What They Say:
Ciel Phantomhive is the most powerful boy in all of England, 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, casting his lot with the one person on whom he could depend: Sebastian, a demon Butler summoned from the very pits of hell.
Together, they’ll prowl the darkest alleys of London on a mission to snuff out those who would do evil. They’re a rare sight, these two: the Butler who dismembers with dazzling cutlery and the Young Master who carries the devil’s marking. Rest assured that wherever they may be headed, it’ll be one hell of a ride.
Contains episodes 1-24.
The audio design to this release is fairly straightforward as we get a pair of language tracks presented in Dolby TrueHD lossless form. The original Japanese track is in stereo and conveys the material well, though it at times does feel a little understated and weak, while the English mix gets bumped up to the 5.1 we’ve had before. It definitely stands out more, though it’s impossible to do direct comparisons easily since the language tracks are locked and cannot be changed on the fly. The mixes do come across well in the action scenes but the dialogue is quite important as well as it’s the real driver of things here. There are softer moments than others but overall it’s an effective mix for the characters and what it wants to do. Dialogue and clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this twenty-four episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the standard definition remastered materials as no high definition native materials were available. Spread across three discs, the show definitely has an upgrade compared to the DVDs but it’s mostly in the form of cleaner backgruonds with more solid colors and less noise all around. The show is not a hugely vibrant piece to begin with but it has its moments where it does excel in this area with color and fluidity of animation. This transfer as an SD remaster does a good job overall and while it’s certainly not a native transfer, it provides an overall improvement over what was released before. There are still some minor issues that crop up though, especially during some of the very slow panning sequences, as you can see some line noise creep in which is pretty distracting if you’re looking for it.
The packaging for this release is a little difficult as it’s trying to accommodate a few different things, including being a part of the heavy chipboard box that comes with the second season. What we get here a slightly oversized slipcover that’s DVD sized so that it can fit into the box easily. Within it we get a double sized Blu-ray case that holds all of the DVDs from the original release and the new Blu-ray discs as well. The slipcover and the artwork within the case itself are identical, though the slipcover is a bit bigger and has the additional Blu-ray/DVD combo stripe around the top. The cover artwork for both is definitely appealing as it avoids what we’ve commonly seen by using Sebastian and Ciel together where Sebastian has prettied him up in girls clothes, something that he definitely does not like. With the black bcakground and all the other black to the cover, it definitely has a distinct look about it.
The back of the case and cover is heavy on the black as well but it has no specific character artwork, just a variety of shots from the show – and the slipcover and keepcase cover use different pieces at that. There’s a lot of empty space but the summary is done cleanly and is easy to read even with the white on black and it covers the extras and what’s included, though not in a large font. The technical information is a bit crowded but it’s not a surprise as it covers both formats in small print against the black background. The reverse side of the cover within the case is pretty nice and definitely offers up a change. The interior left side has the listing of all the episodes and titles while the right panel features a white background with a very elegant look at Sebastian as the hell of a butler that he is. No show related inserts are included with this release.
The menu design works with the sense of elegance and ornateness about about it as it has the framing that fits the feel of the time period well with a deep purple and black piece to tie it all together around the edges. The central piece with clips from the show has a washed out feeling to it that’s quite appealing as it gives it a sense of age, especially as it uses some very amusing instrumental music to achieve its atmosphere. The navigation along the bottom doubles as the pop-up menu and it’s simple but effective without much flash but definitely fitting the theme. The language setup is another unfortunate release in that it’s locked for the subtitles, so you cannot change the options there.
The extras for this release are interesting overall and I like how one of them is classified. The release contains a few commentary tracks which lets the English language production crew talk about their experiences. In addition to that, the release has a few extras well with the clean opening and closing here. What’s also included is a full length episode that is essentially a recap that serves as a recap for the first collection overall. With only twenty-four episodes in this series, a recap episode feels odds but I can see how it’d be used during the original broadcast over the holidays to keep interest and to bring in potential new viewers.
What’s also included is an OVA episode that’s all about fun that goes back to when Soma was part of the show and has Ciel organizing a charity play with Hamlet as the story. The actors get delayed in arriving so he has Sebastian organize replacements, which means the main cast gets drawn into it. It’s simple and silly fun overall and a nice inclusion after watching the seriousness of the season finale
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series by Yana Toboso which began in 2006, Black Butler is a twenty-four episode series that takes us to the realm of 19th century England. The manga and this first season of the anime scored quite a lot of fans during its initial release and the cosplay crowd really took it to heart as well with numerous incarnations of a few key characters throughout the 2009 season. Going into this show was kind of awkward as I had missed it the first time around but watched the simulcast of the second season so I have a familiarity of it going into but from a very different perspective based on how that season went.
The series takes place in the Victorian period of England where we’re introduced to a young Ciel Phantomhive who is about twelve years of age. He’s the master of his mansion as his parents died some three years prior in a fire that destroyed everything. In the time since then, he was essentially missing only to return to a mansion that was rebuilt down to the same exacting details of the first. And with his return, he’s come with a butler named Sebastian who tends to his every need and carries out his every order. There are other servants that work there carrying out chores inside and outside of the mansion, but they’re there largely for comedic effect more than anything else. At times they prove useful but I found them to be more of a distraction than anything else from the show.
Ciel isn’t like he used to be as a child, something a childhood friend named Elizabeth realizes as she talks about how he hasn’t smiled since before his parents died and there’s something different about him. She’s still very much in love with him and tries to figure out ways to bring back that smile. Lizzie is a fun character overall and thankfully she’s kept to small moments where she’s a whirlwind in the otherwise staid mansion. For Ciel, he’s leading the life of a serious noble as he’s gained favor with the Queen as a person who can get very unusual jobs done and taken care of. The Phantomhive family has quite the history to it which is only lightly touched on here but it helps to paint the picture of why he’s able to get away with the things he does.
What makes these jobs even more possible is his butler as Sebastian is something more than just a normal butler. Though you can figure it out from the start, the reveals come over time as we learn that he’s something otherworldly that has established a supernatural contract with Ciel that has cost him something with his Eye as he wears a patch over it. It does get dealt with a bit, but what the show largely focuses on is Ciel giving Sebastian the orders and seeing him carry everyhting out because he really is literally one hell of a butler. And he does it with incredible style and a sense of suaveness and wit that helps raise him up to a really fun level. He’s not without his issues, as one story has him dealing with dogs and he’s not all that keen on them so he’s not exactly the ultimate at everything.
Watching Sebastian in action is a lot of the fun here as his style is what sells it, especially when he shifts from being mildly amused by what he’s doing to being coldly serious. Because of his nature, he’s pretty hard to kill as well as we have a kidnapping sequence with Ciel and Sebastian gets shot repeatedly only to just spit out the bullets and fling them back. And Ciel knows it so he get exasperated over the way that Sebastian takes so long to actually get going in taking care of the problem. There’s a length story involving the pair and the servants going to a somewhat remote village that Ciel is going to turn into a resort, though that’s more of a cover, as their real job is to investigate a demon dog that’s running around there causing trouble. Sebastian carries off his role very well because of the kind of style he’s using as there’s a very light amount of smugness to it that’s tied to a very warranted self confidence.
Where the show won me over in a very particular way is when it comes to the character of Grell. Operating as a truly bumbling and ineffective butler for Ciel’s aunt, Grell is much more than he seems. When his true nature is revealed and we get a look at what his role in history is, it just adds a really delicious flavor to him. When Grell goes full blown into this mode and attempts to take down Sebastian, it goes over the top but introduces more of the supernatural elements to the show. Grell’s true origins are really interesting as it takes a particular supernatural element in a way most don’t by making it an office. Grell really introduces the really crazy and off-kilter approach to things, both in his butler form and afterward, just by force of personality. Yet he has the semblance of seeing the world through his eyes in a way that feels right to him and that gives him a kind of confidence that just adds to his over the top moments.
The first half of Black Butler does introduce some of the plot points as it goes along, but like many series it’s more about the individual moments and introducing the characters. With the second half, Black Butler hits a number of different things with material about Prince Soma who is visiting from India with his servant, Agni. Having them stay at the Phantomhive mansion leads to some basic kinds of fun and challenges, such as Soma taking on Ciel in fencing that has each of them feeling somewhat embarrassed, but also an interesting moment where Agni is able to get the household servants to help him cook a meal, something Sebastian hasn’t exactly been able to do, nor really tried either. Soma’s presence does take on a bit more of an involved angle when he and Ciel discover that Agni has another purpose in being there, which leads to a series of events involving a curry making contest for the Queen of England no less. It’s an unusual leap yet it actually makes sense within the episode itself.
As the second half of the season moves along, we do start to get more to the larger issue at hand with Ciel and his contract with Sebastian. What helps this along is the more prominent role played by Angela, an angel that is manipulating events in London through the Queen. We’ve had hints about what it is with Ciel and his parents that caused the contract, but things come in a lot clearer here as Angela torments him with visuals of it. There’s plenty of reason for Ciel to go the route he did with Sebastian over it and much of the series has been about him trying to figure out who all is truly responsible so he can get his revenge. Bringing in Angela in a two-fold manner by having her manipulating the Queen at the same time is interesting since it gives it a larger feeling as it progresses towards the climax.
While there are a couple of other stories mixed into this half, it’s the final arc that really brings the series together as a whole. With London on fire and Angela looking to bring about an end to mankind because of the mistake that was made in creating man and woman, it does all come down to simple revenge itself. Black Butler hits an appropriately big feeling here as Ciel struggles to make it back to London only to discover what’s happened and then to risk it all to try and get revenge on Angela. Sebastian really shines here as he gets fully serious against her but they kept things back a bit when he reveals his true form. There is something to be said for not showing everything, but it turns into such an incredible tease that it’s more frustrating than I would have expected. The payoff at the end of the series is fantastic though as everything comes to a conclusion in a way that can make an impact on you. Providing you never acknowledge there’s a second season.
Revisiting the series again after a couple of years and a little distance is definitely fun, especially to get back into the “innocence” of the first half with its stories and characters, not quite kowing the devil in the details. Looking at this season as a whole, it had its ups and downs with some segments that didn’t work all that well, but the larger material worked wonderfully with its own sense of self and style. The grim reapers are priceless and Grell in particular was fantastic. The revelations about the Undertaker were pretty interesting as well. But when it focuses on the two leads it’s at its best. The relationship between Ciel and Sebastian is the reason to watch it and the way it all comes together at the end is surprisingly beautiful. While this is only an standard definition remaster for high definition and not a native transfer, it does provide for some improvements in the video side, though there are faults in the source material, and the upgrade in the audio department definitely helps as well. The show as a whole was really fun to revisit and to just be able to say the popular line about being one hell of a butler again was almost worth the price of admission.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episodes 01, 07, 16, & 21 Commentary, The Story Thus Far with Narration from Tanaka, Bonus Episode: “His Butler, Performer,” Musician Profile, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Songs
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 3rd, 2012
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.