No sooner than Ciel can sit down for tea and scones, another string of murders have occurred on the streets of London and this time it’s an Indian that’s suspected of the crimes, just as the Curry Festival is about to commence. In tow, an Indian prince by the name of Soma and his servant Agni are looking for a missing servant of the prince who has been kidnapped by an English nobleman. With a royal warrant and lives on the line, dark forces on the dirty side of London are sure to be at work, what more can one hell of a butler and The Queen’s Guard dog ask for?
The original curry arc in the manga was 8 chapters long (nearly 2 books) with the prince and Agni continuing as characters for a further chapter; as a result the story did drag in places even though the original creator did go into a lot of detail about curry making to try and make it interesting. Even though 3 episodes of this may sound just as long and dreary, but it actually trims a lot of the baggage from the manga and creates its own ending that eventually leads into the overall story arc; making the story a lot tighter and enjoyable to view. It’s also interesting that the way the Queen is portrayed in the anime is very different to the manga; the latter had a more comical spin whilst the former gives her a sense of grace and mystery by never showing her face.
As the anime parts ways with the manga completely, it takes the next few episodes to delve into Great Britain’s history, with a one-off focusing on Edward V and his brother Richard haunting a Castle in the afterlife, and an episode giving us a view in animated form of the once great ship, The Cutty Sark. The Royals episode gives Sebastian a chance to serve a butler for another young man, almost stretching him outside of his comfort zone; this also affects Ciel as his loss of Sebastian is very much like a bird without wings. Whilst the Cutty Sark isn’t the main focus of the episode it’s in, it’s still nevertheless nice to see the anime adding authenticity to their creation.
The latter half of the series is noticeably darker in tone, and as a result sways more towards the supernatural side of its coin by introducing angels and further expanding the grim reaper’s dominion (with more cameos from the humorous Grell). The introduction of the angels is very appealing as they’re not simply an example of righteousness; they have their own agenda and the schemes we see unfolding around them do not look so holy. As we go deeper into the darkness, the back stories of the characters unfold and then eventually stretch our heroes to their limits.
Sebastian is still fascinating to watch; he may have some good intentions now and then, such as why he recruited the loser maid, cook and gardener to help his master, but his wicked smile when watching things not going Ciel’s way reminds the viewer that he’s still the soul-eating demon that his smart suit does a very good job at hiding. He performs all his amazing skills with grace and his final episodes when he finally slips out of his human persona into his real demonic form only further solidifies his position as one of the best characters ever created in anime. Ciel came across as untouchable in the first part of the series due to Sebastian’s powers but the second part slowly peels away his pawns and security, allowing us to see much more of the vulnerable boy thrust into truly horrifying situations. As a result he has his golden moments that really make his character shine just as brightly as his butler does. For example in one episode he takes a painful trip down memory lane and is offered the chance to re-write it. He decides against it in the end but he’s reasoning for it and the scarring from the discoveries he makes during his journey really elevate his character from noble brat to a sympathetic adolescent. Ciel is a rare example of not your typical male hero which makes Ciel an absorbing watch all the way up till the end.
To reflect the changes to the 2nd half of the series, the opening and ending theme are altered but not in the way you might expect. The opening song doesn’t change however they used a different verse and alter the animation to reflect the new size of the cast; a technique I’ve not seen in other anime and a very nice alternative to keep the viewer tuned in. The ending song on the other hand is replaced completely; gone is the English track with the cutesy animation and in its place is a Japanese track reminiscing Within Temptation accompanied by stills reflecting on Sebastian and Ciel’s relationship. It’s a shame that a new English song wasn’t included to keep the mixture of 2 different cultures going throughout, but the song works a lot better to the content than the previous.
The acting continues to be superior with all actors on the dub side settling into their British accents a lot better, however Christopher Ayres struggled with Prince Soma, although providing a convincing accent he struggled to deliver emotions along with it. Taku Iwasaki still goes wild with the colourful sound track and the introduction of the angels in the second half gives him a chance to weave choral and Gregorian elements to add further strings to his bow.
DVD extras include commentaries for episodes 16 & 21, a bonus episode where the cast of the show perform their own version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – with amusing results, plus clean versions of the new opening & closing introduced on these discs.
Delivering the more delicately emotional moments may still be the series weakness, and it may gloss over the death of Ciel’s parents a bit too much towards the end, but Black Butler still remains one of the best UK releases of 2011. With its mesmerizing world, brilliant story telling tied with a fantastic ending and some of the best original characters in recent years all add up to one hell of a series. Although I do dread a little at how they’re going to make the second series fit since the first season ended so well, but we won’t fret about that now. Black Butler is superior as it is and highly recommended, don’t hesitate to pick up your copy.