This Black Butler has one hell of a catch phrase.
Black Butler. It’s one of the manga series I saw cluttering the Borders stores that I visited as they were taking their final breaths. I didn’t really pay it much heed; the art I didn’t find appealing and, more importantly, it’s still a serialized work with plenty of volumes — not something I’d wanna invest in and jump into. But when I saw the anime available on Netflix, I had to give it a go. It didn’t disappoint.
As the new head of the powerful Phantomhive family, Lord Earl Ciel Phantomhive serves directly under Queen Victoria as her “guard dog,” solving unnatural cases and fulfilling any request that the monarchy deems important. Ciel, only twelve years old, was orphaned shortly before the start of the series and finds himself bearing many burdens on his shoulders. Fortunately, he has some unnatural help to aid in solving unnatural problems — Sebastian Michaelis. Sebastian, in his own words, is simply “one hell of a butler,” but his words hint at a more sinister nature. Able to perform curious feats of strength and other oddities, Sebastian is absolutely devoted to his charge, Ciel, but the exact reason for his fervent loyalty remains a mysterious to all but the pair. It is this bond that they share that will not only dictate the future of England, but Ciel’s very soul.
Those familiar with Black Butler may notice that I used the phrase “one hell of a butler.” I watched the series in its English audio version and I was thoroughly impressed with both Ciel and Sebastian’s voices, though several minor characters had extremely farfetched and hackneyed English accents that made me want to plunge my head into a bucket of ice water. All in all, though, an admirable dubbing job — I’ve seen a few episodes in Japanese and I find the English version to be a bit more believable since it takes place in England. This is more noticeable with all the English lines that the Japanese version preserves, like “Yes, my Lord,” or the song London Bridge.
Another interesting thing to note is that the series deviates greatly from its manga counterpart. Given that the anime story comes to a conclusion within the usual 24 episode bounds and the manga series is still ongoing, there are many creative differences. What I like about Black Butler as a series is that it manages to showcase the many faces of Ciel Phantomhive who many would consider to be extremely haughty, arrogant and taciturn. But despite all of his icy speech, he is still just a twelve-year-old boy, and it’s interesting to see Sebastian’s reactions to Ciel’s behavior, especially since he willingly subjects himself to being subservient to the young Earl. Although Ciel is the one in control, Sebastian often tries to make Ciel second guess his decisions by playing the devil’s advocate, but being immediately supportive and usually delighted that Ciel was able to resist having his actions coerced by Sebastian’s own words. It’s an interesting push and pull relationship where conflict runs rampant at all times under otherwise innocent speech and scenarios.
As the duo and the tenants of the Phantomhive estate continue to unearth the underground mysteries of Europe, an interesting spin on real history begins to emerge. I’ll spare the details, but it’s an interesting (if laughably unrealistic) take on Queen Victoria and her reign.
Though the action scenes in the series are somewhat frequent, the S-class untouchability of Sebastian detracts a bit from the overall suspense. It’s near or at the same level as Alucard in the Hellsing manga/anime … there’s not really a foe in the series that seems to be able to stand up to Sebastian’s bad-assery. Though to be frank, Black Butler isn’t really much of an action series as much as it is a politically charged mystery series, so I’ll excuse the less-than-stellar adaption of (what I assume to be) tame manga action scenes to its animated counterpart. All in all, an admirable series worthy of viewing, especially since it’s available on a majority of free and pay-to-watch streaming services at the moment.
Character Ranking – Black Butler
- Ciel Phantomhive
- Elizabeth Middleford
- Sebastian Michaelis
- Madame Red