I’m a big fan of the Victorian age of England. This is not so much because of steampunk (which I am not a fan of for the record) but rather the reality. The clothing, the architecture, the history. It’s a fun era to look into and many people obviously feel the same way. Black Butler takes place in the Victorian era and is a pretty awesome representation of the beauty of this age. From character designs to settings, Black Butler is one of the better looking series I’ve watched. But there are a lot of issues that plague what could have been an otherwise amazing anime. These mostly stem from lackluster characters, as well as a general sense of dullness through the first two-thirds of the series.
Ciel Phantomhive is the heir to a toy making throne. His parents wind up dying in a fire and he sells his soul to a demon to get back at those who have wronged him. This demon, Sebastian, brings together a motley crew of strange folk to work at Ciel’s mansion. As his butler, Sebastian is forced to do everything to make Ciel comfortable, but he also helps Ciel in times of dire need. Ciel works for the queen (he is called the queen’s dog) and tends to get into trouble with the London underworld. Thus begins the menial and semi-entertaining adventures of Ciel and Sebastian.
So, as you can probably tell, I wasn’t impressed with the story at the beginning. There are many story arcs, and none of them are particularly savory. All up to a certain point are flat and uninteresting. The Jack the Ripper thread was okay, the Hound of the Baskervilles-esque adventure was meh, and don’t get me started on the idiotic curry story arc. The first eighteen-ish episodes are very low quality as far as story is concerned.
But there is a certain amount of fun in them. This fun mostly stems from a drinking game I created in the process of watching this called “Drink Every Time There is a Gay Overtone”. Needless to say, you can die of alcohol poisoning playing this game. From the start you can see why there is such a huge female fan base. Sure the male characters are handsome fellas, but the closeness of Sebastian and Ciel, the fact that they all wind up in dresses at some point, it’s all very provocative in a way. And while these moments don’t take away from the anime (this is Clamp we’re speaking of, it is supposed to appeal to a female audience), they definitely will have me shying away from typing in Black Butler on DeviantArt.
But I’ll be the first to admit that Ciel looks good in a dress.
The characters aren’t as exciting as I had hoped a demon and a conceited/rather brutal young boy would be. Ciel is a decent character, but he never really grew on me. Sebastian was also decent, he was a badass, but he was stoic and uninteresting half the time. And his catchphrase (“I’m one hell of a butler”) is just dumb. And the bad guys and good guys that are met along the way in the first two thirds of the series are just the same, uninteresting, borderline boring.
And I haven’t even gotten deep into the curry arc. This arc was FUCKING STUPID! Horrendous! The prince was a pansy. The bodyguard guy was lame. The Iron Chef reference was stupid! It didn’t fit in! It was just plain dumb! The only good part of this arc was seeing the Crystal Palace. That was awesome. Otherwise, this arc is pointless!
After that, the series gets good! Starting with the infiltration of the religious cult, the series went from being merely average to pretty damn good. The angel was cool, the fights were interesting, the plot started to get really intense and fun to watch develop. The plot becomes this kind of conspiracy with Queen Victoria trying to bring Britain and France to war so that England can take over Europe. It’s a cool idea that is played out real well. The angel’s inclusion is a good touch.
But the last episode is a total let down. When you set up an epic battle between a fallen angel and a demon, you expect great things. Instead, we are forced to basically watch ten seconds of Sebastian tearing the angel to pieces. And that’s that. Black Butler has some good action scenes, look at episode two and the fight against the Italian mob. But this was a total letdown. And I couldn’t help but think of the new Sherlock Holmes film when watching the fight. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writer of that film got some inspiration for the movie from Black Butler’s ending.
The end third is where some cool characters show up. As I said, the angel was kind of cool. But I liked seeing who the Phantomhive household workers really were. Meirin was a total dweeb, I thought she was cute and clumsy through the first two thirds, but the last third made me think of her more so as a total hardass. It was the same with many characters. Except Sebastian. When I saw him in heels, I was scared.
Despite all complaints, I enjoyed Black Butler overall. It had a lot of good ideas but didn’t execute them as well as it could have. It’s the perfect example of a merely “good” anime. And it is also a perfect example of a comeback anime. Starts okay, but does become pretty cool toward the end.
Overall, if you like Victorian England, you will surely like this anime. Its attention to detail is immaculate and the world displayed is beautiful. But with a lot of rockiness concerning plot and characters, it is not the amazing anime I was hoping for.
He wears the dress well.