With its deliciously dark overtones and black humour, the first series of Kuroshitsuji was possibly my favourite anime of the Fall 2008 season. At the announcement of a sequel featuring a brand new master and butler, I was concerned that the franchise was merely milking the bishie fangirl cow. Sadly, it seems my fears were justified.
More erratic than a Jackson Pollack painting, the beginning of Kuroshitsuji II doesn’t attempt to make any sense. The first episode starts out well enough with the introduction of two new antagonists: the utterly hateful little shit, Alois Trancy, and the tedious Sebastian-clone, Claude. Then halfway through, a familiar face returns and it feels like a gripping tale of rivalry, hatred and nefarious scheming is about to commence. Unfortunately with the beginning of the second episode, that hope and expectation gets unceremoniously lined up in front of a firing squad and ruthlessly shot through the eyeballs. Instead of continuing with the initial intriguing plotline, Kuro II ignores Alois and Claude, choosing instead to go on a picnic with the cast of series one – after all, why bother with narrative or explanation when we can have Sebastian whipping up a tower of food in the middle of a field?
The next few episodes fare little better and consist of short storylines where Ciel and Sebastian deal with another mysterious incident in that flamboyant way that only a butler of the Phantomhive family can. Vague hints as to the connection between Ciel and Alois occasionally worm their way into these tales, but with no explanation as to the events of the series’ opening, it’s almost impossible to follow how these anecdotes fit into the timeline of events. Episode two skips around with its fingers in its ears yelling “LA LA LA” pretending that the end of series one never happened and happily ignoring the two new antagonists. This makes it unclear whether these stories follow on chronologically from the opener or if they actually take place during the previous season. While entertaining enough and perfect for swooning over bishies, the disjointed nature of the show’s first third leads to frustration for those that care about plot.
Luckily, not all is lost as the middle finally leaps into action and explains what’s actually going on while providing plenty of wet bishounen action to dampen any fangirl’s panties. After wading through the filler-esque beginning, Kuro II’s central plotline emerges spectacularly from its cocoon to reveal a glorious butterfly – albeit slightly deformed with mismatched wings and a limp. The fundamental conflict remains solid with themes of betrayal, conniving conspiracy and the no holds-barred battle over Ciel’s soul, and there are twists and turns aplenty – but that’s just the problem. Sure the narrative gets shaken up more than one of James Bond’s martinis, but instead of the suave agitation of a seasoned bartender, the show behaves more like a frenzied rookie desperate to impress the infamous 007 only to end up spilling gin all over his crotch.
Furthermore, the second half gets more complex without allowing enough time for it all to sink in. Like a good wine, any decent rivalry needs some time to breathe, but the antagonism between the Phantomhive and Trancy households receives barely any build-up before the main clash between Ciel and Alois. As such, the bout loses some of its fizz, gradually getting flatter by the minute when followed by an episode of backstory. This then leaves a measly four installments to bring out the meaty part of the tale, with a mere five minutes dedicated to the final fight. Considering how little happens in the first half of the series, this is not enough to do the story any justice.
As the strongest part of the series, Kuro II’s visuals brilliantly set the mood for the story. Muted colours and darker hues cast an ominous shadow over the brightness of the nobility’s grandeur, beautifully conveying the narrative’s content. Coupled with smooth and crisp movement, the visage is delightful to gaze upon. The anime generally integrates CG well, though the digitally animated horse drawn carriages look awkward and out of place.
Meanwhile, the show’s many bishounen characters are particularly drool-worthy, and with the two butlers striking many a stunning pose, there’s certainly no shortage of eye-candy.
While the opening and ending themes are rather nondescript, Kuro II’s background music fits the series’ dark, yet genteel nature well. With a dramatic theme for several of the battles between Claude and Sebastian heavily borrowing from the third movement of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ summer concerto, and haunting orchestral and operatic melodies, the musical score perfectly sets the scene for the plot’s developments.
Daisuke Ono reprises his role as Sebastian with a voice like slick butter seeping down your ears tickling the very pleasure centre of every girl’s brain. The rest of the Japanese seiyuu give vocal performances that are just as strong with Jun Fukuyama’s showy Grell, Takahiro Sakurai’s deadpan Claude, and Nana Mizuki’s ideally spoilt Alois all making up a stellar cast.
Not since Miu from Strawberry Marshmallow (or that annoying sniffy kid sitting beside me when I went to see the last Harry Potter film) have I wanted to claw out the eyes of a child so badly. Alois Trancy became one of my most despised anime characters within five minutes and now reigns supreme over all the other irksome twats on my hated list. The selfish, sadistic little turd has zero redeeming features and his general arseholery nullifies any sympathy that his tragic past would otherwise generate. That being said, the fact that he manages to provoke such an extreme reaction means that his characterisation as an antagonist deserves some praise as he certainly makes an impression.
Sadly, the same can’t quite be said for Claude who, as a more uptight and anal version of Sebastian, initially demonstrates as much originality as your average amoeba. As one of the series’ primary antagonists, the Sebasti-clone never fully endears himself to the viewer – though I’m sure plenty SebxClaude shippers would vehemently argue to the contrary.
As for the returning cast members, little has changed from the first season. Grell remains as clingy and lovestruck as ever when it comes to Sebastian and the flamboyant floozy serves as the primary source of blatant fangirl fodder as he squeals in orgasmic ecstasy each time the sultry butler strikes a pose. However, Kuro II’s best character development gets reserved for Ciel and Sebastian and the trials and changes their relationship undergoes throughout. Far from the close-knit and trust-filled bonds of series one, the duo face nefarious schemes intended to tear them apart, and seeing how the pair fare on their own certainly makes for an intriguing change of pace.
Despite its encouraging components, Kuroshitsuji II fails to make good on its promise. Instead the series wastes time with pointless filler-like episodes when it should be building suspense. It has its moments and can still provide some good entertainment, but for fans of the first series it will likely prove a let-down.
Kidnapped as a newborn baby, Alois Trancy only recently returned to his family’s manor alongside his mysterious butler, Claude. Having inherited the estate after the sudden death of his father, the selfish and sadistic Alois torments his staff and wishes for the world to be engulfed in darkness. Meanwhile, Sebastian and his master have returned, and despite Ciel having no recollection of recent events, they continue to investigate mysterious incidents throughout the country. However, they are not alone, as the head of the Phantomhive household has caught the eye of Alois, who desires the young noble for his own reasons. Just what does Trancy want with Ciel, and will Sebastian be able to protect his master until the very end?
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.