After an encouraging beginning, Black Butler slightly weakens down due to some questioning moments in certain arcs, but in the end is still a recommended series, especially as it takes a surprising dark turn to finish it off leaving you wondering what the heck is going to happen next.
What They Say:
The Dark Butler Returns.
Sebastian Michaelis is more than just one hell of a butler. He’s a lonely boy’s everything. Summoned from darkness, Sebastian serves Ciel with a sly smile. He brews the morning tea with care, gently dresses his ward in the daintiest of robes, and quashes the Young Master’s enemies with a flourish! But following orders can be quite the bore, and Sebastian grows ever so hungry…
Before he can silence the rumble of his stomach, however, there is the small matter of an unholy union, a contract if you will. The Butler must locate and exterminate the nefarious ne’er-do-wells responsible for the murder of his Young Master’s most unfortunate parents. Then – and only then – may Sebastian reveal his true form and dine on the delicacy that is Ciel’s scrumptious soul. And while the demon devours his prize, all of London shall burn.
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 any 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, again I have a certain fondness for the dub surprisingly as it’s very over the top but so fun to listen to, though it gets really good in terms of background as the series ended. Very solid release.
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, so once again, very solid.
There was no packaging for this release.
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 (disc 1), and Ciel with his suede jacket on disc 2 (Grelle gets the spot in the extras menus) 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, but didn’t have the same problem I did in the previous disc with switching languages during the show.
Extras wise, we get a commentary on both discs, the textless openings and endings, and again for me, the pointless inclusion of the OVA episode as an extra…because it can be selected in episode select as well as be at the end of the series when watching it all the way through.
Dub fans gets an interesting couple of commentaries though – the first one is weird because it’s a commentary on the only real ‘filler’ episode (episode 16) involving Josh Grelle (voice of Edward) and Kevin Leasure (ADR Engineer of the ep) – they even admit there wasn’t a point of the episode as it doesn’t affect the story arc, but it’s more for the two to talk about how much they enjoy the series on a whole, particular the art and drama it involves, how Josh was struggling with the dialect, and how Kevin felt about it as it was his first project he was working on. There is definite comedy in it (like the cast drinking tea to try and get into character, and the origin of ‘bombs’ in the studio) but it was definitely mostly Josh being a fan with Kevin talking about a lot of the behind the scene works.
The second commentary on the other hand…oh boy. Let’s put it this way, if you’re not a fan of the three servants and their dub voices, don’t listen to it. It’s a three way commentary on episode 21, featuring Maylene, Bardroy and Finian…and I mean it, they don’t even mention who is playing them (Ian Sinclair as Bard, Monica Rial as Maylene and Jason Liebrecht as Finnian) and are totally in character throughout it, even a cameo by Sebastian at the end apologizing to the viewers for this waste of time…DING indeed. Needless to say, it’s totally pointless as a commentary in terms of characterization and behind the scenes, but utterly hilarious.
I’ll also mention the OVA episode here rather than in the main review – basically it’s a comic retelling of Hamlet using pretty much all the characters that appear in more than one episode. It’s…interesting to say the least. Bonus points though for Grelle who absolutely steals the show as Ciel tries to make the play a success on behalf of the Phantomhive company…with unique results.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Black Butler was a good example of how to fit a lot of elements into your show and not making it too overwhelming. Whilst at times felt it felt like it didn’t know what type of genre it wanted to be, it still flowed very naturally. The good news is that the second half does the same, though umps the drama a lot at the end, but unfortunately it’s slightly weaker due to a few niggling things.
The first arc we get introduced to two new characters, a pair of Indians named Sohma, who is a prince, and his bodyguard Agni, who are both suspected in some crimes where apparently an Indian is committing crimes in protest against the crown. Ciel and Sebastian, being the ‘queen’s dog’ are hired to look into it, when they encounter these gentlemen…and Sebastian initially gets into a fight with Agni. To his shock, not only is Agni able to keep up with Sebastian, but he’s genuinely human, which surprises both him and Ciel. And due to Sohma being…well…a spoiled prince, one thing leads to another and they end up staying at the Phantomhive mansion. We establish the reason is that Sohma is looking for a girl named Nina who was a servant girl he was in love with, but even more interestingly, it’s the only real time you see Sebastian have true respect for someone without a hint of a smirk as Agni’s character as you see his past, how he manages to get the three servants to work well, and how well he bonds with his master shows that Sebastian does hold Agni in regard, which is a surprise considering his demonic bluster and near invincibility in the first disc.
The arc does however turn for a little bit silly – and whilst Nina is found, she obviously didn’t want to be as Sohma begins to discover himself. It comes to a head though at a curry competition, as a rival of Ciel’s hired Agni for the crimes and also to get information on Nina…and wants to use his skills to win a curry competition to get an inquest from the Queen for his products. And whilst it fits the mood in some way for the comedy of the series, the way is resolves is rather silly. The fact that Angela had to appear to cause havoc seemed an afterthought and the solution is rather dumb. It was a shame because Agni had so much promise as being a rare human who could go toe to toe with Sebastian in every regard and even gaining the demonic butler’s respect, but sadly it goes too quickly…and then with a filler episode which wasn’t important to the plot I was worried that it might be losing its way.
Fortunately it picks itself much quicker than expected as the main arc starts as Ciel and Sebastian are ordered by the Queen to investigate an occult gathering in a monastery. It is revealed to be Angela’s doing and she kidnaps Ciel, as the welcome return of Grelle brings forth the Grim Reapers/Devils vs. the Angels – and the revelation of the Doomsday Books, books which can showcase a person’s past. Needless to say, Angela uses it on Ciel as we finally get a good look at what the poor kid suffered through with his parent’s deaths, and what part Angela played in it. Due to his contract with Sebastian though, he’s never a step away and causes her to flee…as it turns very surprisingly after this.
The final arc really throws everything at us – the characters of Lao, Ash (the Queen’s butler) and even the Queen of England herself throw backstab after backstab as it appears Ciel’s sweets have been used as a drug smuggling ring. Lao admits some revenge due to historical significance, but the role the Royals have in it is strange, especially when you see what the Queen really is – she appeared briefly in the curry arc but when you see her face, you realize how Ciel has been played with for a pawn, and were it not for the one good egg on the police force and Sebastian, he would not have survived. In between, we get a flashback episode of the three servants, showcasing who they were before they became servants, and how/why Sebastian recruited them. I must admit it was interesting, and felt despite near the end of the series, considering what happens at the end, it was vital to showcase this because there was always something strange considering how apparently useless they were as servants, and whilst you got hints of Finny’s past, Maylene’s past was a real surprise considering how clumsy she is, which also explains the running joke about her glasses.
The final showdown comes as Ciel and Sebastian prepare to confront the Queen, as Sebastian gets ready to face Ash. However Ciel still holds some care for being the royal guard dog, angering Sebastian after being ordered initially to kill them. After this, Sebastian vanishes and Ciel is literally on his own. This is interesting as you wonder if this would happen, and how a rich, spoiled child like Ciel would survive on his own, especially as he is quickly mugged, and also because his records of his name seem to vanish with the wind, whilst Ash who came out of nowhere as the true antagonist, tries to destroy the Phantomhive Mansion using Pluto, the dog that they got in the first disc, which allows the three servants to show their true skills. It also brings us a retelling of the Great Fire of London, and an apparent assassination of the Queen. Sebastian of course, doesn’t vanish for too long and saves Ciel before he’s murdered – preparing for the contract to finish as he prepares to devour his soul…
The finale screams sequel hook, as the battle between Ash and Sebastian is excellent, as soul gather Ash takes on Sebastian’s full demonic form. The end, we don’t know what happened between Ciel and Sebastian, making it very ambiguous, and with a sequel done, we’re not sure what is going to happen. The emergence of Ash as the true antagonist came out of nowhere, though it’s never full explained about Angela and the Queen, and only some exposition from Will (Grelle’s boss) in one episode really explains his powers. That said however, the series gets darker and darker after the semi-amusing first arc, and it does showcase why Ciel turned to be the kid he is as well as how he can be ruthless when needs be, but a kid when he needs be as well. Ciel, despite not being a likeable lead, does have some very good character development this arc, and the ending is one of the most unique I’ve seen in a while. I also enjoyed the brief look at the servant’s past, which again with the possible sequel hook, you don’t know what has happened to them so glad to see why they were hired and what they really are maid…er, sorry made of.
I did feel this was slightly weaker than the first set though. What it does good it does good – great action sequences when needed, some good comedy and development arcs, but felt the plot was rushed a little – especially transitioning from Angela to Ash as the main antagonist. Granted, the ‘Queen’ being involved all long was a twist, the dark scenes (like Sebastian getting tortured and the flashbacks to Ciel’s past) were excellent, and Agni had great potential as a friendly rival to Sebastian, but sadly that arc was cut short and ended rather stupidly, and bar a couple of cameos we never saw him again. Undertaker got in a few cameos and definitely added a bit more seriousness because of what his true role was, but again way too short. Grelle, as hilarious as he/she is, sadly seemed to have been rendered ineffective for the most part after the initial introduction of the character, so it was basically all down to Sebastian – which as awesome as a character he is, got a bit predictable at the end, especially when you had your hopes off in the first arc that there were people (not even inhuman ones) who could match him. The ending however was excellent, and they got everything right in terms of what they did well, just felt slightly off compared to the first part.
Black Butler Part 2 slightly fails in respect of how the plot changes quite quickly and the switch of antagonists with not much explanation sadly hinders what could have been a top notch series. However it still does the job well enough in its strengths, with dark drama and a twisted ending, combined with great action and comedy when needed. It had excellent potential, but sadly felt it wasted in the end. However, with its good mixture of genres, it is still a series I would recommend to both old and new fans alike – Ciel’s past combined with Sebastian as a fun character and some development for the servants does push this to at least a rent.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episode 16-21 commentary, Textless Opening And Ending, OVA Episode: His Butler, Performer.
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Readers Rating: [ratings]
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: October 24th, 2011
Running Time: 328 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.