Funimation // 2008 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // January 23rd, 2011
Combine top notch domestic service with Victorian England and throw in a deal with a demon and you get Black Butler.
In the huge Phantomhive manor you'll find master Ciel Phantomhive (Brina Palencia). This moody young man wears a patch over one eye and refuses to smile. At his side is the prim and proper butler Sebastian (J. Michael Tatum). Being one hell of a butler he is willing and able to do anything his master requires. And frankly that can range from simply cleaning the manor to doing battle with a grim reaper.
You see the Phantomhive family has long been designated as a type of black ops for the Queen. She sends a letter detailing her request and Ciel and Sebastian follow it. Usually these are highly dangerous and yet delicate matters -- like solving the Jack the Ripper murders. More often than not, they involve the supernatural. That's just fine, because Ciel and Sebastian have a dark secret of their own, and it's not how they get such perfectly coiffed hair.
Black Butler is an odd show, and saying that about anime is saying a lot. This is one of those series that tries to do so many wildly different things that it nearly ends up collapsing on itself.
At first glance you'd think this is a dark mystery series about hot looking guys solving supernatural crimes in Victorian England. The settings are gothic and gloomy, the character design leans toward the pretty boy look, and there's just enough gore to almost make this a horror anime.
But then you've the comic relief in the form of the three other servants that populate the manor. They are all clumsy, over eager and not too bright. The result is pratfalls, comedy of errors and even a nose bleed or two. Combined with the over the top enamored girlfriend, Elizabeth (Cherami Leigh) and you'd think you were watching a wacky comedy.
The two tones constantly collide and conflict, never really meshing to accent each other. This works against the show, especially when it actually gets going on its dark mystery shorelines. The first two discs cover the Jack the Ripper murders, a phantom hound and a sinister doll maker. The phantom hound storyline never really generates any tension because of all the comedy. The Jack the Ripper and doll maker storylines felt really choppy because just when they start getting juicy comedy erupts and pulls you right out of it.
Since the series is based a manga, I'm guessing that the adaptation just didn't work out so well. And yet, I was still entertained the whole time. The hints about a deal between Ciel and Sebastian's sinister origins kept me curious. The Jack the Ripper and doll maker storylines had a lot of great points to keep me watching. The animation is solid. Even some of the more dry humor worked out well. But the slapstick was just too much.
On the english voice acting side this is tough to recommend. I like the fact that the actors decided to go all out with the British accents. The only problem is that some of them really lay it on thick and sloppy. The result is a mix of decent performances and painful ones. It's been awhile since I've heard this many annoying performances, but I'm a veteran of '90s anime, so I can take it. Still I advise you to keep your hands free to change over to the Japanese dub if you feel your ears starting to bleed.
Funimation delivers two discs of Black Butler that look as sharp as Sebastian's tailcoat. The dark settings are well served by a clear transfer and the various voice talents are nice and clear on the audio track. For extras you get a commentary track on two episodes, a recap episode, clean opening and ending credits and a profile on the American singer who performs the end credits.
For all its faults, I still had fun. If some of the more obvious humor is toned down in the second half, I think this will turn be a show worth seeking out.
Guilty of serving up an entertaining, unusual, yet inconsistent show.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentary
* Bonus Episode
* Clean Open/Close
* Musician Profile
* Anime News Network: Black Butler