I’ve been a big fan of Black Butler since I first saw the anime many years ago and I come back to this series again and again. The Book of… anime that came later (Book of Circus, Book of Murder, Book of Atlantic) have all been solid entertainment. My only real issue with the franchise as a whole comes from season 2, but I’ll address that in my season 2 review (or you can read my debate with Irina around season 2 here).
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.
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. I made the absolute mistake of doing a rewatch of this series with someone who teaches history and wow their list of complaints was fairly long. This happens when anime takes on almost any historical setting, particularly one outside of Japan. So if historical accuracy is needed for your enjoyment, again, Black Butler isn’t really going to fit with your preferences and it is better to know that before starting it.
For those still with me, this is why you should watch Black Butler.
Ciel is a really interesting character to watch throughout the course of the series. No, he doesn’t really develop as a character. He comes into this series pretty much 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 and also one who very specifically wants to find out the truth about what happened and ensure those responsible are made to take responsibility, but won’t burn the world down just to achieve that end.
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. Plus, on occasion he is tempted to waver, either directly by Angela or through his thoughts about what might have been.
However, regardless of what it costs now, he knows the decision he made and he will hold on his path. Honestly, I just find him really interesting to follow in his journey and would have been happy to see him through to the end whether he succeeded or not.
And then there is Sebastian.
He is polished and cool and refined and he steals every scene he is in. Perhaps some viewers will find him 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. Particularly some of Sebastian’s double meanings in his advice to Ciel. Sebastian also has some of the coolest moments of the series, which makes sense given he most definitely steals every scene he is in.
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.
Other characters also pull their weight in the series. Angela is 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.
Similarly, supporting cast members such as Grell and the Undertaker definitely punch above their weight for entertainment and remain consistently good characters in all the follow on stories that have come out. Even Lau manages to be pretty solidly entertaining even if a lot of the time it is hard to know why he’s actually in the scene – until suddenly he becomes important.
Though it isn’t all sadistic butlers, angels, and missions for the queen. Probably the most annoying aspect of the show are 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. On rewatch they kind of grow on you, but really a lot of their scenes feel more slapstick and usually the plots that heavily feature the three of them are the less critical and less interesting in the series.
I would definitely recommend this series as it remains one hell of a good time. It won’t work for everyone but that’s true of most stories. Still, I’d love to know what you thought of the series and if you are also a fan I’d love to know what your favourite part of the show was.
Images from: Black Butler. Dir. T Shinohara. A-1 Pictures. 2008.
Thank-you for reading 100 Word Anime.
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