guests (or the hosts).
Five minutes in and Mei Rin has her glasses off and is shooting. This is a bit more action driven then we’ve seen Black Butler before. That said, after an initial skirmish that serves no purpose other than to point out that the Queen’s Butlers (messengers, whatevers) are a little dodgy (or a lot dodgy given they didn’t die facing off against Ciel’s staff), the series settles down into its usual routine of cat and mouse, dripping with atmosphere and the usual over exaggerated mystery feeling without actually delivering much in the way of mystery.
I actually loved this. It has all the components that made the original Black Butler series entertaining but with only 123 minutes run time the story is concluded in a single sitting and everything is nicely wrapped up. At least as much as anything ever is in Black Butler keeping in mind that both Book of Circus and Book of Murder are set somewhere in the timeline before the end of season 1. What that means is the overall story of Ciel and Sebastian isn’t going anywhere in these side stories though we are getting some more understanding of the depth of their relationship which is a nice takeaway for when you go back and watch the original series.
The problem with Book of Murder is that unless you’ve already watched the other entries in Black Butler, a lot of it isn’t going to make sense. Other than a few side characters making reference to Ciel’s eye patch, the significance of it is not explained and while it’s unlikely that you don’t know that Sebastian’s a demon it isn’t revealed early on in the piece so likely you won’t have a clue how the situation is going to get resolved. Not to mention, his standard line about being one hell of a butler seems to have finally taken a vacation. Also, the flashback the servants have of being recruited while crying in the rain provides enough to be a solid link for those of us watching through the lens of a fan but for new arrivals to the series it will just be another baffling fact that doesn’t give enough context to really make any sense.
Lastly, the final twist and conclusion rely very heavily on you knowing what happened in Book of Circus, and they manage to leave a dangling inconsistency in the story that doesn’t match up with the original time line of the anime (unless events in other stories we’ve yet to see eliminate that inconsistency). And that’s probably an issue with the original anime going off script from the source material. We now have an uncomfortable blending of these stories following the manga and then the anime original material so basically just go with it or else you are going to end up pretty frustrated.
What Book of Murder does succeed at is providing some light entertainment for those who like classic locked room mysteries with a bit of supernatural nonsense mixed in. Also, if you ever wanted to watch Ciel actually look distressed (not ticked off or shocked but actually distressed) then your chance will come during the first part (even if it isn’t actually genuine). Ciel also smiles several times throughout the two episodes, though most of these are kind of cruelly amused smiles rather than ones of genuine mirth.
The music is standard Black Butler fair. We’ve got our usual cast of characters lined up and the new additions mostly just fill the roles of other characters that for the sake of narrative continuity can’t be around in this particular arc. Character and background design is all much the same as well. Basically, if you like Black Butler, pick up Book of Murder. If you haven’t liked the other entries then continue to steer clear. While Book of Murder is perhaps the weakest of the stories, outside of season 2 of the anime, it still provides a fairly entertaining watch.