One Hell of a Butler – Black Butler Part 1 Review
Title: Black Butler Part 1 (episodes 1-13)
Genre: Action, Supernatural
Extras: Audio commentaries of episodes 1 & 7, Textless credit, BECCA musician profile, “The Story Thus Far” with narration from Tanaka
Black Butler comes to the UK with a large weight of expectation on its shoulders. The manga has proved itself a cult success to the UK market, and the anime’s creators A-1 Pictures have seen success in other titles: Birdy the Mighty (aka Tetsuwan Birdy), Sound of the Skies (aka Sora No Woto), and the hugely popular Fairy Tale, Blue Exorcist and Fractale. With a pedigree like that, it would perhaps be expected for Black Butler to further that success, however sadly it appears the series falls into some of the same traps as Birdy the Mighty: Decode.
The story takes a dark premise as we meet the young, yet alarmingly mature, Ciel Phantomhive, and his incredibly efficient butler Sebastien. Sebastien, however is no ordinary butler, he is in fact “one hell of a butler”, as he openly states in practically every episode. This is actually intended to be a pun, you see, Sebastien is a demon. Young Ciel formed a contract with Sebastien, after Ciel’s parents were killed in a fire that destroyed the Phantomhive estate, which resides on the outskirts of London. This is about as far as the backstory goes in the first 12 episodes, as it is mostly cast aside to deal with more trivial events, such as preparing dinner for an Italian businessman, or ridding a village of a phantom dog. However, Black butler does show some of its potential, as it deals with slightly grittier events, such as Jack the Ripper, however its tendency to focus on the inane, and over exaggerated slap-stick humour provides a real disappointment.
It is unfortunate that the early cast of Black Butler consists of around 7 characters, however only 3 of these are given any real personality. Other than Ciel, his auntie, and Sebastien, we are left with 3 staff members who appear to exist only to get in the way and cause trouble, and Elizabeth Ciel’s betrothed, who spends the entirety of her screen time whining and/or thinking about poor Ciel.
In the early stages of the series, it appears that Black Butler has chosen to take an episodic approach to story-telling, and it is as yet unclear whether there is any over-arcing plot to look forward to.
However, Black Butler does have a few saving graces, the Japanese voice cast do an exceptionally well, with the FUNimation dub providing a range of reasonably accurate british accents, however some of the voices feel a little over exaggerated and don’t fit the characters or animation style too comfortably. The fight sequences flow quite well, and there is a lot of intrigue built up of the relationship between Ciel and Sebastien.
Ciel and Sebastian are not the standard master and butler, they appear very close, and yet there is the occasional air of malice and tension between the two. Despite this, Sebastien is extremely loyal to Ciel, and will go to any length to protect his master, even without a direct order.
Although Black Butler didn’t meet the high expectations I’d set, it offers a fairly reasonable addition to the anime scene, and will perhaps serve to boost the manga’s popularity in the process. However, given the setting and characters, I feel like it could have done a lot better than this. If only they’d written a more focussed plot, and emphasized the spookier aspects of the series, Black Butler could’ve been so much more.
Try this if you liked: Birdy the Mighty: Decode, XAMD
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