DVD Review: Black Butler Complete Series 2 Collection
[Warning: May contain spoilers for Black Butler Season 1]
After the conclusion to the first season of Black Butler, it is surprising to see a second series featuring the vengeful Ciel Phantomhive and his demonic butler Sebastian Michaelis. In fact, many audience members were disappointed at his inclusion in this series and saw it as pandering to the wishes of fans, wedging in a resurrection so as to keep a popular character going. Many also felt that they were robbed of the initial ending of season one. But, with the introduction of a new master/butler relationship, Ciel and Sebastian have their work cut out for them and soon you are too sucked into the brand new narrative to mind Ciel’s troubling resurrection.
The first episode introduces us to Alois Trancy and his demonic butler Claude Faustus. Unlike Ciel, Alois is a sadistic young boy who allows his desire for love and attention turn him into a demanding and often psychotic child. This contrasts brilliantly with the initial Sebastian/Ciel relationship that we grew to love in Season One. Unlike Ciel who sees Sebastian as a means to an end and acts in a stoic, monotone manner; oblivious to the needs of others as he seeks out his revenge; Alois is fuelled by passion and desire. His need for recognition and love from his devilish companion causes him to later become jealous of Ciel with dramatic consequences.
Perhaps it was this energetic and desire-fuelled character which alienated certain audience members to the show, leading to the re-introduction of Ciel, but either way they have created a brilliant story to co-habit the two in the same story. Sadly, this story only comes to fruition in the second half of the series. The first half is littered with small mystery plots and comedic episodes, occasionally haunted by the over-the-top, spoiled brat that is Alois Trancy. They attempt to fob off this return to Season One’s mystery formula without explaining why Ciel is back to normal, by using the age old plot device of ‘Amnesia’; a very patronizing and unimaginative way of dealing with things.
Luckily, however, this manages to set itself right in later episodes, where the relationship between Ciel and Alois is revealed; and the newly introduced roles of Hanna and Claude are expanded upon. While this leads to a brilliant conclusion, especially for fans of the initial characters, it does seem ‘little too late’ in comparison with the well constructed first season. The episodes play more on comedy and overly ‘camp’ moments of fan service than dealing with the epic daring of plot they held in the first series. Gone is the dynamic mix of stories including killing of the Queen of England and destroying bridges only to rebuild them with spirits; and instead we are met with stomach aches on train journeys and dates with young girls.
The heavily romanticized nods to English history are downplayed in this series in favour of relationship heavy episodes. However, there is still some brilliant homage to English literature from Alice In Wonderland to Bleak House, that will please literary fans. The OVA episode ‘Ciel In Wonderland’ is actually wonderfully constructed and holds some truly memorable pieces of character art, costuming and imagination, despite the excessive fan-service of Ciel cross dressing in Lolita dresses and Alice costumes.
While the voice acting of the dub is strong and emotions are well portrayed by the actors, the accents are still poor – most notably in Alois, whose ‘mockney’ twang takes away any sympathy you may feel for his character in later episodes, as well as any fear.
The art and animation of the series remains strong, with lush, painterly backgrounds and extravagant costuming. The introduction of the far more flamboyant Alois allows for more imagination to be thrown into the effeminate dress sense of his character, whereas Ciel favours darker and (in comparison) less flouncy, New Romantic fashion. The animation talent is especially shown off during moments of dreaming and visions, most notably in one episode where Sebastian and Ciel are surrounded by a field of blue and white rose which appear to be computer generated due to their gorgeous movement.
While Series One dealt with its shotacon (a sub-genre of shōnen anime, concentrating on the relationships between young boys and older partners) references in a much milder way; series two goes to town with its imagery through the character of Alois Trancy. His flashbacks, including that of him seducing and bedding older men, as well as the inclusion of his demonic pact seal being on his tongue rather than Ciel’s seal being on his eye, make the references a little bit more difficult for a mainstream Western audience to take. For those unfamiliar with the man-boy-love style of anime, Black Butler Season 2 might be slightly alienating after its relatively tame introduction in season one.
Despite its obvious pandering to fans through its inclusion of series one characters, season two seems far more tame in terms of chibi art, over the top temper tantrums and overly shotacon title and intermission cards. This series is definitely darker in tone and in content, exemplified wonderfully by its final conclusion. Sadly it lacks the imagination and character development of the first series and alienates the audience through its overuse of bad camp comedy and annoying new characters (especially the Viscount of Druitt). While the conclusion of this series is dramatic and explosive enough for fans of the series to be appeased, overall this is a series that takes its time in getting going.
Label: Manga Entertainment
Release date: 16th July 2012
Director: Toshiya Shinohara
Anastasia Catris is a freelance illustrator, writer and actress based in South Wales. After graduating in English Literature from Royal Holloway, University of London she studied for a year in comic book art and design in The Kubert School where she nurtured her love of Japanese animation and cartooning as well as its cinema, video games and culture. You can keep up to date with Anastasia’s activity via her website www.anastasiacatris.wordpress.com or her Facebook page www.facebook.com/acatris. You may also follow her on Twitter at @acatris. View Anastasia’s showreel here.