If you are looking for part 1 of this debate, it is over on Irina’s blog. Pretty much we decided to debate whether Black Butler 2 is as good as (or better) than Black Butler. So, be sure to check out part 1 and then read the continuation below before sharing your opinion on the matter.
Irina is defending Black Butler 2 while I am working at pulling her arguments apart. We’d both love to know what the rest of you think on this issue so be sure to leave us a comment below.
Round Four: Mythology and Details
I: As I mentioned previously when speaking of Claude, the addition of new demons in season 2 finally fleshed out the mythology of Hell in the Black Butler universe. In season 1 all we actually know of Seb was that he was a demon. Without context, that simply meant that he was much more powerful than your average human but little else.
Season 2 confirmed that Sebastian is not only powerful among humans but quite a formidable demon in his own right. It also affirmed that soul contracts are in fact quite common and, at it’s base at least, Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship isn’t particularly special in any way. At least not for Sebastien. Which makes it even more deliciously grim.
Unfortunately, I think season 2 still left out much of the rules governing demons, hell and their relationships to humans, which I personally find fascinating. This is one of the foundations of the narrative and giving us more information on the subject would help create a much more robust story and universe.
K: I’m going to be honest, at no point when watching Black Butler did I feel I needed an explanation of how contracts worked or the hierarchy in hell. It is odd, that normally such questions would be something I’d want investigated but this show wasn’t about explaining supernatural phenomenon. It simply used the demon contract as a setting for the show and then we moved on. We knew enough in that Sebastian had to obey Ciel’s commands and they had the seal so the prey couldn’t get away, etc, but we didn’t need to know anything beyond that.
That’s actually part of what makes season 2 messy. Is they take a very simple thing and try to over-complicate it. Ciel wasn’t eaten at the end of season one because another demon swooped in and stole the soul first due to the arm that Sebastian had the contract on being torn off. Only the second demon didn’t eat the soul and the Sebastian was able to steal it. And then…
By the end of all the twists and turns, what we end up with is a somewhat convoluted and totally unnecessary mess of mythological jargon to attempt to explain what is going on in the final episodes of season 2 with the various souls, contracts and wishes being thrown about. Earlier, I said what I loved about the narrative of season 1 was the overall simplicity. I can explain what the crux of the story is in less than two sentences. Season 2 on the other hand is just messy because there isn’t a clear focus and they are desperately trying to pack details into a story but they aren’t necessarily needed or wanted.
Really, I found it pretty easy to follow, although not very complete. I wouldn’t say explanations were necessary but we naturally fill in the blanks. So a “contract with the devil” and a “soul” is something we decide for ourselves based on whatever data we have available. Because I’ve seen so many religion based stories, I’ve come to associate these things with a lot of different potential meanings so it is nice to know wich I should be basing myself on.
Moreover, I just love world building. A fully realized fictional universe will always have it’s own set of rules that are used to maintain the internal integrity of the narrative.Without them, what’s to stop the plot from just becoming completely random. I’m certain the writers had at least a rough idea what those rules are and it’s nice on be let in on it.
I like world building well enough but I don’t mind when the writers assume I can fill in some of the gaps myself. As you pointed out earlier with fallen angels, contracts with demons are pretty common fictional fare so most readers/viewers would know more or less what to expect. Still, you are right about internal integrity and ensuring the rules are established and not broken.
Round Five: Ciel’s Character
Who doesn’t love Ciel? Don’t answer that, we all love Ciel. But let’s be really honest guys, season 1 Ciel is pretty flat. He is a one note tsundere, who at random episodes becomes overly emotional without explanation or reason, then goes right back to who he was before. His characterization is pretty shallow. By the end of season 1 I had no clue why he loved Elizabeth or even if he did. I had no idea who the kid was outside of cute and with a great fashion sense.
Part of the problem was the season 1 Ciel is essentially a supporting character. He really just serves as a narrative device used to give Sebastien any motivation to participate in the story. He has no actual foil of his own, no rival or friend to exchange with and no real moments of introspection. His entire season 1 character is defined only by his interactions with Sebastien.
In season 2, first the writers gave him a rival of his own with whom he could spar and bicker, allow us to see much more of his personality. Ciel is a spoiled and rather snobbish aristocratic brat. This part of him only becomes visible though when he is interacting with someone he considers beneath him and doesn’t have any need to use. As Ciel would simply avoid interacting with such people normally, forcing Alois in his path also brought out more personality from Ciel than we’d ever seen before.
Moreover, actually separating Ciel from Sebastien for several episodes, leaving him lost and rudderless, also further refined Ciel as a person and reminded us that he is still a child. We got so much more development for a main protagonist in the 12 episodes of season 2 than in all 24 of season 1.
On this one, I thoroughly disagree.
Ciel is fantastic in season 1. We see a young boy working incredibly hard to maintain a facade as a master of a great house and as someone who has sold their soul to a demon we see a child trying desperately hard not to second guess their resolve. His general distance from others and distrust of most people is quite clear and very understandable considering his history. And his attachment to Elizabeth is very clear even if he understands that their relationship is going nowhere because he has no future. He works to keep her at a distance but also wants her safe and happy and he sways between these emotions which is where some inconsistencies come in but they all make perfect sense given his age and given the situation he is in.
I particularly loved Ciel’s interactions with Abberline during the first season. Abberline is one of the few people that sees Ciel as a child and sees through the facade Ciel has built around him. As a result, it is Abberline’s death that truly shakes Ciel’s certainty in his choices and actions. It is one of the few moments where we see the scared child Ciel really is breaking free of the mould he has pushed himself to fit.
Season 2 Ciel works well enough, save for the nagging feeling that he shouldn’t be alive because he should already be dead, but Season 1 Ciel is where I fell in love with his character.
I did enjoy his interactions with Abberline but to me they felt forced and it seemed a bit of audience manipulation. A slightly contrived relationship to quickly humanize a character that might have not gotten enough exposition.
Personally, I found his relationship with Angelina more revealing and I believe it could have become very interesting indeed had there been a bit more time.
This said, reading Karandi’s arguments, I have to admit I may have been a bit harsh. I still think Ciel was underdeveloped and the second season helped to flesh him out and make him a much more tangible character but season 1 Ciel was still a fine young man. I concede the point.
His interactions with Abberline were definitely audience manipulation. They worked on me, but I definitely concede the point that the relationship was contrived as a means of humanizing Ciel’s character.
I definitely would have liked some more interactions between Ciel and Angelina as that really could have become an even more interesting story. Actually, I think Ciel and Madame Red really could have their own OVA to really flesh out the details of what is one of the better moments in the series.
OOOhhh – Yes! Someone make that OVA.
Round Six: Alois
I LOVE Alois!
I’m going to just agree to disagree given Alois is on my list of most hated characters of all time. I remembered I wrote a fairly apt description of my feelings towards Alois in my review of season 2: “Alois is a horrible human being with no redeeming qualities. Not even his obsessive love for his younger brother can make you genuinely want anything nice to happen to this violent, unstable thug of a human.” That pretty much sums him up for me.
I’m not sure I want to defend the fractured psyche of a deeply traumatized and endlessly abused little boy but morally speaking I don’t really see that much of a difference between him and most Black Butler characters. The demons are…demons. Half the humans are murderers, pedophiles (both usually) who endlessly torture the helpless and innocent just for fun. Ciel just wants revenge and doesn’t particularly care who he crushes to reach his ends and well Alois is the same. And both are children with PTSD….Guys, did I mention this show is a comedy? It is. Drama isn’t even one of the recognized genres of the series…
Good point. All the characters in Black Butler are pretty horrible when you get right down to it from a moral point of view. I think with the others though, I find something fun or possibly salvageable from them whereas I never found anything to like about Alois. And yeah, sometimes it is hard to remember that this show is actually listed as a comedy (as well as action, shounen, supernatural, and historical) when you start discussing the actual subject matter.
I think we’re never going to find common ground on this one. I found Alois likeable and sad. And well, I still LOVE Alois.
Round Seven: Supporting Characters
I also love the Shinigamis. All of them really. But they all have huge, almost caricature like, personalities. Season 1 got dangerously close to overusing Grell and pushing him right over the line from fun to annoying. He almost became a Kramer like character, popping into scenes and episodes for no real reason and chewing up the scenery. That type of character has limited appeal and once the audience gets tired of it, it’s usually unsalvageable.
Weirdo Undertaker fared a little better but I think most fans can imagine him becoming overbearing.
Both characters were essentially relegated to cameos in season 2. The rarity and briefness of their appearances made them so much more precious. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. I was filled with glee every time they came on stage precisely because it was such a scarcity. They became special and welcomed and I was left wanting more, which is always a good thing. Except when it comes to food.
I’m actually going to just agree on this point. Grell in particular. As great as Grell’s character can be, too much Grell is just too much. Grell’s character seems to show up almost at random sometimes and often serves too little purpose so to be honest I’m happy enough for the cameo and gone use.
Undertaker on the other hand I’d have loved to see more of, but not if he doesn’t fit the story, so the absence of Undertaker in the bulk of season 2 is understandable and actually probably one of the better choices. Still, Undertaker in season 1 was pretty fantastic and I don’t think overused.
Ok Undertaker is my favorite character so I agree that he wasn’t overused but I know where the manga takes him and I am grateful the anime avoided that.
Round Eight: The Ending
A beautifully dry and sarcastic ending. Not sure how much more I can say here. I am a huge fan of a slightly mean twist ending, and this one certainly qualifies. I really did not see it coming and it left a smile on my face. I was wondering how the writers would manage to get out of a maudlin depressing ending without completely negating the entire story and this was an elegant and imaginative solution.
And once again, I’ll agree that the ending of season 2 is one of season 2’s strongest points. It is fantastic, ironic, and just works so well.
However, it is an unnecessary ending to a story that had already been brought to a beautiful and dramatic close at the end of season 1. While the twist on the demon contract and Sebastian’s ultimate fate in season 2 is hilarious, I definitely preferred the closure of season 1. Boy makes contract with demon and boy fulfils contract to demon.
Just comparing the final episodes, season 1’s was far more satisfying to me. Mostly because I actually cared about the conflict of season 1, and because it took a deep reflective turn after the violence and allowed the true tragedy of everything Ciel had been through sink in before he willingly accepted his fate. Season 2 doesn’t provide that same closure having another character force a decision on Ciel that amuses and does provide an ending to the conflict of season 2 but ensures that the story gets no definitive ending as Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship is now redefined and ongoing.
I think this ultimately comes down to what it is the individual likes about Black Butler as to whether season 2 works for them. For me, I don’t like unnecessary sequels (which is a category Black Butler 2 definitely falls into) and I didn’t like the heavier focus on the silly and over the top moments at the expense of the more reflective moments season 1 offered.
Yes I WON! That’s what you guys got from this too, right??? Ok ok, Karandi made some pretty good points. Odds are most people will prefer season 1. In fact it’s a pretty well established fact that most people DO prefer season 1 and probably exactly for the reasons laid out here but I consider it a small victory that Karandi went from you should skip season 2, it should not exist, to some individuals may enjoy season 2!
Keep in mind, I’m still going to pretend it doesn’t exist now that we’re done here. Though I definitely think we’ll have to let the readers decide.