‘Black Butler’ balances between seriousness and tomfoolery

Black Butler is one of the most frustrating anime series of all time. During some scenes, it achieves a mysterious brilliance, molding steampunk with noirish elements. At other times, it feels so childish and fleeting. The series, newly arrived on Blu-ray and DVD from FUNimation, never overcomes this tightrope balancing act. Scenes of drama are coupled with silly pranks, leaving audience members scratching their head more times than not.

Watching Black Butler is never a bore, and that’s mainly because of Sebastian, the demon butler, and his boss Ciel Phantomhive (perhaps the coolest name in anime). They are forever tied together, kind of like Batman and Alfred. They make for an unusual tag team. Ciel is a soulless, androgynous man-boy who sits around in his luxurious English estate. Sebastian is more debonair, a person who always has a plan up his sleeve. They scour the ins and outs of London, looking for evil to squash.

The premise is inspired. These two characters and their unusual mission often make for some interesting 22-minute episodes. There’s not much action in the series, mostly because the plot is centered around scheming, planning and secrets. Kudos to the teams of writers and the voice acting talent. Black Butler is like a warped Sherlock Holmes, two detectives who couldn’t be more different and speak so eloquently about their adventures.

The troubling part of the series, and it becomes a deal breaker, is the cast of characters that surround Ciel and Sebastian. The servants in Ciel’s mansion look like castoff characters from Monopoly. The animation style used to bring them to life is basic and jarring. Their humor is childish and unusually different from every other element in the show. One could say they provide humor to the serious plot, much like a cadre of clowns are able to lighten up the circus, but these annoying servants don’t provide much entertainment. Worse yet, they cheapen an otherwise stellar series.

Sebastian and Ciel are well thought out characters deserving of our attention. Black Butler can’t live up to their excellence. Sebastian, in particular, feels like a fish out of water. He needs something more profound to do with his time. He goes out into the streets of London and dispatches Ciel’s foes with ease. Why can’t he do something similar with this crazy bunch of laughing hooligans?

FUNimation has packaged the two-season series into worthy Blu-ray/DVD combos. Check it out for Sebastian and Ciel. Hit the mute button whenever those annoying servants turn up.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Black Butler — Complete First and Second Seasons

  • Rated TV14

  • Rating: ★★½☆

  • Click here for more information. 

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

One thought on “‘Black Butler’ balances between seriousness and tomfoolery

  • August 18, 2012 at 4:18 am

    Something is missing here. Somthing about Sebastian’s ‘Devilish Talent’


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