One hell of a show.
What They Say:
Ciel Phantomhive is the most powerful boy in all of England, but he bears the scars of unspeakable suffering. Forced to watch as his beloved parents were brutally murdered, Ciel was subsequently abducted and violently tortured. Desperate to end his suffering, the boy traded his own soul for a chance at vengeance, casting his lot with the one person won whom he could depend: Sebastian, a demon Butler summoned from the very pits of hell. Together, they’ll prowl the darkest alleys of London on a mission to snuff out those who would do evil.
They’re a rare sight, these two: the Butler who dismembers with dazzling cutlery—and the Young Master who carries the devil’s marking. Rest assured that wherever they may be headed, it’ll be one hell of a ride.
The DVD language tracks come in English 5.1 Dolby Surround and Japanese Stereo with English subtitles. The Blu-ray language tracks come in Dolby TrueHD English 6.1 and Japanese 2.0. Overall, the quality was solid, but I did have difficulty hearing some of the lower-talking characters. Other than that, the sound was fine.
No specifications are provided for the DVDs, other than the aspect ratio. The Blu-ray is in 1080p high definition in 16×9 aspect ratio from a SD remaster. The video quality is excellent with no discernable issues.
The Blu-ray and DVDs come in a standard Blu-ray combo pack housed in a slipcover. The front of the slipcover features Ciel and Sebastian in a fairly erotic pose. Ciel, dressed in a puffy white shirt, stands in front of Sebastian. The two hold hands and Sebastian places his free hand on the boy’s shoulder. Ciel wears a leather bracelet on his right wrist that is connected to a collar around Sebastian’s throat. They stand against a black and gray background and black feathers fall from the sky around them. I found it rather disturbing because of the erotic nature of their body language. If these were two adult men, I wouldn’t have an issue, but Ciel is a prepubescent boy, so that adds a whole other dimension to it.
The spine (along with the rest of the slipcase) is dominated by black and purple. It features the show’s title in a rather sedate font and a picture of Ciel. The back cover features the standard show summary, screenshots, and Blu-ray and DVD specifications. The actual Blu-ray case differs on the front and the spine. Ciel stands in the background on the front cover, large and commanding. Sebastian stands in the foreground, smaller than Ciel. He pulls on his right glove with his teeth while pointing cutlery at the viewer. The spine also differs in that the character picture is Sebastian, not Ciel. The back cover remained the same. Overall, it’s a solid case design with a strong aesthetic design. It also doesn’t take up too much room on the shelf, which is always a bonus.
I watched the Blu-ray for this viewing. The menu is the same for all discs: scenes from the show take up the majority of the screen while a vaguely French song plays in the background. Underneath the video lies a strip hosting the various play and extra functions. It’s a nice, functional design that I quite like, and the song was subtle and low, so it didn’t drive me crazy when I left the menu playing for some time.
This set comes with some pretty decent extras: audio commentaries; BECCA musician profile; “The Story Thus Far” with narration from Tanaka; Bonus episode: “His Butler, Performer”; clean OP/ED.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Ciel Phantomhive stands as one of the most important people in Victorian England. He is the heir to the Phantomhive fortune and head of the Phantomhive toy company, as well as the Queen’s guard dog—dispatching threats arising in the country’s underworld, both supernatural and mundane. Ciel fulfills his functions admirably even though he’s only a boy. Of course, it helps that he has one hell of a butler. He butles, he cleans, he protects his master and disposes of threats at Ciel’s pleasure. Every action he performs he does to perfection, much to the chagrin of the other servants who strive to please the black butler at every turn.
The butler, Sebastian, is actually a demon. He answers the boy’s call as Ciel lies dying from torture by a mysterious group who also killed his parents. Rage burns in the child’s heart and it draws in the demon. The two enter into a pact: Sebastian will return to Ciel to life and assist him in his quest for revenge, but once that revenge is fulfilled, he will consume the boy’s soul. Ciel is fine with that.
The funny thing about the situation is that Sebastian really is one hell of a butler. He excels at everything he tries—except whipping the other servants into shape. He is witty, urbane, and charming in a way that only a devil can pull off. His personality plays off well against Ciel’s, which is cold, calculating, and more than a little cruel. In an odd way, the two share a deep bond that goes beyond their pact. The two display genuine affection for each other as well as a mutual respect. This bond actually worried me at first, because I thought that the show would cop out on the consummation of the deal at the end. Thankfully, I was worried for nothing, because the show ends perfectly.
I’ll return to the end in a moment, but for now I want to return to the general setup of the plot and discuss the supporting characters. In many ways, Black Butler runs like a typical television show. It possesses an overarching storyline, but not every episode deals with it. Some of the episodes have nothing to do with the mystery of the people who attacked Ciel and murdered his parents. These other episodes either build up the world more, or they add something to the characters. It’s a nice balance that keeps the show running on a smooth keel.
However, the same can’t be said for the supporting characters. As is often the case with anime, some of the supporting characters are too over-the-top to the point of being annoying. The two worst offenders in this work are the maid Mey-Rin, and the Grim Reaper Grell Sutcliff. Like the other members of the household staff, Mey-Rin’s primary story function is that of comic relief. She wears thick glasses that make it impossible for her to see, so she constantly bumps into and breaks things. She also talks like Eliza Doolittle, only jacked up to 11. I found her voice to be quite grating at times.
Grell’s voice doesn’t really grate on me, but I don’t like how he’s portrayed as either homosexual or bisexual. He appears first as a rather straight-laced person, but once his identity as a Grim Reaper is exposed, his personality becomes gregarious and flamboyant and he professes a strong attraction to Sebastian. That he is attracted to Sebastian isn’t the issue. The issue is that his homo- or bisexuality is wrapped into his monstrousness. Part of the threat he represents is of a sexual nature (primarily against Sebastian), which is bad enough, but his faux feminine attitude is also played for comic relief— using his sexual identity as a prop. If there were other homosexual or bisexual characters, that might not be an issue, but as many critics have pointed out about female representation in movies, if you only have one person who is a member of a class, gender, race, etc., they become the representation for that entire group. With no one else occupying the same role, Grell stands as a probably unintentional statement on homosexuality.
Mey-Rin and Grell aren’t enough to drag this show down.Black Butler makes up for those characters with a compelling story and two very strong leads in Sebastian and Ciel. The show also does a fabulous job with atmosphere. It utilizes the setting of Victorian England to its fullest, creating a show that is dark, mysterious, and foreboding yet inviting. The show also displays a keen wit and wicked sense of humor that feels very fitting with the British setting.
And the ending. Oh, the ending. If you don’t want it spoiled, then please skip down to the summary. The ending was perfect. It was le mot juste. The show did a great job of building the relationship between Ciel and Sebastian, to the point where I thought for sure that it would cop out on the bargain they made. It didn’t, and the ending elevated the entire show because it wasn’t afraid to go its logical conclusion: Sebastian eating Ciel’s soul.
This ending actually becomes problematic, because the show continued after this season, and from what I’ve read, Sebastian doesn’t consume Ciel’s soul. Something comes up that forces him to postpone his feast. Quite frankly, I can’t really work up any interest in these other seasons, because this first one functions so well as a standalone story. Anything else just feels like a watered-down imitation.
Black Butler is a great mix of Gothic, horror, and comedy. It’s atmosphere, frightening, exciting, and wickedly funny. It also ended perfectly: so much so that I have no interest in following the series after this collection. Dr. Josh gives this an…
Content Grade: A-
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection