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Black Butler: Complete First Season Review

Black Butler: Complete First Season
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Publisher: FUNimation
Format: DVD & Blu-Ray
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Price: $69.98 – Available Here

The late 1800’s in England is an interesting time in history.  There was Jack the Ripper, Queen Victoria had lost her husband, World’s Fair was happening across the channel in France, and apparently supernatural beings were very prevalent.  Okay, maybe that last one isn’t much of a historical fact, but it was one of the main aspects of the Black Butler anime series.

So, how is this first season of Black Butler as a whole?  Does it provide an adequate story with characters you want to know more about?  Does it provide more than just a unique take on a historical period most only know a little bit about?

Black Butler is the story of a young British noble named Ciel Phantomhive, who has offered his soul into contract with a demon in exchange for one wish.  The wish Ciel choices is to get revenge on those that had humiliated him and killed his parents, with the demon acting as his butler in order to aid him however he needs.  The overarching plot of the series builds across the 24 episodes with a few several side stories that don’t directly forward the plot.

Several of the plot arcs told throughout the series are multi-parted, having two or sometimes even three episodes in the arc, which works much better in the disc format than it may have as the series aired.  The non-plot stories aren’t distracting either, nested between the different plot related arcs.  They provide good character development and/or background on the other characters, which is very welcome just to know more about them.  The series covers a wide variety of ground from Jack the Ripper, to opium smuggling, to Ciel’s wish of revenge.

The characters are almost all deeper than originally expected.  There are only a few secondary characters that only really maintain their initial appearances.  Sebastian, the Black Butler himself and the master of understatement, is an amazing title character that while lacking a character arc, surprises the audience with how faceted his character is.  Ciel on the other hand is an almost single-faceted character whose arc takes him from seeking revenge to questioning if he has thrown his life away for it.  The other servants of the House of Phantomhive gain their own arc, from comic relief to true pawns in their masters game in a single episode that will be touched on more later.

The show also gives a perfect ending to the season, that is in no way forced or contrived.  The ending works so well that without knowing about a second season it leaves an impression of finality, so it really depends on the quality of the second for how much of a story is left to tell.

Black Butler is an amazingly beautiful anime that has an large amount of detail packed into almost every frame.  Because of this, almost any frame could be taken out and used a picture by itself.  There are a few moments of chibi style artwork that persists for the sake of some of the comedic scenes, but every dramatic and serious scene is golden in a way that A-1 Pictures really lives up to their name.

With the subject matter though, it hopefully goes without saying that it does get dramatically dark.  The show doesn’t shy away from violence and there are plenty of times when it gets a bit graphic.  They even make it a special point to warn away younger views in the preview for the next episode.  So, it is probably a good idea to keep the viewership of the series to at least teens.

The music of the series is very fitting for the subject matter as a whole.  There is only one opening theme, “Monochrome Kiss” by Sid, simply getting new title sequence about halfway through, but it fits the premise to the point of not needing to be changed.  There are two different ending themes, the first being “I’m Alive!” by Becca that fits Ciel’s living and building towards his revenge and the second “Lacrimosa” by Kalafina that fits the bittersweet realization of his throwing his life away.  The music through the actual show however better fits the period and mood, with sorrowful strings and piano.

The voice acting is also impeccable, even the dub, which even a lot of other good series tend to miss on.  With the England setting, the focus on dialects is done well enough that I would suggest giving the dub a try.  Some voices at first seem creepily out of place, but then you realize it is the point of the character.  Though the Elizabeth voice can be too accurately shrill for an English Lady of the time demanding her wants.

Packed on the DVD are a handful full of special features.  There are a few commentary tracks on select episodes, all being side stories, non plot.  There are also the different openings and closings sans titles for those interested in just seeing the art.  There is also the OVA on the final disc that fits in somewhere between episodes 15 & 19, that includes a preview for Black Sushi Chef, a fake sequel series, simply for a laugh.

The most unique special feature however is the commentary track for episode 21, “His Butler, Engaging Servants”, what I had earlier mentioned I would touch on.  This is the episode focused on the servants back stories and what makes this commentary track so unique is that the commentary is done by Finny, Mey-Rin, and Bardroy (seen below).

Yes, the commentary is done by the characters, more specifically the English ones.  It is the most interesting, perplexing, and hilarious commentary, I’ve ever enjoyed, where they comment on everything from the opening titles, to “Ding!”, to how Sebastian wont let them out until they’re done.  If you don’t generally listen to commentary, do so for this one.

Black Butler is an amazing series that plays host to a lot of awesome characters and suspense through the show.  This is a show for people that love dark and comedy mixed together, with meaning sprinkled upon the top.  It is also now one of my favorite animes and really only begs where it can go with a second season.  But, I can assure that Black Butler Season One is definitely worth a look.


Simon Wolfe
Simon Wolfe
Bachelor of Science in Game and Simulation Programming