Black Butler Season One Part One ReviewBriana Lawrence
He's one hell of a servant? No, that's not it, but Sebastian Michaelis is one hell of a something. The year is 1888 and the Phantomhive name is one of the most prestigious ones this side of London. The lord of the manor is Ciel Phantomhive who is one hell of a stylish twelve-year old. He solves mysteries for the Queen as her "watchdog" while searching for answers to his own questions. Who dared to disgrace the Phantomhive name? And most important, want time will Sebastian have dinner ready?
As the series starts you're immediately thrust into its more gritty undertones. Something has happened to Ciel Phantomhive, something bad, something that has made him decide to enter into a contract with a demon. The price is high and there will most certainly be pain involved, but Ciel is past the point of being bitter and in one breath decides to throw it all away for a chance to find the ones responsible for his anguish. Don't get too settled in on this angst. Just as the curtain is covered in pitch black feathers the scene changes, we're in the Phantomhive manor, and this hell of a butler -- get use to that phrase -- is going about his daily routines in a rather comical fashion. He's stuck with a maid who can't see even with her large glasses, a gardener who uses weed killer on everything, a cook who believes that flame throwers are better than stoves, and... Tanaka -- ho ho ho.
So is this a comedy? No, not quite. This series has a little bit of everything. That smile the gorgeous butler wears is just a bit too diabolical, those eyes a bit too narrowed, and is he actually threatening to bake a man in the oven?! Meanwhile, how is Ciel, at the tender age of twelve, able to deal with the death of his parents and the responsibilities tied to the Phantomhive name? Most would be left traumatized, but instead Ciel is focused and uses that demon contract for all that its worth. The anime mixes the humor and the heavy moments perfectly. Just when you're losing your breath from how intense the story gets you're able to take a deep breath, relax, and watch Sebastian attempt to train a giant dog named Pluto.
The thing that makes Black Butler so engaging is its characters and the stories that surround them. You're laughing at Ciel's crazy aunt one minute as she feels Sebastian up, the next you feel a pain in your heart as her back story is revealed. The woman did lose her sister, didn't she? And her darling nephew doesn't light up the room the way he used to. Next, you find yourself chuckling as Ciel's fiancee decorates his house in bright pink then suddenly you realize that there's no way that Ciel will ever smile like that again. Whatever happiness he could've had with her is gone, though there are times when you just know he cares for her but you wonder does it even matter? Sure he doesn't want her mixed in with the danger, but he's made a deal with the devil and he's not backing down. In fact, you really don't want him to. Ciel Phantomhive is not meant to be happy. Despite those happy flashbacks of running around his backyard the series remembers that hey, he entered into this contract, therefore, his life is going to be one full of sadness and heartache.
But is he ready for it?
As bratty as Ciel seems to be it's that attitude that makes his character interesting. He's a Phantomhive, a proud nobleman who is to be treated with respect. You almost want him to be a snobby little so and so, telling lies like adults and smirking even as he's being held captive. He's not going to sit in the corner and cry; he's going to get revenge no matter what the cost. It's the moments that are too much for him that are the most intense, when you know he has bit off more than he can chew but is too proud to admit it.
And then there's Sebastian, the biggest enigma of all. The perfect butler who can bake a cake and kill enemies with a fist full of silverware. While we know he's in it for the sheer amusement of Ciel's misery and the promise of a good meal -- he's going to devour his soul, kids -- you start to wonder if he really cares for this young boy. He certainly goes through enough hassle over him. Fighting mobsters, a certain chainsaw wielding shinigami (grim reapers) who wants to be his Juliet, and dreadful hounds that shed all over the place. You start to think Sebastian most certainly cares! then in an instant you're questioning yourself well actually, maybe he doesn't. The relationship between master and butler make up the crust of this series. Watching the two interact is a joy, from small requests of make me a parfait to deadlier commands kill Jack the Ripper it's terribly fun to watch.
The first half of the series only hints at the answers of Ciel's quest for the truth. It does a great job at developing an intense build up -- humor, to action, to murder, to something much darker -- that leaves you wanting more. With top notch animation, a soundtrack that brings you back to the 1800s, and mysteries at every turn Black Butler is a must have.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.