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Black Butler Season 1 Part 1 UK Anime DVD Review

10 min read

Obvious line but what the heck, you see…this is shaping up to be one hell of a series. (Hears boos from here)

What They Say:
Ciel Phantomhive is the most powerful boy in all of England, the orphaned 12-year-old head of a once-noble family and the heir to a toy and sweet making empire. But he bears the scars of unspeakable suffering. Forced to watch as his beloved parents were brutally murdered, Ciel was subsequently abducted and violently tortured. Desperate to end his suffering, the boy traded his own soul for a chance at vengeance in a Faustian pact, casting his lot with the one person on whom he could depend: Sebastian Michaelis, a demon Butler summoned from the very pits of hell.
Together, Ciel and Sebastian prowl the darkest alleys of Victorian London on a mission to snuff out those who would do evil and presenting a rare sight to those who cross their path. Literally “one hell of a butler”, Sebastian is also a deadly foe to wrongdoers, slaying his victims with whatever may come to hand, even if it involves a dazzling display utilizing Ciel’s best silver cutlery. Constantly at his side is his young master, a boy who carries the devil’s marking.

The Review:
A rare case of able to hit drama and comedy without one overshadowing the other, to make a very unique experience which has something for everyone.

Audio:
I watched disc 1 in English and disc 2 in Japanese, the English having a 5.1 Dolby Surround effect with the Japanese in 2.0 Stereo. The audio had no issues with its quality in terms of audio, timing and effects, and no notable distortion between audio and subtitles. With the series both atmospheric and prone to mood whiplash, it is quite clear how the effects are heard in the background in both audios, though it’s obviously better in English (with an excellent British…er English dub as well makes it even better) – overall, a definite good audio release

Video:
In widescreen effect, the video combined dark and gritty animation with beautiful Victorian British backgrounds – there were so sign of problems with audio/visual timing with subtitles, and the colours flowed very well on my HD TV – the main strength is just how well if flows through the screen, even in its darkest moments, it never makes you strain to see it, as the colours flow through each scene naturally – no problems again.

Packaging:
There was no packaging for this release.

Menu:
The menu, much like the series itself, is very stylish, with a shot of Sebastian on right side holding a white rose accompanied by stylish black writing, with the menu set on left (Play All, Episodes, Set Up, Extras) –it suits the nature of the series, is very easy to navigate, although the episode Select has no scene selection, and on one occasion, there was one noticeable error on the episode 13 selection you can’t switch the audio from English to Japanese and vice versa when watching the episode, yet you could do this on the extras selection. Weird and work aroundable, but definitely a noticeable error.

Extras:
The two main extras aside from the clean opening/ending and for some reason, they’ve included the recap episode 13 (which is on the episode select and automatically happens after episode 12) on the extras (maybe due to the error I noticed in the menus?) are two dub commentaries, for episodes 1 and episodes 7, both are quite a blast.

The first episode involves Colleen Clinkerbeard, the line producer, director of first 6 eps and the voice of Angela, and Brina Palencia, the voice of one of the two leads Ciel. It’s both informative and entertaining, as Colleen discusses how hard it was to cast due to the accents(she plugs Daniel Frederich as a new VA who plays Grelle, about Tatum’s accent admired as most natural and about the response already about the casting) with Brina just laughing throughout whilst wondering which accents were the hardest to cast , and how they turned some of the Japanese catchphrase to fit the lip flaps into English. Whilst fun, it’s definitely more of an informative commentary.

The second commentary involves Ian Sinclair, the director after Colleen and the voice of Bardroy, and J. Michael Tatum, the voice of Sebastian…and the commentary is mostly about how much J enjoys using his Sebastian accent in public. Basically, it’s a laugh – he does say where he got the inspiration for the voice (from the show itself) and how he sees the Seb/Ciel relationship is like. And obviously to a Brit like myself, it’s quite fun to see how much J likes English stuff and how both actors enjoy using their British accents(they compare to Baccano a few times) and how they see the cast as anti-heroes, so this one has info, but is more a laugh. So overall, they even out and are a lot of fun to listen to. And I plan trying to get J. Tatum to a British con…

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A series that I’ve been hearing more and more about over the last couple of the years, Black Butler(known as Kuroshitsuji in Japan) in its anime format is definitely a worthwhile romp, especially for a Brit like myself as the settings combined with a surprisingly good English dub (doing their best with accents I will confess) makes this closer to home…which is ironic considering the hell motif as well. Insert your own jokes here please.

We are introduced to our two main characters very quickly, Ciel Phantomhive, a 12 year old boy who happens to be the head of the famed Phantomhive Toy Company, where we learn basically he inherited from his now deceased parents. He’s a very suave, almost apathetic but stern and sometimes quite malice young man, who seems to be able to fend for him verbally but can get into trouble due to his youth and wealth. Enter his butler, Sebastian – who seems at first glance, to be capable of absolutely anything in record time. From preparing meals, to cleaning, to education, to research, to whipping the three comic relief servants into shape, he seems too good to be true.

Of course, it definitely is too good to be true. Sebastian hints throughout the early episodes, but there is definitely something about him. Something more…demonic. The first episode proves this as part introduction characterization, and part what he is truly capable of when a nosy noble tries to spy on his secrets…and almost becomes part of the desert. Sebastian is truly capable at a frightening level – as he reveals more about his relationship with Ciel is about a contracts between human and demon – his catchphrase ‘he is simply one hell of a butler’ isn’t just for amusement’s sake.

The episodes have part formulaic standards, with Ciel going around business, getting aggravation from rival companies, other nobles and kidnappers, with Sebastian bailing him out (in his most polite way a butler can, of course) if necessary due to the nature of their contract. The first half of the series doesn’t go too deep into how the contract was acquired, but the nature of the loss of his parents is explored a little, and a combination of revenge plus his own desires shows Ciel is very mature for his young age, yet at the same time is always on edge, almost maniacal at times, which is hard for the viewer to sympathize with him, though you enjoy the comedy elements throughout when he’s too flustered (like when he has to dress as a girl to infiltrate a noble’s party and gets hit on, or anytime his cousin Elizabeth comes round as she’s the one person he finds really hard to deal with).

Sebastian on the other hand is a truly masterful character – combined true British Butler to a tee (I adored J. Michael Tatum’s dub voice even more than the Japanese) with a little sneering, combined with that edge to him that says ‘don’t mess with me’. He combined both serious and silly in the best possible way – and whilst you realize he is the deus-ex machina of the show, he’s somehow still very likeable, basically as in his own way, he is teaching Ciel the ways of the world despite being his butler. And you have to admit, his way with cats despite being a butler from hell is very adorable…

It does have some good arcs to it though, and though most of the fun is with Ciel and Sebastian’s interaction, there is definitely plot to it as well – the two main arcs in it involve a series of murders in London with a new take on the ‘Jack The Ripper’ story. We are introduced to a couple of other characters, Madam Red – Ciel’s aunt (and sister of Ciel’s late mother) and her butler Grelle, who is not really as skilled as Sebastian to say the least. The group basically are trying to solve the murders of prostitutes as it’s revealed that Ciel is also a ‘dog’ of the Royal Family, to help out regarding various tasks and missions with Sebastian’s aid. This delves deep into Ciel’s family, and also how he sees his aunt, who appears to be his only living relative. The arc ends in a couple of surprises to say the least, in particular when Grelle is revealed to be not quite as klutzy as he (or she?) appears to be…I won’t spoil too much but Grelle’s character is one part hilarious and one part deadly, and the characterization of Madam Red makes you wish she was in more episodes…

The second main arc is Ciel incorporating his servants who are mostly the main comic relief of the series, to join him and Sebastian in a village called Houndsworth, where there is rumours of a demon hound, and one of the servants Finnian, falls in love with the maid there Angela, who appears to be treated quite badly by the master. However, whilst the arc ends up quite predictable, the fact that Angela seems a bit more sinister herself (and even appears in the final episode) suggests that this may be brought back as perhaps almost a final boss character? The show does enjoy throwing you for a loop…which is both good and bad in some respects.

At times the show does a several mood whiplash from serious to comic – not that’s a bad thing, because the comedy they do is usually very good (special honours to the creepy Undertaker character that helps them out regarding the Jack The Ripper case) but a few moments you wonder if the series doesn’t know what direction to go in. Sebastian and Ciel’s relationship as master and servant can delve into almost father and son qualities, yet Ciel himself still seems like a spoiled brat despite his responsibility and over reliance on Sebastian. Granted, if you had a butler with the powers of Sebastian then maybe you would think like that, but it just makes Ciel not that likeable compared to most of the cast – even with Elizabeth who seems quite annoying and selfish, he still stands out as a snide jerk at times, and whilst he definitely has his problems and his reasons, the only reason this isn’t as noticeable is because of how Sebastian interacts with him.

By the end of the collection which has a few almost filler episodes which showcases just how capable Sebastian is (ice sculpting?) and a mini-arc where Elizabeth is finding presents for Ciel (and is caught in a creepy occult case herself where someone is kidnapping little girls to turn into dolls), the plot thickens with Angela’s sudden appearance, which definitely suggests there is going to be some heads up in the future. Added to the reappearance of Grelle, after his (her?) unceremonious battle with Sebastian was rudely interrupted (and in both languages, Grelle’s voice is hilarious – his/her/its interactions and love for Sebastian are some pure comic gold) there is definitely much more than meets the eye, and combined with some top level comedy, Black Butler definitely has a lot going for it. Sebastian is a great male lead, and whilst seemingly invincible characters can become boring, his interactions with the cast, Ciel, the other servants, Grelle, they make the series for me. Little hints here and there about the contract, Ciel’s past, and all these occult happenings suggest that there is going to be a lot of problems for our hellish butler and I’m looking forward to them.

In Summary:
Black Butler is a rare breed of show that I can recommend to anyone. It’s got great comedy, superb action scenes, a lot of hints of mystery, mostly great characters (though some can grate at times) and a lot of intrigue which keeps you interested to look forward to the second half of the show. Whilst at times it may feel that it doesn’t know what type of show it wants to be, it manages to keep your attention due to the dynamic of the cast, especially whenever Sebastian gets involved. Combined with great animation and a great language track in both English and Japanese, it’s very highly recommended.

Features:

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: August 15th, 2011
Running Time: 281 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anthormorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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