Black Butler Season 1 Series Review: One Hell of A Good Time

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.

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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.

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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.


Black Butler Artworks 1
Black Butler Artworks 1


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.

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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.

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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.

Karandi James

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Friday’s Feature: Angels and Demons in Anime

One thing all anime fans know is that if it exists as even a vague idea, somewhere, someone has made an anime about it. Probably more than one someone. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that many stories in anime are built on some of the trappings from the Christian and Catholic church. While some of these stories might attempt something resembling a realistic representation, more often than not, in true anime fashion, an idea is borrowed and then it gets the full anime treatment. And while some people might dislike the way various religious icons and ideologies end up being represented, the end result has been a range of interesting stories that might not otherwise have existed.

Now using religious ideology as the basis of a story, or borrowing heavily from religious texts for characters, themes and ideas, is nothing new, there’s something quite interesting in the way anime tends to do it. With only around 1% of Japan actually identifying as Christian, writers can take quite a few more liberties with the subject matter they are borrowing from without as much fear of audience backlash as writers in more western countries. And while movies like Dogma and the like show that even western writers can get away with subverting the original message, there’s a much greater risk involved.

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And while at some point I’d probably like to get more into the various influences of religion within anime narratives, today I’m really just wanting to look at how angels and demons have been represented in a small section of the medium. There are far too many stories that have borrowed these iconic characters to really generalise across the board, but there’s a definite trend that has surfaced in how angels and demons are being depicted.

The trend I really have noticed is that angels are getting a really bad reputation in a lot of these shows (a trend that also seems to be taking place in the west with fallen angels being a trend that bubbled up after the success of Twilight and the market over-saturated with vampire romance and so people jumped on the fallen angel bandwagon instead). While it might be a little earlier than that bubble, Angela/Ash from Black Butler is a prime example of the type of character and depiction that angels regularly get given.

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Cruel, sadistic, and slightly crazy, Angela is very driven by her goals which may or may not have anything to do with a higher will power. Her actions are justified as righteous in her own mind even as they leave the audience wondering who the real demon in the show is. And that isn’t to say that Sebastian comes off looking saintly given his violent and predatory nature is well known. It’s just that when you compare him side by side with the angel there’s definitely a question of which one is supposed to be in the right. Even the neutral Grim Reapers end up siding against the angel toward the end of the season as their plan threatens to upset the balance of the world.

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If we look at something more recent and comical, Gabriel Drop Out gives us essentially a lazy, drop-out of an angel who’s inherent good nature is so easily corrupted by the pleasures of earth (gaming) and very quickly abandons her original mission. While I didn’t get far into the series, I found this to be an interesting depiction of an angel. It didn’t paint Gabriel into shades of gray, but simply had her become a slacker, which really doesn’t fit with the image of an angel but at the same time didn’t necessarily make her bad either. Throw in the fact that the ‘demonic’ characters in the show seemed to be genuinely sweet and there’s a mess of ideologies going on here that are played for laughs and humour but have probably strayed a fair way from the borrowed religious themes.

Even The Devil is a Part Timer works on subverting the audience’s expectations. It sets up a standard Satan versus Hero situation and Lord Satan (Maou) is corrupt and trying to take over the world. There’s no question of his evil nature in the first episode or of the hero’s righteousness. However, as the series progresses, Emi (the Hero), resorts to stalking, petty rumour spreading, jealousy, and other underhanded tactics while Maou pretty much conforms to the new world’s rules and laws. We also learn that Emi is part angel which begins to subvert the idea of what an angel is before Mitsuki shows up.

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Despite being an angel, Mitsuki is very much on par with Angela from Black Butler. He kidnaps characters, he tortures them while laughing about it, he’s petty and vindictive, and ultimately he’s overwhelmed by the power of Maou. And at that point no one feels even slightly sorry for him because he’s a complete an absolute jerk who totally had it coming.

One anime that takes a different approach is Angel beats where Angel (or Tachibana) is originally portrayed as a cold and efficient killer, but later it is realised she is acting in the best interest of others she’s just a really, really bad communicator and no one had ever taken the time to ask her what she was doing. Turns out she isn’t an angel anyway which kind of makes the title of the show a bit odd (unless you count the fact that the computer program she’s using to generate some of her weapons is called Angel Player). Ultimately though, Tachibana is actually trying to help the other students live a happy school life, make peace with their previous life, and move on. Which is probably the most angelic sounding character I’ve mentioned so far.

Angel Beats

Demons in anime go anywhere from being mindless beasts hell-bent on destruction, to articulate and savvy romantic interests. The defining trait of being evil is questionable in most of these characters and a lot of them are portrayed as being very human or having very human motivations. And regularly there is no connection between demons and any specific religion as they come across more as random monsters then creatures from the pits of hell. Frequently demonic characters are ones a human audience can sympathise with. It’s an interesting trend though it does make you wonder where all the ‘evil’ demons went. You know, the ones that actually wanted to devour human souls and lead us into ruin.

Now as I said at the start, there’s nothing new about the borrowing of icons and ideologies from religion in narratives, and trends in narratives come and go. But it will be interesting to see what sorts of angels and demons we get from here on out.

And on that note, I’d love to know who some of your favourite angelic and demonic characters are from anime so please be sure to leave me a comment below.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Friday’s Feature: Let’s Try Something Different and Build A Harem

I’m going to thank Cactus Matt from Anime Q & A for throwing this tag my way. I have never even considered building a harem and so when I was nominated my brain suddenly went a little bit crazy with the possibilities. Then of course I had to think about when I could respond to the tag and ultimately I decided just to make it my feature for the week. I think this is going to be fun if only because I decided to go all out and not think for a moment about the reality of what such a gathering would be like.

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The Idea:

You are the central protagonist of a harem anime. Pick five characters (of any gender) that fit into a different harem character type. The characters must be from existing anime (but can come from any anime). If you want the full list of original rules, click here.

My Amended Idea:

You are the central protagonist of a harem anime. Pick five characters (of any gender) that will play a particular role within the harem. The characters must be from existing anime (but can come from any anime).

The reason for the change is I don’t really use labels from the types and tropes that this list should probably include (Tsundere, etc). I actually find these labels really limiting as they only focus in on one part of a character, much like the ‘manic pixie girl’ label that gets thrown around. So while I do understand these terms, I tend to avoid using them except when I’m being really sarcastic toward something, so I decided not to use them in my harem.

My Harem

01. The Dangerously Perfect Guy

Okay, we all know this type in fiction, though fortunately few of them exist in real life. This guy can do anything. Literally anything. And he does it perfectly, flawlessly, and looks really good while doing it. Too bad he’ll chew you up and spit you out and not even look back as he moves on to the next meal. And of course, to fulfil this role in my harem I’ve enlisted the aid of one hell of a butler, Sebastian Michaelis, from Black Butler. The one advantage of this, is by default I get Ciel Phantomhive to be part of the harem without using one of my five because Sebastian isn’t going to just join someone else’s harem. So realistically, I’ve somehow connect Ciel into it and Sebastian came along for the ride.

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02. The Smart and Sexy Guy

He doesn’t necessarily have to wear glasses, but why would you turn down a gorgeous looking guy with glasses who also has a brain to back up the look. He’s probably a little bit sharp tongued and he’s probably talked down to you on more occasions than you can count, but he genuinely smiles when you argue back and win a point or two in the verbal sparring match. This guy has a plan at all times, doesn’t respond well to sudden shocks, and isn’t great at expressing emotions, but he’s just too cute because of his awkwardness. So yes, I’ve selected Uryu Ishida from Bleach. He’s smart, deadly with a bow and arrow, he sews, and the guy is seriously stubborn. Plus, he really does rock those glasses.

Uryu Ishida

03. The Guy You Just Want To Hug

He’s like your little brother, only fortunately not. His smile is infectious, his tears make you melt, and all and all, this is the guy you want to hang around and spend time with. He tries hard at everything, he’s always looking out for you, and when he falls down he pulls himself back up but you just know one day he’ll need you. Yep, I had to throw Katsuki Yuri, from Yuri on Ice, on this list. Partly because I actually needed someone nice in my harem, and partly because I really would like to give Yuri a hug. It probably doesn’t hurt that if Yuri is around there’s a good chance Victor might show up.

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04. He’s In His Own World, But One Day He’ll Need You

It’s amazing how many girls in anime fall for the guy who barely know they exist and yet insist on just waiting patiently. And yet, there was one guy I thought of who might just be worth waiting for. Natsume Takashi from Natsume Yuujinchou. The guy literally lives in his own world and at times his human friends get quite forcibly pushed aside, and yet, for someone like that, I could definitely see them being worth the wait. As he slowly opens up to people, there’s such a kind and gentle soul there. Much like with Yuri Katsuki, I’d just like to give Natsume a hug.

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05. Finally, The Bad Boy, Because Every Harem Needs One

I’m going to be honest and point out that I’m not a big fan of bad boys in real life, but in stories they work beautifully. The joy of watching a rebel or rule breaker in a narrative is fun and safe, in real life they are a destabilising factor that is best avoided. But for my fictional harem, I’m throwing one in because that allows me to toss this truly gorgeous guy in, and I’m pretty sure most of you will agree he belongs in the list: Shinya Kougami from Psycho Pass. He’s fighting for his sense of justice, or revenge, and he doesn’t worry about whether or not he has to break the rules to do it. His single-minded focus is attractive as hell, but also dangerous as it is likely to burn those who come too close.

Kougami

Your Thoughts:

Given I’d never put together a harem before, or even considered it, this ended up being a lot of fun. Of course, I then visualised these five guys (six if you count Ciel) in a room together and realised there is no way I’m stepping foot into that room. And with the exception of Natsume, am I noticing a trend in my type of anime guy? Definitely. Now the question would be, if this was a real harem, who would be the OTP? Karandi and…

Nope. Can’t see it. Not with any of them.

I tag (no obligation):


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Characters with a Tragic Backstory

Are there any anime protagonists who have a happy backstory? Because that might be something a bit different given the sheer number of characters who come from a past of misery and despair. Okay, I hadn’t really thought about what I was in for when I started drafting this list and to be honest, it was a bit of a nightmare thinking about whether having your parents burned to death after being sewn together was more tragic than having your entire country torn apart by war and to be honest, those kinds of decisions really can’t be made objectively. This list is definitely based on how emotional I became while watching the characters’ tragedy unfold rather than any kind of definitive measure.

Which anime character has a tragic back story that hit home for you? Let me know in the comments below.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: The entire cast of Angel Beats and Lelouch from Code Geass.


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Number 5: Vash (Trigun)

The guy can’t catch a break in the present with everyone wanting to get the bounty on his head and he’s blamed for so many different disasters. He just wants love and peace. But his current circumstances come directly from the tragedy in his past and while it is pretty much impossible to talk about without spoilers, there’s definitely an evil twin brother involved. Regardless, Vash’s pacifist attitude is almost a protest against the horror that his life has been.

Number 4: Gray (Fairy Tail)

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The entire cast of Fairy Tail should probably be on this list as well, though I haven’t really watched far enough along to the know the details of all of them. But fairly early on in the series we have quite the extended arc that delves in Gray’s past and his training by his teacher and to be honest, that was pretty heart breaking. While Gray came out of it better than his fellow student did, there’s still some pretty deep scars and emotional turmoil there. If we think back even further, the reason he was with the teacher was because of the tragedy with his parents so to be honest we’re just kind of lurching from one disaster to the next when we look at Gray’s childhood.


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Number 3: Scar (Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood)

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What is more cliché than tragic backstory? Tragic backstory that leaves a visible scar. Despite making fun of it, Scar’s story is really quite horrific no matter how you want to look at it. As a survivor of a war that was more of an extermination than a fight and as someone who was forced to carry a power he found repulsive, Scar’s general anger towards everything kind of makes sense. Still, the nightmare doesn’t end as he goes out for revenge. It kind of prolongs the misery of this story.

Number 2: Ciel (Black Butler)

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Child with dead parents cliché? But this one is so much better than just that. Set in the Victorian era a conspiracy of monumental proportions brings down the family that serve the Queen and the child, tormented and humiliated, decides that the perfect solution to this is to take them all down even if he has to sell his soul to the demon who becomes known as Sebastian. The real tragedy here is that even if Ciel succeeds at his plan, his young soul is going to be devoured so he has no future. This isn’t just a tragic backstory. This is a living and breathing tragedy.


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Number 1: Yato (Noragami)

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While we haven’t yet heard all of Yato’s backstory, the pieces the audience have seen don’t exactly paint a great picture. Known as a god of calamity who would take on any wish isn’t exactly something that seems like it would be a pleasant existence. Couple in some real daddy issues with the as yet unseen string puller and Yato’s past is complex and has some fairly far reaching consequences. For those who know the silly facade Yato puts on in the presence, even they can see that there’s some deep pain buried underneath. I’m hoping when we finally get the whole story it manages to match the build up but to be honest, a lot of the time seeing Yato’s past makes me want to bring him home and feed him cookies.

And that’s my list but I’d love to know what would make your list.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Fridays Feature: Black Butler 2 – One Hell of a Debate Part 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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Conclusion

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.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Non-Weapon Items Used as Weapons

Alright, this list could literally go on forever because anime has used a lot of items that we usually don’t consider weapons in fights. Cards, coins, crosses, hair pins… You name it and some anime character somewhere has attempted to weaponise it (probably successfully). I narrowed this list down to characters and items that were genuinely fun to watch in action and where the item was used in its standard form and didn’t have some magic transformation applied to it (sorry Orihime’s hairpins but that ruled you out). Weapon effectiveness was not the primary consideration which explains a few of the choices below. That said, this was a fun list to make and I’d really love to see what you would have included on your list so please leave a comment below.

Please Note: There may be some spoilers below.

Honourable mention this week goes to Lin Shaolee in Black Cat for their creative use of a scarf as a weapon (though a lot of the weapons in Black Cat could have ended up on this list). The other honourable mention:

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I’m just going to leave this here and get on with my list.

Number 5: D Gray Man – Soccer Ball

You have to admit, soccer is not the first thing you think about when someone mentions D Gray Man. In a show full of weird weapons as every Innocence is just a little bit unique, Daisya Barry’s stands out because it is just a ball and he is just a kid playing even when fighting for his life. For a character that only really appeared in three episodes his impact is enormous because his personality is a breath of fresh air, the impact he has on others is incredible, and then he dies tragically (as do most side characters in D Gray Man so I guess we all saw it coming). Still, odd ball weapon choice and still incredibly awesome to watch.

Number 4: Hunter X Hunter – Fishing Rod

Again, Hunter X Hunter is full of plenty of weird items being used as weapons, but I think Gon’s fishing rod is a classic. I kind of thought it was cute when he was training to be a hunter and was using a fishing rod, and then the more we learned about being a hunter the weirder it seemed and some of the situations Gon ended up using that rod are fantastically non-sensical and yet it always ends up pretty effective. But mostly this made the list because it so suits Gon’s personality. I did notice that he was using it less often as the story progressed and I still have a fair way to go through the series so I’m kind of hoping it doesn’t get totally forgotten later.

Number 3: Black Butler – Cutlery

Did anyone seriously think I was going to make this list without adding Sebastian to it? The reason this isn’t number one is because I’m pretty positive the only reason these weapons are effective is because they are being thrown by a demon. I somehow don’t think the average person is going to throw a fork hard enough to penetrate skull from a distance (I could be wrong but I hope not). Still, watching Sebastian in action with the silverware… Just another reason he is one hell of a butler.

Number 2: Soul Eater – Tombstone

For a show about people who can literally transform into weapons, Sid’s first fight might seem a little underwhelming given he is just hurling his own tombstone around. And yet, in any other show awesome. Here’s a zombie literally fighting off his attackers by pummeling them with his own tombstone. There’s a certain level of craziness to that idea that really appeals and it doesn’t hurt that this fight is the first time we see Maka and Black Star ‘working’ together.

Number 1: Love, Chuunibyou and Other Delusions – Pigtails

Yep, it is the Dekimori Spin and other random attacks by Dekimore (aka Sanae). Okay, her attacks are almost never effective but they are always awesome to watch whether we see her own delusional version of the attack or whether we see the real world action, it is always fun. Including the time she tangles herself in her own hair and falls over. I also liked the time she increased the weights on her hair fora more effective attack and then couldn’t even really move. Yes, weaponised pigtails. We definitely need to see more of this even though I’m pretty sure most villains will not be shaking in their boots.

There’s my list for the week and as I said before, I’d love to hear what you would add on your list. What’s your favourite non-weapon item that has been weaponised?


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Karandi James.

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Guys with Black Hair

Last week we did the list of top 5 anime females with black hair focussing on the cool beauties of the anime world. This week my attention shifts to the male characters and I think my main focus here was focussed and dependable. That said, there are an enormous number of males with ebony hair that I just could not fit onto my list so I would love to know your thoughts and who would have been included on your list.

Please note there are some spoilers in the descriptions below.

Honourable Mentions: Jiroh (Black Blood Brothers), Kazuya Shibuya (Ghost Hunt) and Gilbert Nightray (Pandora Hearts), plus the dozens of others that were considered and ultimately left off the list.

Number 5: Hei (Darker Than Black)

Whether he’s on a mission, infiltrating an organisation, reporting in, apparently having a break, Hei is always focussed on his primary goal, find out what happened to his sister. He might be a crazy powerful contractor but even before he became a contractor he was feared for his skills. he is one guy you do not want to cross because once he sets his sights on something, one way or another he’s going to make it happen and he’s going to look really good while doing it.

Number 4: Kirito (Sword Art Online)

Another highly focussed character and one I very much enjoy watching in action, Kirito does not let anything stand between him and his current goal, not even death. Plus, once you get through his protective shell and anti-social exterior, he’s actually a genuinely caring person who looks after those he considers his friends. While his tunnel focus might work against him when he gets fixated on single points and sometimes misses the bigger picture, in terms of drive it is hard to argue against his actions.

Number 3: Kuroh Yatogami (K)

If you are looking for dedication and loyalty than you can’t go much further than Kuroh. Not to mention the guy can cook and rocks that pink apron. Admittedly, there’s a bit of a disconnect between his good looks and personality when fighting to his more laid back persona and he definitely has some personality traits that are a little questionable, such as listening to the recordings of his dead master for guidance on a daily basis. Still, he’s a strong fighter, wields a sword, has an absolute sense of duty, and ultimately does what he believes is right. He is one very cool character for this list.

Number 2: Shinya Kougami (Psycho Pass)

I’d like to let the pictures speak for me on this one. Kougami is tough, focussed, and relatively unstoppable once he puts his mind to things. He’s also really great to watch in action. However, he isn’t a muscle head who only relies on his fists, he’s got a good head on his shoulders and knows when to use it. A pure joy to watch as he unravels the mysteries in Psycho Pass and seeks out his revenge.

Number 1: Sebastian Michaelis (Black Butler)

Was there ever a moment of doubt that Sebastian would not be number one on this list? The guy can do anything and look amazing while doing it. Okay, he might be a demon so has an unfair advantage. In a fair world, Kougami would be the number 1, however fair or unfair, Sebastian is perfect, except for the whole eating people’s souls things. That’s a minor hiccup in an otherwise flawless persona.

Alright, I’m done so I’m handing it over to you for your top 5 guys with black hair.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Sebastian Moments in Black Butler

There’s no denying I really love season 1 of Black Butler, and a lot of that love comes from an overall love of the demonic butler, Sebastian. So my list this week focusses on my top 5 moments with the guy who makes everything look easy and he does it while being pretty easy on the eyes as well.

Please Note: There will be spoilers for season 1 Black Butler in the list below.

Honourable mention: Every encounter Sebastian has with a cat (seriously, who doesn’t love a guy who loves cats).

Number 5: Episode 24 – Sebastian fights Angela/Ashe

It is kind of an obvious moment given it is the final fight of the season and its demon butler vs angel butler. Still, this had the potential to be the usual kind of overpowered fire fight where the characters suddenly turn into coloured lights and mash about in the sky giving the audience almost no sense of the battle. Instead, we get a rare glimpse of Sebastian’s true demonic side and while the details of the fight are hidden, you almost feel it is better that way (Ashe certainly would agree).

Number 4: Episode 2 – The signature cutlery flingling

This became a fairly standard move by the butler, to the point where it was totally ripped off by wannabe demon butler  Claude in season 2, but this is the first time the audience sees this move and it is pretty awesome. Admittedly, I’m not entirely convinced of the credibility of using serving trays to stop bullets, nor am I convinced that forks and knives have the penetrating power shown in this sequence regardless of how hard they are tossed, but it is still Sebastian showing off his very classy self and to be honest, it looks amazing.

Number 3: Episode 20 – Angela tortures Sebastian

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After being ordered by Ciel not to take any action, Sebastian undergoes torture by the angel herself. It is an odd moment for the character because he is being true to his absolute loyalty to his master, and yet still acting in a way that is totally contrary  to his sense of self-preservation. What is great about this moment is that while Angela might be the one dishing out the torture, you can’t help but feel that Sebastian is the one winning in this scene.

Number 2: Episode 1 – Sebastian locks the guest in the oven

I absolutely adore the first episode of Black Butler. It starts out with darkness but quickly switches to fairly mundane and innocent acts of stupidity and basically makes you wonder where it is going. It becomes more and more sinister but it isn’t until the moment when Sebastian speaks to the guest in the oven that you really appreciate how dark this series will get at times. For all the stupid, goofball comedy moments, for all the ordinary investigations and politics and business, at the heart of this story is a pact with a demon and episode 1 makes that clear in one simple scene that ensures you never forget Sebastian’s real nature.

Number 1: Episodes 5 + 6 – Sebastian fights Grell

For all the times when Sebastian looks cool and unruffled by whatever problem that has recently been thrown toward his master, his fight with Grell was one of the few times it looked like he might lose his studied calm. Admittedly, he still had the upper hand for most of the fight, but he was forced to resort to a few cheap tricks and wasn’t overly impressed with the measures he had to take to follow Ciel’s orders. For Grell’s part, Grell is just an awesome character and this was really the audience’s introduction to Grell’s very entertaining presence. Definitely one of my favourite Black Butler moments ever, and my favourite moment with Sebastian.

Over to you – which Sebastian moment is your favourite?


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Black Butler Book of Murder Series Review

Okay, you already know I’m a fan of Black Butler and I loved Book of Circus but hated Black Butler 2. I bought Book of Murder on disc blind (never watched) and finally got around to viewing it. How does this entry stack up against the others in the series?

Overview:

The Queen is at it again giving Ciel an unhelpful request to host a dinner party but then one of the guests is murdered and of course due to a storm the suspect must be amongst the guests (or the hosts).

Review:

Five minutes in and Mei Rin has her glasses off and is shooting. This is a bit more action driven then we’ve seen Black Butler before. That said, after an initial skirmish that serves no purpose other than to point out that the Queen’s Butlers (messengers, whatevers) are a little dodgy (or a lot dodgy given they didn’t die facing off against Ciel’s staff), the series settles down into its usual routine of cat and mouse, dripping with atmosphere and the usual over exaggerated mystery feeling without actually delivering much in the way of mystery.

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I actually loved this. It has all the components that made the original Black Butler series entertaining but with only 123 minutes run time the story is concluded in a single sitting and everything is nicely wrapped up. At least as much as anything ever is in Black Butler keeping in mind that both Book of Circus and Book of Murder are set somewhere in the timeline before the end of season 1. What that means is the overall story of Ciel and Sebastian isn’t going anywhere in these side stories though we are getting some more understanding of the depth of their relationship which is a nice takeaway for when you go back and watch the original series.

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The problem with Book of Murder is that unless you’ve already watched the other entries in Black Butler, a lot of it isn’t going to make sense. Other than a few side characters making reference to Ciel’s eye patch, the significance of it is not explained and while it’s unlikely that you don’t know that Sebastian’s a demon it isn’t in any revealed early on in the piece so likely you won’t have a clue how the situation is going to get resolved. Not to mention, his standard line about being one hell of a butler seems to have finally taken a vacation. Also, the flashback the servants have of being recruited while crying in the rain provides enough to be a solid link for those of us watching through the lens of a fan but for new arrivals to the series it will just be another baffling fact that doesn’t give enough context to really make any sense. Lastly, the final twist and conclusion rely very heavily on you knowing what happened in Book of Circus, and they manage to leave a dangling inconsistency in the story that doesn’t match up with the original time line of the anime (unless events in other stories we’ve yet to see eliminate that inconsistency).

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What Book of Murder does succeed at is providing some light entertainment for those who like classic locked room mysteries with a bit of supernatural nonsense mixed in. Also, if you ever wanted to watch Ciel actually look distressed (not ticked off or shocked but actually distressed) then your chance will come during the first part (even if it isn’t actually genuine). Ciel also smiles several times throughout the two episodes, though most of these are kind of cruelly amused smiles rather than ones of genuine mirth.

And that’s all I’ve got on this one. The music is standard Black Butler fair. We’ve got our usual cast of characters lined up and the new additions mostly just fill the roles of other characters that for the sake of narrative continuity can’t be around in this particular arc. Character and background design is all much the same as well. Basically, if you like Black Butler, pick up Book of Murder. If you haven’t liked the other entries then continue to steer clear.

Tuesday’s Top 5: Characters that are not all there.

Okay, anime is full of zany, quirky characters but every now and then we come across a character who you just have to wonder what is going on inside their head (if anything). There characters can be fun and amusing or they can be completely annoying but they usually leave a fairly lasting impression. For the most part I’ve tried to avoid genuinely insane characters (or characters that have a mental illness where it is being treated seriously) or master mind villains because they fall into a category all of their own.

Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.

Honourable mentions Sylphy (Amagi Brilliant Park), Isaac and Miria (Baccano), Cassandra (Black Blood Brothers), Barry the Chopper (Full Metal Alchemist), Seo (Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun) and Hajime (Hamatora).

Number 5: The Colourless King from K

While at first he seems like the mastermind behind the violence between the Kings and it feels like he might have fallen into the villain category, once we get more time with the Colourless King it becomes clear that this is a very unhinged character. What we don’t ever find out is whether or not they were unhinged prior to taking on the personalities of all the people he had taken over or whether he had slowly become that way. Whichever way, this character (brief though their appearance is) definitely manages to steal the show with their multiple personality monologue. That said, this character while unhinged is still very effective at working through their plan and very nearly succeeded at achieving their goals.

Number 4: Schokolade from Jormungand

Sometimes I don’t know if she is effective and actually smarter than she looks or if she is just a food and money obsessed ditz. In a show about arms dealers and government organisations, Schokolade is decidedly a small time character working under other people (or being bribed by them). While it is clear she is being used, it is also clear that she seems to be enjoying herself and usually come out of the situation with what she wants. I have no idea how this character survived through this story though.

Number 3: Karuta Roromiya from Inu X Boku SS

Karuta is another food obsessed girl and she is one spacey character. It is difficult to know what she is thinking but as Watanuki points out, she always knows what she is doing even if the rest of us don’t get it. Besides, how can we hate someone who helps small animals, likes to eat, and can transform into a giant skeleton if push comes to shove?

Number 2: Ladd Russo from Baccano

While he is definitely a villain he isn’t a crazy evil genius. Ladd is just… obsessed with violence? An egomaniac? Completely disconnected from reality? It’s hard to know but a character who chooses to wear white in order to show the blood better definitely deserves a mention as someone who isn’t all there. And Ladd is such an upbeat murderer. That said, other than hunting the thrill of violence and death, his motives remain totally in the dark as does any reason for his warped personality. I wasn’t even a little upset when he was beaten and had to abandon the train though his survival was a little regrettable.

Number 1: Grell Sutcliff from Black Butler

There’s not a lot you can really say about Grell except that he knows exactly who he is and he isn’t about to change. This is one flamboyant character who enjoys a good fight as much as a good flirt (though in Sebastian’s case Grell would love to go beyond flirting). Grell’s favourite colour is red and he personifies the fiery and diverse nature of this colour from passion through to violence. That said, we know next to nothing about Grell’s real feelings beneath the antics and we know next to nothing about how Grell came to be how he is. This character marches to the beat of their own drum and it works.

So that’s the list this week. Who would you have put on yours?