Monday, 21 May 2012

Black Butler anime review

Beginning note

Today I will be reviewing the Black Butler anime. This anime was 2 seasons or 36 episodes long. The first season, of 24 episodes, was introduced to America on the eleventh of January 2011- by which I mean as a dubbed series, it had previously been out in a subbed variant. The second series is currently being dubbed but has not yet been released in the States.

Warning: this review may contain spoilers.

The basic introduction

The plot of the first Black Butler anime is much closer to the manga series than the second season. It revolves around two main characters who are Ciel Phantomhive and Sebastian Michaelis. Sebastian is Ciel's Butler and there are some comedic scenes within the anime where he has issues controlling the other staff of the mansion- Bard, the cook; Mey-Rin, the maid and Finny, the gardener. The main reason that Sebastian had these issues was because the other employees were chosen for their fighting abilities rather than their actual abilities within a household.

In the second series, the plot diverts a lot more from the plot of the manga. There is another family with a similar situation to Ciel's. The situation has led to the master of the house, Alois Trancy, employing a butler who seems to be a copy-cat of Sebastian- though his name is Claude Faustus. The series is half the length of the first series, probably due to the fact that it was hard to force the existing storyline to carry on alongside the idea of the plot of the second series.

L-R: Ciel, Sebastian, Claude and Alois

The characters

I know I haven't done this before, but with this anime I feel that it's necessary to analyse the main characters separately rather than as a group.

Sebastian Michaelis

As Ciel's Butler, Sebastian will do anything to meet his master's demands. In the first series, he comes across as pretty awesome and obviously devoted to his master. Unfortunately, though Sebastian remains utterly awesome, in the second series he seems to solve issues way too easily. He seems to be quite able to communicate with the ethereal, play the magician and fight like a boss. Now, I'm not complaining about the fighting part but some of the issues that are solved by Sebastian within the second series don't even seem like the type of thing beings of his calibre (if you've watched it, you'll know what I mean, if not watch it!) could solve easily. Then again, the second series does seem like it's very much for the fans.

Ciel Phantomhive

Always getting kidnapped and expecting Sebastian to rush to his aid like a Knight in a suit, Ciel's character could get really irritating, like Princess Peach in the Mario games. She gets captured all of the time for seemingly no reason and Mario saves her, then she gets kidnapped again. Thankfully, Ciel's kidnappings seem to have quite an obvious reason behind them. During season one, we see Ciel's vulnerable side as well as his 'adult' side. Season two seems to mainly focus on Ciel's 'adult' side and he doesn't seem as vulnerable as he did in season one, which makes the ending of season two kind of appropriate...

Grell Sutcliff

Grell is introduced into the series when Sebastian and Ciel are searching for Jack the Ripper. He is a God of Death, or Shinigami. Unlike other Shinigami, Grell wears colourful clothing (red) and has a very feminine fashion sense. When we first meet Grell, he is posing as the butler of Madam Red, Ciel's aunt. He seems very clumsy as a butler and is sent to the Phantomhive household to be trained by Sebastian, a decision which Ciel begins to regret when he realises just how useless Grell actually is. Grell has a continued presence throughout both seasons, and has a slight crush on Sebastian... I say a slight crush, it's more an obsession to be honest.

Alois Trancy

Introduced in the second series, Alois is not in the manga. He was basically created in order for Ciel to have an actual rival, and to explain why there was a second season at all. He seems fascinated by Ciel and Sebastian, and has somehow gained knowledge of him. We later find out that [spoiler alert] Alois also works for Queen Victoria under the code-name of the 'Spider'. Alois also has a very odd habit of, when he gets excited, dancing and saying "ole".

Claude Faustus

What to say about this tap-dancing butler? Well, he's certainly quirky enough to be Alois' butler. There is a sequence that he repeats a few times within the series which revolves around the idea of everything coming into the Trancy household's control.

Season 1 cover

Review of season one

Because the two seasons differ so much, I will be reviewing them separately. The first season, of 24 episodes, will be reviewed first.

At the beginning of the anime, we are faced with rather an odd pilot episode. It has no real link to the rest of the anime at all, but does follow the manga- almost to the letter. Although the passion and art behind this episode do shine through quite strongly, the fact that it is never even referred to at all during the rest of the anime bothers me somewhat. However, Sebastian's Donburi speech (watch the anime, dubbed, it's amazing!) really made my day and that same level of passion is something that continues throughout the anime.

After the first episode, Ciel gets kidnapped. That episode shows Sebastian's dedication to his master. Again, this adheres quite strictly to the manga plot. Episode three introduces us to the Jack the Ripper case, which effectively ends on episode 6. Grell is introduced to us within these episodes- a character, as I have probably made clear, that it is hard to forget. The next 2 episodes revolve around a village called Houndsworth- the story here is basically that of The hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. These episodes show us the more human sides of some of the servants of the Phantomhive household, especially Finny. At the end of these two episodes, the Phantomhive household gains a dog named Pluto. Episode nine seems like a filler episode, probably trying to relieve the tension of the last two episodes. The next episode may also seem like a filler episode, but it introduces the Hope piece to the story, something that becomes a key plot point later. The Hope piece is prevalent in episode eleven, when Elizabeth (Ciel's fiancĂ©) goes missing in London after a spate in girls going missing in the same area. This plot continues through to episode twelve, the midpoint of this series. 

The first half of this series introduces us to the characters, though not fully. We learn that there are incompetent people working in the Phantomhive household alongside Sebastian- though they may only be incompetent so that we see Sebastian in a better light and this would allow us to understand why he's so competent in the second season.

As of episode thirteen, we are introduced to more new characters- Prince Soma and Agni, his servant. These two appear alongside some of their countrymen (Indians) in what appears to be turning into a street brawl, but when they find out that the fight is over nothing they side with Ciel instead. This leads to Agni and Soma staying in Ciel's house for a while. During this second half, the action within the series becomes more evident and a lot more fast-paced. The end of the series leaves it's viewers on a cliffhanger, making us assume that the contract has been completed- but we don't see it fully, which sets up a second season.

Overall, I think that the first season of Black Butler is amazing! Although the pilot episode is bizzare and doesn't really have a link to the rest of the story, other than maybe allowing the viewer to meet the main characters. It allows us to be prepared for the different moods within the series and also shows how ruthless Sebastian can be when he is following Ciel's orders. 

With the first series, I would give it a 10/10 for art, 9/10 for characters and 8/10 for plot-line. With respect to the art, it sticks to the manga quite well, especially Ciel's outfits. The main issue I have with the characters is that we don't really get to know them until really late in the season and therefore when bad stuff happens to them we don't feel as bad about it as we would if we knew them better. The plot-line... ohGod the plot-line. Now, there is a basic plot. The basic plot is unclear at points, but it is there. Annoyingly, there are some episodes that just totally avoid this plot-line and veer way off. But, overall, the series is a pleasure to watch.

Claude and Alois in Season two
Review of season two

The second season was highly anticipated. Although I, personally, feel that it could have been so much better, many people love it. The first episode is set in the Trancy manor, which has been redecorated since the death of its owner. A strange looking man in a long coat and a hat which hides his face appears at the manor and stays the night. The man seems to be quite odd, especially when he notices a drop of sauce on the side of the plate and criticizes Claude for his butler skills (or lack thereof). 

Because the second series does not follow the plot-line of the manga, I won't be comparing it to that. However, there are some continuity issues with regards to people that died in the first season. One example of this is a character who died in the first season but returns as a betting merchant during an episode where Ciel and Elizabeth go searching for a magical deer. 

We do learn about Alois' past in the second season, but I personally found it hard to feel sorry for him even on knowing his past due to his severe smuttiness. Now, I'm all for a bit of flirting, but the way Alois does it is creeeeeepy! He flirts continuously with Ciel and Claude, wanting Ciel to be 'his'. 

Now, unlike the first season, this season has a lot more conflict. This conflict mainly focuses on a battle for the 'purest' soul. Claude is convinced that Alois is the boy with the purest soul, whereas Sebastian knows that Ciel's soul is truly the purer of the two. 

The second season, as I have said, was kind of a disappointment for me. For one, it was too short (12 episodes rather than 24) and it also altered from the main plot of season one too much for me. But, if you view it as a separate anime altogether, it has its merits. The characters that are introduced in this season are pretty awesome.

Overall review

Black Butler is a pretty awesome anime, though some episodes tend to deviate off of the main plot. Overall, I would give it a 9/10 for art, 8/10 for characters and 9/10 for plot. The art manages to keep to the main theme of Black Butler, especially when looking at Ciel's many outfits. The characters become amazingly developed within the anime and this leads to us becoming more connected with them and feeling bad if one of them dies. The plot is generally concise, but deviates from the plot of the manga too much for my liking when it comes to the second season.


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