What They Say:
Black Butler Book of Murder follows Ciel and his butler Sebastian as they host an extravagant dinner party for the who’s who of the London underground. But an evening that begins with the promise of unmatched elegance quickly spirals into mayhem when their most distinguished guest is found murdered in his room.
Now, trapped in the Phantomhive Manor by a dark and stormy night, Ciel and Sebastian must work together with their high-class guests, including the legendary author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to find the murderer in their midst before the blame falls on the host and his somewhat suspicious staff. Save the date and don’t be late, the real party is about to begin.
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. The dialogue itself is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback with either language track.
Originally released in 2014, the transfer for this OVA series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The two episodes are on one disc where they run just about an hour each, making for a solid two-hour feature. 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 flesh tones and other small colors a little more pop. Working with the same style as the TV season that came out just before it, it is a bit more playful here with Ciel all done up in a classic detective outfit while Sebastian is behind him with a finger pressed to his own lips. 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 our two leads with different views of them from the episode 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 across 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 complement 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 a commentary track for the second episode, though it works nicely to add a little color and fun to the set.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Announced at the same time as that the TV series was revealed, the two episode OVA series under the banner Book of Murder came out in the two months after the TV series broadcast finished in 2014. Initially, you’d be easy to think that it was just a creative way of bringing out two more episodes to get the full twelve episode standard season run. With the way that the TV series was pretty defined with one story I could see that being a solid reasoning. What we get here with these two OVAs isn’t the usual though in that each episode is just a hair under an hour each, making for quite the engaging two hour feature film when viewed in that form. That it’s a wonderfully complete and standalone piece only adds to it.
The downside? There’s no Grell and we only get a minute or two of the Undertaker on screen. I’ll admit, I wanted more of both of them after their practically non-existent roles in the Book of Circus season.
Viewing this as a movie experience, what we get is a solid standalone work that’s essentially a locked room murder mystery with the requisite twists along the way. The show doesn’t bother trying to introduce who these characters are; it’s understood that you do and if you don’t, well, get cracking on the other work. It’s very easy to see this work in the form of a traditional mystery story because at its heart it really is, it just moves at a more leisurely pace at times and spends about a quarter of its time at the end doing the multiple series of reveals of the truth through new perceptions. Having watched a lot of mystery anime over the years and nowhere near enough Case Closed for my own tastes, let’s just be honest and say that there are no surprises here. It’s just an expanded piece and it feels like a lot of Case Closed features as well because of the running time.
Placing that within the context of the Black Butler world works very well as we get Ciel having to deal with a new test of loyalty by the Queen after the events of the Book of Circus storyline, which makes its own incursion into the show later in it to remind us of its placement in the timeline. With a party being hosted by him that involves a few well known people, including Arthur Conan Doyle as he’s still finding his way with his writing, there’s a good range of folks involved that provides for some varying views on the time and society, all while Ciel watches over it and Sebastian organizes things. One of the pluses of this arc is that after the staff had been kept minimal in the third season they get to have a bigger role here by being involved in events and reacting to the chaos that goes on as the bodies begin to stack up.
And they do, though not by a lot, as it’s only a trio of characters killed – including Sebastian. This is an odd choice because half the allure of the property is watching one hell of a butler at work. Granted, we know he’s not dead and there’s the obvious twist to it, but the lack of his true presence throughout about half of the story definitely makes an impact. Ciel is fun to watch as he overacts to Sebastian’s death by the mystery murderer and it sets the stage for figuring out who it is – all while knowing that Ciel and Sebastian already know and are just laying the trap out more. It’s fun to watch as the pieces come into place and the reveals hit about who it is and the trap is sprung. Similarly, the end segment where it delves into how it all unfolded with the comical rewinds is spot on, especially since Arthur is front and center to all of this and we see how some of his inspiration came about and what the driving force behind him became.
The Book of Murder arc is an interesting piece of the franchise in how it came about as I figured it would be a simple two episode piece that just works a hit and run element. Instead, we get a two-hour event here that takes its time and savors the death, tension, and intricacy of the time period and people in a great way. Yes, the Arthur stuff is forced but that’s what every period show tries to do if it can these days and I’m hard pressed to give it a lot of grief because of that. The OVA has the same strong production values as the TV series that came out alongside it did and it provides for a great capping off point while leaving you wanting more. I definitely enjoyed it, but it’s also what it is in that it’s a standard murder mystery. Sebastian and Ciel definitely help to elevate it, however.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, Episode Commentary
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Funimation
Release Date: May 17th, 2016
Running Time: 123 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.