What They Say:
In Black Butler, Book of Circus, Ciel and the demon butler Sebastian are summoned by the Queen to investigate multiple reports of missing children. When their underworld contacts reveal the disappearances increase when the mysterious Noah’s Ark Circus comes to town the demonic duo must impress an enigmatic ringmaster in order to go undercover as performers-to Sebastian’s delight and Ciel’s disgust. At the core of the circus is a troupe of unique performers from Dagger the knife thrower to Beast, the beautiful tiger tamer. All are connected by someone who changed their lives, someone who raised them from the gutters of London to the heights of the big top – but at a price.
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language dub, which brings back the same cast, encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is one that naturally is a bit more dialogue focused with some creative atmospheric moments, but it also has a solid round of action through most of the episodes that really uses the forward soundstage well. Whether it’s Sebastian doing his various tricks, the circus elements themselves, or some of the creative action sequences toward the end when the mansion assault is underway, it’s all handled really well and makes for a very solid and engaging experience that fits the show perfectly. Dialogue itself is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback with either language track.
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The ten episodes of this season are spread across two discs with eight on the first and two on the second, plus a video commentary there. Animated by A-1 Pictures, the show has plenty to like in terms of continuity from past series but with a bit more slickness, detail, and fluidity about it that just edges it up nicely so that it definitely feels here and now but still what it was. Colors are great throughout with lots of richness in many scenes, especially the opening sequence, while the darker areas and the heavy black areas are very solid and problem free. There’s a good bit of detail to the show in general, which we had before, and all of it just clicks very well here to make for a great viewing as it doesn’t feel like they skimped on it in terms of animation quality.
The packaging for the regular edition release of this show is pretty nicely done as we get a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds the four discs inside on hinges. The first pressing comes with an o-card that replicates the case artwork with better color definition, which works nicely here with the dark backgrounds that stand out more and helps to give the fleshtones and other small colors a little more pop. With Sebastian and Ciel in illustrated mode here, there’s a lot of great detail to it and some small areas that just work well, such as the hints of blue in parts of it, while overall it plays to the circus element in a great way. I just wish the logo itself was gold embossed as that would just edge it up a bit more in style. The back cover carries the dark background to give it an almost faux leather feeling while using the same copper-ish color for the logo and text, which works well enough but could be a touch hard to read in some conditions. The premise is covered well and we get a small selection of small shots from the show to give it a pop of color. Extras are clearly listed while the technical grid breaks it all down cleanly and clearly for both formats. While there are no show related inserts with the set, there is artwork on the reverse side that offers up character pairings from the circus cast itself that are colorful and fun while sticking to the same tone and style as the rest of the packaging.
The menus for this release step things up a bit to be creative, which is always welcome – especially when it works well. While the basic idea is here that it’s doing clips as the main thing going on, we get some good choices for it but it’s the framing that clicks. With the vertical strip set off from the left a decent bit, it has the logo cross it on either side while the navigation is below and contained within the strip. It has the right touches of elegance from the period and it obscures the clips in a good way as it almost feels like we’re looking inside a shop window to see what’s in the store itself. Navigation itself is a breeze with quick and easy to load menus that complements the solid design. It’s not the norm and it works very well for the show and in general.
The extras for this release bring us just commentaries this time, not even clean opening and closings since they weren’t made that way in the source. The first is an audio commentary on the first disc while the second is the rare but always welcome video commentary that has the main cast talking about the last episode while it plays out. It’s definitely fun to watch them with how they interact with each other. I always enjoy these as it helps to humanize the voice actors even more and to show them just having fun.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Four years after the end of the second series, which itself was half the length of the first series that came out in 2008, Black Butler returned with the 2014 Book of Circus arc. It also landed with a two episode OVA series that’s getting a separate release as Book of Murder, which if it was actually included with this set would just feel very weird considering this is a single and straightforward arc that’s unfolding. I liked Black Butler a good bit during its original run and got why it had such a strong following at the time from fans, particularly women, as it just has a certain sense of style about it while also not playing by the usual morality as it crosses various lines. The core of it is that it is a show about a demon and a young man that has goals created by the hell he’s been through and knows that in the end he’s going to be given to the demon. So it’s all about doing the right that he can with it and accepting his fate.
Thankfully, since it has been a few years, this set with its ten episodes works fairly well in a relaxed yet compact way. It gives us an opening episode that is all about reconnecting us with this cast as Sebastian works his magic as one hell of a butler by organizing the day and all the events while keeping Ciel where he needs to be and doing what needs to be done. Ciel has some nice moments and there is the larger bit about a group that’s about to attack the mansion to try and edge out the threat that the Queen’s dog is, but it’s more a showcase for Sebastian and all his tricks and skills that make him such a delight to watch – especially as he does it with a smile. Bringing that together with the way he manages the mansion and its staff makes it fun all while doing the hard work of reminding us who’s who.
Once past that, however, it moves fully into the arc that dominates the set – on that only includes a brief pity scene of Grell, who is otherwise absent from the storyline here. The premise is easy enough in that Ciel is sent by the Queen to look into a string of children going missing across the countryside that seems to follow the path of the Noah’s Ark Circus. That’s certainly something that you can see the general idea for a mile away and admittedly it really does undercut talking about it much because it does hew to the basics well enough. Ciel and Sebastian investigate it straight enough at first by visiting it and then later reworking their outfits so they can join it as Sebastian certainly has the skills and Ciel can largely play the role of a poor kid. Throwing them into this environment means nothing from the mansion cast until the very end of the run but it also means that we get a lot of focus on our core to characters as they explore the circus.
This is where the season becomes a bit more interesting. While you’d expect there to be something to latch onto in regards to the missing kids there, the place really is on the up and up. So much so that the performers are quite well taken care of and even have some very cutting edge prosthetics that helps them immensely, giving us easy clue as to their own problematic youths where they had little to no help. This has Ciel getting familiar with one of them that goes by the name Doll, but it focuses on several, from the ring leader Joker to the lion tamer Beast among others. They’re all fairly straightforward but the show avoids making them caricatures. That doesn’t mean they’re fully fleshed out, though we get more of their pasts toward the end, but you don’t just write them off as femme fatale, strong man, and so forth. Ciel in particular works well here as he gets to know Doll all while he has Sebastian off working along, only paying minor lip service to his contract with him so that they can blend in well enough.
The arc works well to explore the circus, the characters, and the little twists and turns along the way, though they’re mostly inoffensive pieces that really don’t change anything since the place is above the board. While we get a little time with Grim Reapers mixed in, again with Grell just a passing thought, the show turns more serious as the real evil is revealed and that harkens back to events five years prior for Ciel. Admittedly, I think this whole arc could be just as effective with six episodse, but it works well to explore how he was back as a younger child, a little time with his father, and exploring just how far he’ll go when he sees true evil in front of him in human form. The comment he makes about man being worse than the demons isn’t a new one to be sure, but it’s moments like this that reflect it. Ciel wins the show at this point by reminding that he will do the dark things that need to be done, without compunction, because he is the Queen’s dog. And that dog will put out the more dangerous threats out there. It’s creepy and disturbing to be sure what they learn, but watching what Ciel orders Sebastian to do in order to bring it all to close reinforces just how much humanity he’s lost – and how much he retains when you get down to the truth ofit all.
Black Butler: Book of Circus definitely works well as a marathon session watch because it really is just one long and extended story that comes in at about four hours or so before you start nicking away openings and endings. There are things that could be done to tighten it up overall, but the show plays well for what it wants to do and I really like getting a whole story like this that’s done in ten, which includes the last episode being an epilogue piece that explores a lot of the fallout from it. With a good reconnect at the beginning and mostly solid pacing for exploring what it wants to do, Book of Circus is the way you want to see more arcs adapted since there’s no real filler here and just a solid story that has the beginning, middle, and end to it that’s well told. While I would have liked to have had a few more extras to it, it’s a solid release all around and I’m glad they went the extra effort to include a video commentary.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, Episode Commentaries
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: April 19th, 2016
Running Time: 250 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 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.