If Judge Daryl Loomis couldn't write about anime, what kind of reviewer would he be?
Our reviews of Black Butler: Season One, Part One (published January 23rd, 2011), Black Butler: Season One, Part Two (published March 6th, 2011), and Black Butler: Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) (published April 14th, 2012) are also available.
You see, I'm simply one hell of a butler.
For every anime series I watch, my reaction at the beginning is always the same. Love it or hate it by the end, I always find myself baffled by what's going on and the completely inappropriate opening title music. I'm sure it has to do with cultural misunderstandings and that kind of business, but I eventually get over it and settle into the characters and storyline. Here I was, once again, with Black Butler: Complete First Season, thoroughly annoyed for the first hour or so, only to discover that it becomes, given time, one of the more compelling anime series I've seen in some time.
In it, we find Ciel, an earl and heir to the Phantomhive family who, for generations, has served as the guard dogs of England's kings and queens. After his parents are murdered, Ciel takes the helm, but not before swearing his soul to a demon, Sebastian, in exchange for his services in finding the killers. Together, they solve some of England's most heinous crimes while scouring the country for clues to Ciel's personal quest.
Black Butler begins with way too much silliness, but over the twenty-four episodes of the anime, the comedy starts to take a back seat, the dark tones begin to emerge, and the thing becomes pretty entertaining. Structurally, it resembles the manga it's based on more than many other series I've watched. With the exception of a couple of standalones, the episodes are broken up into small story arcs, with one overarching thread that makes itself known little by little. It works well; each arc lasts a few episodes, never outstaying its welcome, and enough about the greater story gets sprinkled in to keep the viewer intrigued. The twists work pretty well and the whole thing has a morbid feel that I appreciate.
As much as I like the story, though, the production is what makes it really memorable. The art, a combination of 2D animation with a little 3D thrown in for accent, is fluid and effectively presented. The action is fast-paced and exciting, with some interesting little touches, both dark and comic, thrown in to keep it interesting. Good as the art is, the real hallmark of Black Butler is the voice acting. Whether in the Japanese or in English, the cast is top-flight and the English track is as strong as Funimation has ever put together. The subtitling in the original language is not very clear, so it's hard to tell about all the performances there, but in either language, the characterizations are clearly defined and very good. In all ways, Black Butler is a strong, easily recommendable anime.
Funimation offers Black Butler: Complete First Season in a decent 4-disc collection. However, while the retail product features both Blu-ray and DVD options, I received only the standard definition discs for review and my opinion reflects that. Anyway, regardless of the resolution, the image looks really good. There is solid detail throughout with warm colors and deep black levels. I'm sure the Blu-ray sports better detail in the frame, but it can't be all that dramatic. Both audio tracks are good, as well, with a clean but standard stereo mix in the original Japanese and a strong surround mix for the English dub. Normally, in spite of the sometimes questionable subtitling, I'd recommend the language it was recorded in, but the English voice acting is so strong that I'd definitely go for it, instead. Each of the four discs gets a small smattering of extras that include production-based audio commentary on select episodes, a bonus OVA episode, a brief plot summary montage, and the standard textless opening and closing title videos.
My skepticism after the first few episodes of Black Butler went away when the series got serious and, eventually, totally compelling. With a strong story, good-looking animation, and a top shelf vocal cast, I came away totally impressed. Though, given the fairly clear-cut ending, I have a hard time seeing where the plot will go in the second season, I'm very interested to know how it plays out.
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