Ciel Phantomhive is a somber young earl with sophisticated tastes. The
eyepatch that obscures his right eye hides more than just a pool of shimmering
sapphire - it conceals a dark and terrifying secret that will eventually destroy
Ciel and all that he stands for. And his loyal servant Sebastian Michaelis?
Well, let's just say he's one hell of a butler. Funimation's gothic
tale of aristocracy and supernatural elements Black Butler: Complete
Seasons 1 + 2, now available as two exquisite Blu-ray/DVD combos, hits
a home run with its masterful blend of drama, black comedy, and mystery that
weave an addictive tale of a boy and his domestic servant.
The young earl Phantomhive, having lost
his parents only years ago in a bizarre tragedy, has grown up cold, calculating,
and dead-set on seeking revenge. There's not a shred of compassion to be found
behind those dazzling blue eyes; only anger and sorrow on the left, and the
binding contract he formed with demon Sebastian Michaelis on the right.
The seal embodies all that's sacred between the two parties. Sebastian, for
all intents and purposes, belongs to Ciel for the life of the contract. Once
Ciel has uncovered the mystery of who murdered his parents and made a mockery of
the Phantomhive name, the demonic butler he calls an ally right now is given
clearance to devour his soul.
Knowing that, Ciel's certainly made of stronger stuff than most of us, but in
the end that's what makes Black Butler so intriguing. The silent rage of Ciel
combined with the occasional weakness and fragility he so fears to exhibit
juxtaposed with Sebastian's subtle darkness creates tension that even the
greatest of the Grim Reapers (not counting bumbling Grell Sutcliff, of course)
would have difficulty cutting through. Will Sebastian truly stay Ciel's faithful
servant until the end? And is Ciel's soul so tempting that a cunning and
beautiful demon would willingly demean himself, taking up the mantle of a mere
butler, knowing he'll receive the diminutive earl's tender soul in exchange?
Aside from the brilliant, chilling dynamics (and are-they-or-aren't-they
romantic moments seen in interactions between Ciel and Sebastian) a colorful
cast of characters deliver satisfying moments of comedy and intrigue. Ciel
serves as the Queen of England's "guard dog," tasked with solving crimes of the
supernatural sort for the good of the land, and with the aid of Sebastian
thwarts the well-intentioned plans of Scotland Yard, or the Metropolitan Police
Service. With the help of Sebastian, Ciel is often able to get to the root of
problems the Yard simply glosses over or doesn't consider, leading to often
hilarious tensions between the two parties.
The Phantomhive servants offer well-paced humorous filler episodes as well,
with former test subjects, assassins, and soldiers rounding out the list of help
for the prestigious family. Some particularly memorable shenanigans involve the
trio who, in a bid to please one of Ciel's more prestigious clients as the heir
to the Funtom Toy Company, completely destroy dinner and its accoutrements, left
to Sebastian to rectify. It's best to savor the laughs when they're served up in
Black Butler, as they run few and far between - it's a dark ride from start to
finish, especially once you reach the series' second season, split into thirteen
episodes as opposed to the first series' 26.
Season two offers an insightful look into a brand new threat to the
Phantomhive name, as well as Ciel's livelihood himself. Answers from the first
season are answered with swift closure and completeness that stray from the
manga series, but offer fan service and a rather unexpected end to the series
that you won't soon forget. While it does manage to leave some rather messy plot
enigmas less than tidy, it’s still a serviceable follow-up to the first season.
Melancholy strings and aristocratic, somber melodies accompany clean, bright
visuals. This is a great-looking anime. And standout performances from Brina
Palencia (Ciel) and J. Michael Tatum (Sebastian) are both convincing and real -
Sebastian's distinct, regal English accent is swoon-worthy. And Palencia's role
as Ciel highlights the selfish ambition of a young earl quite nicely. Both
fantastic efforts from the dub actors, comparable to the excellent Japanese
track. Even after hearing Tatum in a recent hit, Eden of the East, it seems
Sebastian Michaelis is the role he was truly meant to play.
Funimation's Black Butler Complete Season Blu-ray/DVD combo sets
span the first season's 26 spellbinding episodes and Black
Butler II's 13 suspenseful vignettes, leading up the series' shocking
conclusion. Six additional OVA episodes accompany the second season; one-shot
tales that supplement your first (or third, or fourth) viewing, and gorgeous
cases accompany each box should you wish to compact both into one smaller
package to display on your shelf. It's a mournful, hypnotically gorgeous tale of
vengeance, redemption, and even love in the strangest of places that will no
doubt linger long after you've rushed through both seasons. For one hell of a
butler story, Black Butler, or Kuroshitsuji, is your best bet.