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Is It Worth The Hype? Black Butler Edition

7 min read

I’m the type of person who tries to stay away from things that get a lot of hype.  If I’m told repeatedly how awesome something is I get worried that it won’t deliver on its promises.  I’ve been disappointed by “great” things before.  I’ve stood in line at midnight only to go home a sad little fangirl, I’ve dropped $60 on a game only to want to trade it in, I’ve sat through 2 hour long movies and wondered what the weather was like outside because it just had to be better than the crap I had just spent money on.  So I’ve decided to do a segment about a particular game, anime, or some form of media that gets a lot of hype and answer the question, “Is it worth the hype?”

This week’s topic:
Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler)

Plot summary
A kid.

A butler.

A contract.

Delicious pastries.

Adventure… HO!

On the outskirts of London lives the classiest 12-year-old you’ve ever seen: Ciel Phantomhive.  The now orphaned child lives in his beautiful home with a handful of servants, but the most impressive of all is the butler called Sebastian Michaelis.  This man is “one hell of a butler,” emphasis on the word “hell,” and the series follows their adventures of mystery, murder, and the most delicious baked pie you’ve ever tasted.

The hype:
I had no idea what the series was as I wandered around a convention a few years back and saw some pretty elaborate costumes pass by me.  Ciel has got to have the best wardrobe I’ve seen in a long time, especially for a child, so the costumes definitely caught my eye.  Oh, and the guy in all red carrying a chainsaw was also a point of interest.  I didn’t start watching right away, but soon my friends were cosplaying, reading the manga, watching the anime, and complaining about some blond haired kid named Alois.  Eventually, the series arrived on good ol’ Netflix and thanks to some extra time I finally, finally decided to give it a try.

Is it worth the hype?

Well… yes.

Why?
So I went into the series for pretty superficial reasons: the costumes are pretty, Sebastian is gorgeous, and all my friends are into it.  I only meant to watch one episode, just to test the waters, but I ended up finishing a story arc and reading two volumes of the manga in less than a week.  It’s a surprisingly addicting series with fun characters, crazy humor, and a surprisingly mature yet messed up plot.

I’m a sucker for humor, especially when it’s a) done well and b) mixed in with a much bigger story.  As soon as the series starts you know that something dark is happening/has happened/will happen, but before it fully develops you’re tossed into… crack.  Just straight up, hilarious, zany crack as Sebastian goes through his day of trying to be the perfect butler.  Everything is overdramatic with one giant crisis — will dinner be made on time? — after another — oh noes, the wine has been spilt onto the tablecloth! — and I just could not stop laughing.  But just when you think there’s too much silliness you realize that hey, that scene just now was laced with metaphors of something important to either the episode or the story arc as a whole.

What really makes the series so great is all of the characters.  I can go on and on about everyone, right down to the servants who desperately try to make things right and fail miserably, but the main component of the series is Ciel and Sebastian… and Grell — just kidding… maybe.  I like Ciel way more than I thought I would.  He’s the epitome of spoiled brat.  Sebastian does absolutely everything for him, even dresses him in the morning, and normally I can’t stand the rich, snotty characters but I can’t get enough of Ciel.  He’s one of those rare anime characters who’s spoiled, but not only does it fit him, he’s entitled to it.  The Phantomhive name is an extremely big deal, from the toy company to the cases they police for the Queen herself.  This certainly establishes Ciel’s attitude, but what especially makes him such a likable — almost admirable — character is because his attitude never changes despite all of the suffering he’s gone through.  They don’t reveal it right away, but as the series goes on you just know that it’s more than his parents dying, especially when you delve in deeper to his relationship with Sebastian and their contract.

This doesn’t mean that Ciel isn’t hurting, but for someone so young to go through what he did and come back, take his place as the head of the family, and continue on is damn impressive.  So, in a way, you want him to be a spoiled brat, you want him to be that rich kid he’s supposed to be instead of the broken doll he could easily become.  And it’s not like his enemies care that he’s 12 years old.  He still gets kidnapped, beaten up, thrown into auctions, held at gunpoint… when they say that it’s the dark, seedy underbelly of London they really mean it.  The series isn’t afraid to be dark, from Ciel’s awful back story to him being tied up with belts and kicked around like a wounded puppy.

And then there’s Sebastian, who really means it when he says that he’s “one hell of a butler.”  It’s like he can never be beaten.  He can kill you with plates, knives, and forks while he’s got a quiche in the oven.  No seriously, he can!  But the really sadistic part is that he’ll stand there and watch Ciel’s life be put at risk until the boy tells him to help.  He follows his orders to the letter and doesn’t budge until he’s told to.  He’s like that annoying genie who you make a wish to, but you have to be extremely specific or else you won’t get everything you want.  “Why yes, master,” he says, “I found every human who met your specifications of the murder, but you said nothing about looking into the supernatural.”  So you sigh and repeat your request, only you make sure to add supernatural beings to your request.  And he never lies, ever, even when you think he’s lying you realize that no, he’s not, you just didn’t make the right order.

As you’re watching the series and watching Sebastian fight for Ciel, you wonder if at some point he’ll really start to care for his young master.  It’s hard to tell.  They have a contract, so Sebastian keeps saying that he’s tied to Ciel and keeps following his orders but… are there feelings involved?  He does go above and beyond for the young boy, but is it all for the contract or because he really cares for him?  As cold as Ciel is, Sebastian can be even colder.

So we have a rather interesting arrangement with an oftentimes pissy little kid and a cool, calculating butler.  This is where the humor is absolutely necessary, otherwise, this series would really be a downer.  There’s little things that occur that make these characters more human.  Ciel has moments where you remember that he’s 12, and those moments make me like him even more.  He’s smart, rarely smiles, and is usually in a bad mood but occasionally he’ll freak out when his extremely cute and happy fiancee comes to visit and decorates his house in pink and ribbons.  Meanwhile, Sebastian is a devil of a butler and gets his job done with deadly accuracy… unless if he runs into a cat.  When Sebastian is around cats his mind shuts off and he absolutely has to pick them up and play with them.  It’s hilarious, and it just makes the series even better.

Final thoughts

The thing that impresses me most about Black Butler is that I already know what happens in the series but it still keeps my interest.  I want to actually see for myself how everything plays out even if my friends have already talked about the end of the series, the beginning of season two, and how amazing certain story arcs are in the manga.  The fact that I still want to absorb everything I can from this series makes me love it even more, right down to the last soft handful of Sebastian’s scrumptious butt-… er… cookies.  Butter cookies, that’s what I meant.

Is this series for everyone?  Well, not really.  Ciel’s age might bother people, especially when you realize the full scale of what he’s been through and what he continues to go through as the series progresses.  Some people might not like the way he acts, or maybe the relationship between him and Sebastian might be a bit much to take in since the end result is supposed to be Sebastian devouring his soul.  Sometimes, the humor can be over the top and the characters can be a little… crazy — I’m looking at you, Grell.  But I would recommend giving Black Butler a shot.  There are a lot of series I would recommend watching a few episodes to give it a chance, but this one managed to hook me in one.  It’s a rather charming series that is definitely, in my opinion, worth the hype.

Want to see something make it into the segment?  Let me know via email: [email protected] Tell me what it is and why you feel it is over-hyped, under-hyped, or hyped just right.  Take care, fair readers.

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