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Black Butler I & II / Kuroshitsuji – Anime Review

Black Butler (detail)Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji) can be a somewhat confusing franchise for those new to the material. First, it was a manga, written and drawn by Yana Toboso. The manga was then adapted into an anime – which has now seen three incarnations itself. It is also a musical, and a live-action movie. I’ll be discussing the first two incarnations (Black Butler, and Black Butler II) of the anime in this article. The third (Book of Circus) is already discussed here, as well how it fits in with or supersedes the first anime series.

For those unfamiliar with the basic premise of Black Butler, the story is about the young Earl of Phantomhive, Ciel. It takes place in England during Queen Victoria’s reign, but after Prince Albert’s death. At ten years of age, Ciel was simultaneously orphaned and kidnapped. He was held hostage and tortured for quite some time (length unspecified) by a cult, and with his nearly-dying breath managed to accidentally summon a demon. Ciel forms a contract with that demon and gives him the name Sebastian Michaelis. In exchange for his rescue, and help seeking out the identity of those who orchestrated his parent’s deaths and his own kidnapping, he will eventually allow Sebastian to consume his soul.

Black Butler (season one cover)Ciel manages to reclaim his family estate, and takes over the position his father held – that of the Earl of Phantomhive, and also known as the Queen’s Watchdog. He is (and his father before him) essentially the Queen’s personal private investigator, especially for situations that need to be handled…less than legally. Episodes 1-15 mostly coincide with the first 24 chapters of the Kuroshitsuji manga, and then they begin to diverge quite drastically. Over the course of the first series (a total of 24 episodes, plus one OVA*) Ciel and Sebastian investigate private matters of business (someone is embezzling money from Ciel’s toy company), solve murders (such as the infamous Jack the Ripper case with a twist you won’t quite expect), encounter Shinigami**, and protect Ciel’s soul from the forces of Heaven.

Black Butler II is just…odd. Despite Yana Toboso creating characters for it herself that would never be used in the manga, the entire plot line for it reads like a poorly written fanfiction. The first series ended well, and it ended like it should have for the characters and their motivations. Black Butler II was an attempt to extend a plot that was already concluded, and it just felt clunky and warped. While the first season only hinted at some sexual proclivities, as well, this second season outright suggests certain things, including pedophilia.

Black Butler (season two cover)Black Butler II is a total of 12 episodes, plus an additional four OVAs. Overall, the series is best enjoyed either in combination with Book of Circus, where you watch Episodes 1-15 of the first season, and then start watching Book of Circus, and completely disregard the rest of the episodes of season one as working in concert with that plot, or just watching season one and seeing it as one cohesive story. Watch Black Butler II at your own risk. Some people love it, most people aren’t quite sure what the writers thinking. YMMV.***

The animation is lovely for every season, and the ending theme song, “Lacrimosa”, with its credit animations for episodes 14-24 of the first season remains one of the most haunting end credit animations I have ever seen. In general, when recommending anime, I encourage people to watch the subtitled versions over the English (or other language) dubs. In this case, though, the nuance of the language and the culture of Victorian England is captured much better by the English voice actors than the Japanese ones. If you can access the English dubs, I definitely recommend them over the Japanese subtitled versions for this particular anime.

Black Butler and Black Butler II are available for purchase and streaming (to subscribers) directly from Funimation, in both subbed and dubbed versions. Subbed versions of season one are available for free on Funimation’s YouTube channel, and on Hulu.

* Original Video Animation, usually a bonus episode that may or may not fit the storyline of the series.
** Japanese for ‘God of Death’, they are the grim reapers in the Kuroshitsuji universe.
*** Your mileage may vary.

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Rating: 9.4/10 (5 votes cast)
Black Butler I & II / Kuroshitsuji – Anime Review, 9.4 out of 10 based on 5 ratings
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6 Comments

  1. Liam says:

    I might finally check out Black Butler. I guess I’ll watch season one and then check out the manga.

    I hope we see more anime and manga reviews on Fantasy Faction.

    Might I recommend “Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches” and “UQ Holder”

    The first is a high school fantasy series set in modern day Japan and it has great characters.

    The second is a fantasy/sci-fi set in 2086 Japan about an organisation of immortal beings. Great characters and well-drawn action scenes.

    • The manga is still on-going, and has gone far past the Book of Circus plot, but is still excellent.

      I’m working on more anime and manga reviews, though I’m limited on my funding so some of it may come slower.

      Thanks for the recs, I will definitely check them out!

      • Liam says:

        I don’t know if you have a Crunchyroll account($4.99 a month) but you can read every chapter of both series so far(they’re both ongoing) if you’re premium.

        You also get access to a lot of other great fantasy manga, like The Seven Deadly Sins.

        • I do not currently have Crunchyroll premium currently, but will definitely be taking advantage of the next free trial they offer me! My local library is pretty good about having a decent selection of manga, as well.

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