This is part of a series of re-posts of older reviews on 100 Word Anime. The original review came out in May 2016 and can be found here.
I’ve been a big fan of Black Butler since I first saw the anime many years ago – though most of the time I try to pretend season 2 does not exist and for the duration of this review I’m going to. I’ve also reviewed Book of Circus and Book of Murder in case you are interested. Irina and I also debated the merits, or lack of them, of season 2 in a collaboration that you should definitely check out if you missed it.
We’ll get this out of the way first. Yes, there are some uncomfortable moments for some people in Black Butler. The relationship between Ciel and Sebastian is at times just a few steps over the line of what some people find acceptable and while nothing is overt on screen the dialogue and insinuation is not exactly subtle. There’s plenty more explicit out there but this will still rub a few people the wrong way. If that’s you, thanks for visiting the blog, please read one of my other reviews.
Still with me? Great. Moving on.
Alright, any history buffs in the room that care whether or not 19th Century London is portrayed accurately in terms of dress, mannerisms, status, etc, you should probably also step out.
For those who are left, this is why you should watch Black Butler.
Ciel is brilliant as a character. No, he doesn’t really develop as a character. He comes into this series fully formed. Everything truly terrible has already happened to him and he is utterly resolved. Not on revenge, as he states several times in the series, but on ensuring those who humiliated him are in turn humiliated because that is what he wants. He’s under no illusion. This isn’t a noble quest and he knows he has made a deal with a demon. For 95% of the series he is unwavering. It’s kind of refreshing to have a protagonist not trying to find themselves.
Instead, Ciel is fighting to remain who he has decided to be. In the face of everything that comes his way throughout the series he is determined not to leave his path. This allows for there to be conflict and self-reflection but means he isn’t really developing and there is no over-arching character arc here. But it is a joy to watch.
Some might disagree with that last statement. In honesty, Ciel’s a snobbish, childish, jerk who is like the kid who didn’t get picked to play so now he’s going to steal all the equipment so no one else can either. That doesn’t mean he isn’t appealing as a character though. You just wouldn’t invite him around for dinner any time soon.
And then there is Sebastian.
He is polished and cool and refined and he steals every scene he is in. Perhaps he is a boring character because he is so perfect but I always enjoyed watching how he would meet Ciel’s demands and I loved the play between the two as they found new ways to torment each other within the bounds of their contract.
Mostly the series is a kind-of-mystery of the week. The mysteries aren’t particularly compelling and the solutions are usually pretty basic or rely heavily on the supernatural to explain, so don’t get too invested in that aspect of the show, it won’t hold up. However, the overall story of Ciel seeking those who killed his family and working under the Queen to draw his enemies to him, is quite compelling even as it makes you question the logic of those actions.
Angela is also a rich and interesting character, even though she is sadistic and a little bit crazed. Though she isn’t in all that much of the series she is definitely a highlight and her appearances signal some big movements in the plot.
Lastly, we have probably the most annoying aspect of the show. The other servants in the Phantomhive mansion. While they are useful(?) to the plot in the final episodes, their presence mostly serves as an irritant and delivers some of the poorer comedy found in the show.
I recommend Black Butler for a watch, but I am aware it isn’t for everyone. Let me know your thoughts on this series.
Thanks for reading.
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