Black Butler Review
Sadly, not quite one hell of an anime.
Black Butler (known as Kuroshitsuji in Japan) is a manga which covers the story of Ciel Phantomhive, an Earl in Victorian London. Due to losing his parents in a house fire when he was young, he ended up summoning a demon to aid him in finding and exacting revenge on his parent’s murderers. In order to fit in, the demon takes the form of a butler, and is named Sebastian. The anime version of Black Butler splits from the manga quite quickly, and it brings in its own villains and story arcs. It’s split into two seasons, each with their own characters and storylines.
The first fifteen episodes are entertaining, as the tone shifts from comedic to serious and back again fairly often. However, after the sixth episode the show flits between filler-ish episodes and following the plot of the manga, until the manga storyline is abandoned entirely at episode sixteen. And, as someone who has followed the entirety of both the manga and anime storylines, I can tell you that the anime doesn’t hold a candle to the manga.
|It's dangerous to go alone.|
That’s not to say that the anime is a total write-off, though. The characters are portrayed well, and a number of them became definite favourites of mine. Perhaps the best part of the characterisation is seeing how the relationships between the cast develop over time. For example, at the start of the series Ciel is dismissive and indifferent of his fiancée Elizabeth (perhaps due to it being an arranged marriage), but over time their relationship evolves to the point where he’s willing to risk his life to save her.
|Believe it or not, they're actually competent.|
However, many of the best characters are also the ones who are pushed to the side. Grell Sutcliff, Prince Soma and the three Phantomhive servants are funnier and, frankly, more interesting than Ciel, with the three servants in particular having a surprisingly deep backstory. On the other hand, Sebastian is given very little backstory, and he manages to be one of the most enigmatic and interesting characters in the show. His main motivation (to eat Ciel’s soul) contrasts with Ciel’s drive for revenge, creating an interesting power dynamic that shifts so much that it’s hard to figure out who’s using who.
|Cool guys don't look at explosions.|
Sadly, the main villain of season one is nowhere near as interesting. Even at the end, their motivations are left unclear and they create plans that have no relation to each other (how exactly does turning girls into dolls help further their plans, exactly?). In fact, none of their plans make any sense at all, and this adds up to create a disappointing villain. Given how good the rest of the cast is, the fact that the main bad guy is so lacklustre is pretty frustrating. Conversely, the bad guys of the second season are given much more characterisation and development, and as such end up being a perfect foil to Ciel and Sebastian. Plus, they’re the only characters who actually manage to even slightly mess up Sebastian’s plans.
|Alois Trancy: Crossdressing at its finest.|
The humour in Black Butler can seem strangely placed at times, as it can pop up in the middle of a very serious fight, thus causing the mood to suddenly change every so often. Towards the end of each season, the humour dries up, serving to make the climaxes darker and more dramatic. A fair number of the side characters serve as sources of comic relief, and in some cases this can seem quite jarring as a character can go from a competent fighter to a victim of slapstick comedy in the space of five minutes. In general though, this isn’t really much of a problem.
|Ah, the memories...|
Both opening themes are excellent, and fit the themes of each season well. The endings are like this as well, although I can’t help but feel that the first opening is out of place amongst the other, more sombre endings. The background music isn't quite as good, as it’s fairly generic and forgettable.
Overall, Black Butler is a mixed bag. The characters are well-developed, the humour is played well, and the second season is a much-needed improvement over season one. However, the main villain of the first season is one of the worst I've ever seen, and the music is pretty mediocre. If you have a lot of spare time, then by all means give this show a watch, but bear in mind that the manga is better by far.
Good Things: Interesting, well developed characters.
Humour is well placed.
Season two is done much better than season one.
Bad Things: Awful villain for season one.
The music isn't particularly good.
Got any ideas for an anime I should review? Post your suggestion in the comments below!
ClayDragon is currently studying Physics at university, and is constantly bewildered by it. The main method of contacting him is his Gmail account at firstname.lastname@example.org. The alternative is his Skype account at kyleroulston1993. When not playing games or reading, he can be found with his head in his hands whilst trying in vain to understand quantum physics. He can't go out in sunlight.