What They Say:
When last we saw dear Sebastian, he was poised to feast on the ripened soul of his young master. Unfortunately for the debonair demon, there’s a new butler in town…
Enter Claude Faustus, a malevolent manservant uninspired by the drab flavor of his own contracted master, Alois Trancy. This pedestrian lad holds no allure for Claude, so the bespectacled butler sets his sights on a finer delicacy from the menu of the damned: none other than Ciel Phantomhive. And so begins a devilish dance of death starring crow and spider.
The demonic duel rages beyond the limits of good taste, culminating in a debaucherous maze of madness pitting butler against butler. Sebastian and Claude: two ravenous rakehells filled with the power of darkness and locked in a macabre battle for the soiled soul of the young master they so long to savor/devour.
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 2010, the transfer for this twelve episode series plus OVAs is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using an HD native set of source materials. Spread across two discs, it has nine episodes on the first with three TV episodes on the second and the six OVAs. Compared to the first season, it’s like night and day when it comes to the overall quality as things here have a much brighter, cleaner and more solid feeling to it. With a couple of years difference between the shows, it’s not significant in terms of animation style or quality, but the materials are in far better shape here since it’s not an upscale. Colors are sharp, bright and solid throughout and it has a greater sense of clarity and definition about it. After only watching a low quality simulcast back in 2010, this is like a completely different show when watching it.
The limited edition version of this release comes with a heavy chipboard box that’s designed to hold this set and the first season BD/DVD combo set that came out at the same time as well. The box is pretty nicely done as it covers both seasons with its primary characters where one side has Sebastian and Ciel and the other features Alois and Claude. Each has the same kind of classic background to it with the simple framing around it with the black border that ties it together well. It’s a very elegant piece that definitely fits the style of the series and the little buffer box inside is pretty nice with some clean artwork in a black and white style that lets both butlers shine. Inside the box we get a standard sized Blu-ray case that has a really nice image of Sebastian on the front which highlights his dark nature in a very cool way while the back goes for a black background with some less than clear text that breaks down the episodes by number and titles as well as the OVAs and extras. It’s just a touch hard to read. The reverse side does the same thing with the back cover while the front side of it features another piece of good artwork, this time featuring Ciel and Sebastian together. 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 simple but fun as we get just a few different things, including a few new commentary tracks for the English language fans. The original piece added here is a brief series of outtakes that are always very fun to have. In addition to that, we just get the FUNimation created trailers as well as the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After a successful first series in 2008, Black Butler came back for a shorter second season in 2010 and it was an interesting series to watch. At the time that it was announced as a simulcast, FUNimation hadn’t released the first season yet and I went into the second season without any background on it. It was, to say the least, a very confusing series. Especially since the first episode doesn’t even use the two main characters from the first series beyond a few minutes towards the end of the second half which didn’t help in the slightest. But as the show goes on, it finds its footing quite well and in watching it after seeing the first series proper in full it definitely made a lot more sense. But it’s also a series that changes things up a bit from the first series but is also a bit tighter since it doesn’t deal with the fluff all that much.
The series focus is pretty interesting when you get down to it, though it feels a bit convoluted until it reveals itself fully in the final episodes. Starting off with its view of Alois Trancy and his butler Claude, the characters that defined the first series aren’t there until the end when Sebastian arrives at the Trancy mansion and secures Ciel who was in a suitcase all this time. Unfortunately for Ciel, he’s lost many of his memories and knows very little about the people that populated his life before. Considering how much disdain he had for a lot of them, it’s not a stretch to imagine that it’s intentional. But there are other events going on here and Sebastian is intent on getting him back on track slowly, starting with his work as the “Queen’s Dog” again where he solves a few curious things going on in the country. These almost feel like filler in a way, but they’re meant to just show us how much Ciel has changed yet stayed the same.
While these do have their moments, it’s when the show turns back to its focus on Alois and Claude as they’re running a very peculiar game when it comes to Ciel. They want something out of him and there’s the obvious parallels to what Ciel and Sebastian have as a pact, but there’s more to it as well since it’s so personal. And frankly, Alois has a certainly kind of nature about him where he comes across as cracked to say the least if not outright crazy. As it explores his past, we get a much greater understanding the pain he’s gone through and how he changed himself to handle the situations of his youth, from all the villagers that hated him, the loss of his brother and being taken in by a cruel deviant of a man. It’s not exactly difficult to watch, but as you see what he went through and how he changed to survive it, you at least sympathize and understand him more.
When we see just how far Alois went and ended up securing the help of Claude, a spider-demon of sorts that has the same interest in devouring souls, everything takes on a disturbing tone. We had some of that with Ciel and Sebastian to be sure since Sebastian talks here and there about eating his ever so delicious soul that’s building up as he seeks his revenge. With Alois, there’s a more disturbing feel about it and he definitely tries to use Claude to his advantage, not really understanding that he’s being used himself. The results of it may be a bit wonky in how it finally unfolds, both as the two butlers go at it and as the two young men go at it, but also in the follow-up fight that ensues when Alois hits a very different level and attempts to manipulate things from within Ciel’s mind.
While we got the TV season simulcast, the OVAs didn’t make their way over here until this set and it’s quite a treat. These episodes are all, for the most part, just additional fun with no meaning within the core storylines themselves from either season. Some of it is just pure fluff that didn’t do much for me, like the Ciel in Wonderland two part story, but I know that wasn’t aimed at me in the slightest. Another story takes an interesting approach of showcasing an assassin going after Ciel from her point of view as she infiltrates the mansion posing as a friend of Elizabeth’s. She has no dialogue so it’s interesting to see the structure of the episode, which is forced at times, and how Sebastian deals with her. It’s not hugely engaging but it plays to the way the series itself did which is a plus compared to the Wonderland story.
There are some stories that worked very well for me here though and really made the OVAs an absolute treat. One of them deals with the characters as if they were just acting in a live action TV show, so we see the “behind the scenes” way the second season got made and all the characters showing off their “real world” personalities. It’s a very cute way of dealing with things and showing a different wrinkle to them and to view the show. The other story that was really engaging to watch introduces us to Grell and Will before they were full on Grim Reapers and we see them working together on a soul they needed to investigate in order to pass their final test. It has some of their quirks in a light way, things that become more defined in the series, and letting them have their own episode to themselves really helped to make them less frenetic. Well, at least for Grell. Will was always cool in a Sebastian-like way.
While the second season of Black Butler may not be a fan favorite after the first season, it’s the one that I cut my teeth on when it comes to the property and I do find it to be a heck of a lot of fun. I like the introduction of Alois and Claude with all they bring to the table and I really do like how it impacts the larger storyline with Ciel and Sebastian. The season does some good stuff in dealing with a cracked character like Alois and upping the stakes for what’s going on and I like the way it ends things overall, making a distinct change to the tone and direction of the show. I also really loved to get the OVAs here as a bunch of them are just a hoot to watch and left me smiling throughout. Black Butler is a quirky show when you get down to it and with how it plays things. This season works a larger storyline for its entire run, something the first series took some time getting to doing, and it works to its advantage here. It’s the right kind of quirky for me.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Episodes 1, 3, 12 & OVA 3 Commentary, Outtakes, U.S. Season Set Trailers, 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: 300 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.