“One Hell Of An Anime”: Entering The World Of ‘Black Butler’

by Tito W. James

Black Butler is an a supernatural anime about a boy genius, Ciel Phantomhive, and his demonic butler, Sebastian. The pair solve mysteries in 19th century London and try to uncover the identity of Ciel’s parents’ murderers. Sebastian will aid Ciel in achieving his revenge in exchange for devouring the boy’s soul.

Allow me to say right away that Black Butler has garnered quite the fan base because of its low-homoeroticism. The series seems fully self aware of this and plays up the illicit sexual tension between master and servant. This leads to an interesting dynamic where the audience is left to question whether Ciel and Sebastian are allies, adversaries, or something else…

Black Butler is one of the few anime where I actually preferred the English dub. Brina Palencia plays Ciel with the perfect amount of distain and deadpan humor, while J. Michael Tatum adds layers of seductive charm to Sebastian. The anime has a wide range of tonalities that range from cute and cartoonish to dark and disturbing. It’s as if characters from The Grand Budapest Hotel suddenly broke out into a Matrix style fight sequence. Black Butler’s tonal variety won me over with its unique charm. The anime feels like its own “slash-fiction” and its own “abridged” series.

The manga written by Yana Toboso takes place in a separate continuity and more fully fleshes out the characters. I was first introduced to Black Butler with the 2008 anime and think it’s a fair place to start. The first season consists of 24 episodes and does a solid job at exploring the characters and world with minimal “filler.” The second season is worth skipping as it re-treads familiar ground and has nothing to do with the story outlined in the manga.

There’s an additional 12-episode series titled Black Butler: Book of Circus, a two-part OVA Black Butler: Book of Murder, and a theatrical film, Black Butler: Book Atlantic. These sequel series are the best the show gets and incorporate more elements from the original manga. The manga series is currently published by Yen Press. I hope they will come out with affordable omnibus editions so new readers can more easily collect the entire saga.

So, if you’re in the mood for hot goth boys solving mysteries, you’re in for one Hell of a good time!

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