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 series is presented with two audio tracks- a 5.1 English track and a Stereo Japanese one. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used and it is a mostly solid yet despite the effort to create directionality something is missing here as it feels hollow somehow, almost as if the life of the track had been turned down, especially in the opening. A quick check of the English track shows it is far more powerful yet something still seemed missing during the short period it was sampled. Other than that, the audio track free from dropouts or other distortions and it gets its point across as dialogue is delivered clear so it accomplishes a fair amount for what seems to be such an audio shortcoming in terms of presentation.
Originally airing in the middle of the Japanese television 2010 season Black Butler is presented here in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is complete with an anamorphic widescreen encode. Much like the original series the sequel itself looks like it didn’t shy away from spend money on its visuals, though some elements still stand out between the original production (like the obvious CG images) while others probably are attributable to either the DVD format itself or the authorization of the disc.
Somewhere in between production and manufacturing the images have picked up a number of flaws including banding, a fine level of noise, ghosting, some blocking, a bit of aliasing, some blurring and blending with bright pink, bit of combing like lines in images at times, some bright red bleed, and background bleed through on foreground characters which are present to one degree or another across both the television and OVA discs.
This review is of the DVDs only but the packaging was covered in Chris Beveridge’s review of the Blu Ray portion of the releases review.
As for the DVDs themselves, they use a black background with the discs’ own silver properties used to create the image of various vines and leaves along with the series title as well as a circle at the bottom with the disc number listed.
The menus themselves use various static images, mostly of screen grabs from the series (except for the Episodes menu which lists the names of the episodes), against a rather elaborate background pattern while an instrumental track plays in the background. The menu itself is rather easy to operate with the various choices either being present at the bottom of the image with prompts on either side to highlight the currently selected item or with the option turning purple in the case of the horizontally stacked options. While saying the menus are rather standard and basic might be seen as a slight it really isn’t in this case as the menus use some tried and true methods to make navigation easy and the menu is responsive to changes in selection as well as implementing choices with minimal delay.
While not quite the treasure trove of wonders that the first series set provides, the second series does bring a number of extras with it including four English commentary tracks and an English dub Outtakes reel in addition to the somewhat standard Textless Opening and Closing Songs.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Popularity and the money that can follow from it can be a hell of a thing- sometimes it gets people to rework previous series, sometimes it gets brand new series made rebooting a franchise and on occasion it can get a sequel made where it appeared that there was no room for it given the previous series finale-though really smart writers may have actually left themselves some wiggle room to avoid making it seem that the project is ignoring what came before in a somewhat crass money grab. It turns out though that when in doubt in this case the writers decided to just go for broke and let explanations come in their own time so that the audience has a mystery of their own on their hands- though whether or not the conclusion is completely satisfactory is entirely up to them.
The last time that viewers entered the animated world of Black Butler’s continuity Ciel had completed his revenge and had submitted himself and his soul to Sebastian to fulfill their pledge. To this end Sebastian had taken Ciel to a remote island and the screen faded as Sebastian leaned into the camera. But suddenly what looked to be case closed for the pair is thrown into array as a new master-butler pair arrives on the screen, though before the episode ends it is shown that Ciel and Sebastian are far from done.
It is immediately apparent though that this pair, Alois Trancy and his devilish butler Claude Faustus, aren’t going to be in the same tone as Ciel and Sebastian even if their situation has a number of striking similarities. While it is clear that the two share a somewhat similar dislike of each other at times and trade some barbs Alois is far from the composed young man that Ciel is. Instead he is at best capricious and at worst possessing of violent and wild mood swings which leave him both exerting force against one of the few servants in the manner but that also manifest as a terrible fear of Claude leaving him which stem from a childhood not that dissimilar from Ciel’s.
One night after he has sent off a group that includes a man who is supposed to be his uncle (Alois is purported to be the only heir of the noble Trancy house) a storm blows in which brings a mysterious traveler with it. The traveler wears a full length cloak which, complete with his large hat, almost completely masks his identity. The only other possession the man brings with him is a large trunk that he carries, the contents of which he makes a deal with Alois to show the lad as long as the stranger can look for an item in the mansion’s basement.
Upon finding the item for which he seeks the man finds himself in conflict with Claude and his identity is revealed- the man is Sebastian Michaelis and after a breath taking escape from a hell of a butler who just may be his equal it is shown that the contents of the trunk are in fact the young Ciel Phantomhive. With his escape and the item he sought in hand Sebastian is able to return Ciel to life, though it is clear from very early on that something is terribly off with the youth.
With Ciel now seemingly having returned to his former life he continues on as he had before as head of the Funtom Company and carrying out the families charitable work. Those close to him know that things are off however as he doesn’t remember having completed his revenge or any of the events that occurred along the way since the audience was introduced to him. Given his lack of knowledge he picks up his life as he last remembers it which includes returning to his role as the Queen’s guard dog and he is less surprised by a letter from her arriving then the fact that it outs another family that operates in the shadows at Her request as the House of Trancy is also used by the Queen to clean up things that need to be taken care of in the dark. Unfortunately though Ciel and Sebastian are going to find themselves butting heads with Alois as he has set his sights on Ciel, but is it possible that Sebastian and Claude have their own machinations playing out below the board? With his life still at stake will the Lord Phantomhive be able to live up to the standards he has set in his life when demons’ plots start unfolding around him and the curtain looks to close on the play that is his life once again?
Also included in the release are six OVAs which are rather varied in their tone and content and which have results that match. Probably my least favorite is a pair of OVAs that make up a fanciful tale of Ciel as Alice in Alice in Wonderland with the supporting cast used in the various roles. Now I know that the story is a classic but I’ve reached an absolute saturation point with anime adapting it over the years as so many of the tales seem to blend together in short order. In fact, other than a weird series of sexual jokes at one point this adaptation is another one in a long line I’m likely destined to just forget as it blends together with all the other generic versions and really fails to set itself apart.
Also in here is an almost first person tale of a young woman visiting the manor which likely exists as part of a wish fulfillment for fan-girls to feel like they are interacting with the cast- which is helped out with the character being very like many visual novels of having no voice of her own though she does have her own actions which form the heart of the stories structure. Also included is a tale focusing on Alois and the Trancy cast which is largely rather mundane and a tale of the Shinigami/Grim Reaper Will and his earliest days as a trainee in the role where he interacted with Grell. Probably my favorite OVA is the one that is purported to be a making of the second season where the audience is treated to a behind the scenes type of production where the cast are treated as if they are live action actors going about the role. Admittedly I can see where this one may not click with those who don’t care for the “fake” reality making of features that have popped up over the years and it does go well off the rails at the end but it is still a nice piece of fluff which stands out against a rather pedestrian selection of other OVA tales.
With the finish of the first season I had a number of questions about just what the animation production staff could do to continue a story that looked like it had a rather conclusive ending. That the production does eventually explain how a sequel was possible was a nice touch and it looked like from the explanation they had anticipated the chance of a sequel to some extent. That isn’t to say that it completely works as this second series does kind of gloss over a few points at times which creates the feeling that something is off for a good part of it.
While the series does start of strong by reuniting Ciel and Sebastian as well as returning the surviving members of the first season’s cast (including some which may surprise the viewer) the series kind of derails early by removing much of the returning cast in favor of giving a good deal of screen time to Alois, Claude and the other servants of the House of Trancy. That it takes away the fun of interaction with the now old friends is bad enough but the truncated nature of the series also causes the series to abandon many of the staples that made the series so much fun with Ciel trying to carry out the queen’s orders as the focus becomes on Ciel versus Trancy for a large number of the episodes.
Plus there are some other issues raised along the way that those who have seen the first series will question- like how is the Queen in a position to know who to give orders to given the outcome of the throne in the last episode and then questions are raised about how any of the powers that be would see the earl of Trancy as worth trusting as opposed to being investigated himself. In the end the series feels like they came up with a plausible reason for events even if some particulars along the way feel less established but that doesn’t mean the series lives up to what the first one brought as it manages to fall a bit short in my estimation in its final execution.
Given the success of the original Black Butler series as well as the manga’s continued popularity it isn’t much of a surprise that the series returns for a second round, this time bringing more OVAs in its wake. What is a bit surprising as the series manages to bring along the action and rather present, though often fairly benign, sexuality. What is kind of surprising though is how the series kind of casts off some of its regulars in a rather abrupt manner as the limited episode run forces it to focus on the plot a lot sooner as well as giving a fair amount of the screen time to the antagonists. While this isn’t exactly a bad thing the series still ends up feeling like it is too short as a few elements appear a bit thin when it comes to fleshing out and some of the series dark humor and banter from the original season doesn’t make the transition as well as could be hoped. Still if you loved the first season you almost certainly won’t be disappointed and even those who merely liked the first season will find something to enjoy here.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 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: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 3rd, 2012
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.