Following the events of Book of Circus, Black Butler: Book of Murder sets itself up as a mystery with much more to it than meets the eye. Having reason to doubt Ciel’s resolve, Queen Victoria has provided a test to determine his loyalty and suitability to the role his family upholds. Following the Queen’s instructions, the Phantomhive Manor plays host to a party in honour of Lord Georg von Siemens, a prestigious German banker. Among the guests is ophthalmologist and aspiring author Arthur Conan Doyle, whose breakout work A Study in Red garnered very little attention. The function proceeds without a hitch until a scream in the night signals the death of one of the guests. Now those residing in the manor must work together in order to uncover the mystery before the killer strikes again.
Once more, A-1 Pictures has proven their aptitude for high-quality and entertaining animation. The detail that Book of Murder goes into with the mystery as well as the perspectives of each individual character creates a very enjoyable experience. That’s not to say that it’s a particularly engrossing and realistic mystery, but rather one you can pause and marvel at how none of it makes sense. Thinking back on the entire series, there are several moments where that second of pure “what?” come to mind, and I doubt Black Butler would be as popular as it is without them. In addition, there are many scenes that have no real bearing to the story that add so much charm to the overall product.
While not technically season four of the series, Book of Murder boasts a hefty two-hour run time split between two parts. I’m hesitant to call this an OVA, however, as traditionally I imagine OVAs as separate from the main story, especially considering the OVAs that Black Butler has provided thus far. Instead of a humorous once-off that places the characters in an unrealistic scenario, Book of Murder ties into the story directly, leading into the next season. At the same time, while canonical, such a short duration makes it hard to categorise it as a standalone addition to the series, even compared to Book of Circus’ short 10-episode length. Of course, the nature of OVAs is such that they have no set structure and the creators are free to choose how it all pans out.
There’s not much to add in terms of characters and animation quality that I haven’t already said in my Book of Circus review, but that’s not to say that it isn’t worth mentioning. In particular, character development in Book of Murder is understated yet meaningful without being crucial to the series overall. This aspect of the show is done masterfully in a way that doesn’t punish viewers for not watching it and makes it more enjoyable for those that do. The obvious standout amongst new characters is Arthur Conan Doyle, the well known creator of the Sherlock Holmes character, albeit before his rise to fame. Maybe due to the eccentricities of other characters, I personally found Arthur to stand out in a refreshing way. The simple normalcy of his disposition helps to accentuate those around him.
I have nothing to new say when it comes to the animation, with Book of Murder being less action oriented it’s hard to think of any specific examples of what has been improved upon. However, I did neglect to mention the absolutely awful CGI horse and carriage that is so prevalent throughout the series. As the show has progressed over the years, I imagine that this one element would have been looked into at some point, but if anything it’s only become worse. A trifling setback, one that does not matter in the slightest, but it definitely makes an otherwise beautifully animated show seem tacky.
Staying true to the quality of past OVAs, Black Butler: Book of Murder does not disappoint in the slightest. What I appreciate most about the OVA is that it’s self contained while still being relevant to the overall plot. I’m sure that any important factors will be reaffirmed at some point in the next season, but that doesn’t at all devalue the entertainment that is provided. It’s important to note, however, that Book of Murder is not an original story, and was adapted from the manga arc titled Phantomhive Manor Murders. As such, if you’re a fan of the series looking for more of the manga’s story then you will probably want to seek this out. I stick by the assumption that it won’t be integral to the series as a whole, but don’t let me be the one to decide that for you. Book of Murder is most definitely worth watching even if I’m correct.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.