Black Butler: Complete Second Season & OVA Collection
Endings must be a daunting thing to write for story creators, because no matter what you write not every fan is going to be pleased with how their favourite characters end their tale. Every reader or watcher grows attached to the story, have their favourites characters and desires for them to be happy, so they come up with their own ending. Therefore no ending is going to please the entire crowd. Black Butler however, to me, had the perfect ending to its concept. Ciel made a contract with a demonic butler to seek revenge on his parents’ murderers, Ciel got his revenge and (spoiler warning) the demonic butler ate his soul. The conclusion perfectly fit with the task the story set up and the tone of the series. Nothing needed to be prolonged or rectified. But, of course, anything popular always gets expanded because apparently the fans can’t settle for less. The studios take advantage of their fans attachment to a series and make more episodes in exchange for their souls…I mean cash. But, even though everything about this season cries ‘cash in’, there’s still a fair amount going for it that fans will most likely enjoy.
The second series takes place after an unspecified time after the first series where we follow a new young boy by the name of Alois and his demonic butler Claude. Alois, like Ciel, has a terrible past that haunts him and resulted in making a contract with the demon. But before the pair can settle down for some Earl Grey, Sebastian storms into their mansion to retrieve his young master’s ring, curiously hiding in the basement of Alois’ home. It’s becomes clear not long after that Alois is after something from Ciel, and Ciel is not quite the same Earl we knew before.
The first episode has a very similar feel to the pilot; a quick look at the dynamics between the Earl and his contracted butler with a view of their current life. The series does a good job of fooling the viewer that the Ciel/Sebastian story is done and these are the new protagonists, even going as far as creating a whole opening with them sorely absent. It’s only after the eyecatch that we realise that the ‘one hell of a butler’ is back with Ciel in second season. It takes a few episodes to get a reason as to why Sebastian didn’t claim his well-earned meal, but not before a few confusing moments. Ciel makes references to characters that died in the previous season as if they’re still around; making the obvious assumption that perhaps this series takes place alongside the first season rather than after it. It’s not until the 5th episode that we start to get a clearer picture and the reasons for extending the story are a little stretched and unclear at best. Not completely jumping the shark, as the series sticks carefully close to its mythology and behaviour of our leads, but the effort gone into making Alois and Claude the main threat and having the power to slip their ultimate plan under Sebastian’s nose smells a little of fanfiction, or writers desperate to weave new characters into a story that was tighter without them.
That’s not to say that the series is lacking in anything credible; firstly the second series is in several ways darker than the previous. That’s not to say the first season was light on themes but its darkness was mostly rooted from the supernatural with ancient mystical cult sacrifices, psychotic angels, crazy grim reapers and so on. Instead the second season shows off the dark side of humanity with child molestation and a lot more blood on display. Secondly, the writers do try their best to weave unique stories into the second season, expanding the demon mythology rather nicely that all leads up to the surprising ending. Lastly; even though it doesn’t draw as much inspiration from England’s history as the previous season, and due to its series length being half of what it was previously, the time to draw out the mystery and adrenaline of each situation is mostly absent, but the second season does allow for some more great Sebastian moments. Yes, it’s a shallow reason for enjoyment, but that doesn’t make his famous one-liner ‘One Hell of a Butler’ any less enjoyable to hear every time, with great visual stunts that prove how marvellous of a demon he is. And there are two of them now! Two demonic butlers for the price of one! Claude isn’t as charming as Sebastian but he still holds his own on the ridiculously impossible moves he makes. Plus many characters from the previous season return, admittedly only for comical effect but at least most of the fan base will be catered for.
Although Aolis and Claude seem like palette swaps of the main protagonists, after several episodes you see that they are their own characters with very different personalities and goals. Starting with the boys; Ciel was raised as a noble for several years before his tragedy took place so he walks with grace, knows how to talk elegantly fitting for his status and, even though he’s no poster boy for the perfect gentleman, he also knows the difference between right and wrong. Alois on the other hand was sold to slavery not long after birth so his vocabulary is very much of a common person with no attempts to behave outside of a manipulative brat, also his abusive sadistic behaviour (especially towards women) is made quite clear early on. The dynamic between the pair makes a very interesting watch as they both have very similar backgrounds and it’s easy to see how one could’ve ended up like the other if they made slightly different choices. The same goes for the butlers; Sebastian is more likely to flaunt his demonic nature to others, he’s also not afraid to smile once and while to get what he wants, whilst Claude makes little effort to look happy and prefers to settle matters with a sly approach. Seeing the two demons talk, spout insults to another and attempt to mark their ‘territory’ is notoriously fun. It’s also worth mentioning that the new characters were designed by the original manga creator, Yana Toboso.
But this is simply referring to the first 2 discs of the 3 disc collection; we haven’t even covered the OVA collection yet. The previous season had 1 OVA where the characters performed Hamlet, this time however there’s 6 OVAs where the characters are taken out of the narrative of the series into more quirky situations. The first is a 2-part OVA special of Ciel’s adventures in Wonderland (as in Alice in Wonderland, if you needed elaborating); the highlights of the 2-parter is Grell’s frightfully perfect role as the Cheshire Cat and a brief moment when Ciel is transformed into an adult will certainly bring a few laughs. Next is a visual novel/RPG inspired OVA where you play the part of a young lady in first person with Sebastian as your company around the Phantomhive mansion, with all the Black Butler antics thrown in for good measure – overall it’s a bit of fun. The best of the 4 ‘comical’ OVAs however is the Behind the Scenes OVA where the characters are actually actors in a television series, seemingly giving interviews whilst in the process of filming the second series – highly original and entertaining from start till end. The last 2 OVAs seem to fit nicely into the second season’s timeline with one OVA giving a day in the life in the Alois’ household, getting to know his fellow demon servants in greater detail, whilst the other gives a delightful insight to the world of Grim Reapers including a flashback of Grell and William as student reapers. Overall it’s great to see them all on one disc and fun to watch for all fans of the series.
Spread across the 3 discs are a variety of extras including commentaries for episodes 1 and 12 plus the 3rd OVA (Behind the Scenes special), textless openings and closings, over 3 minutes of outtakes and trailers for the first and second seasons.
The second season starts off on the wrong foot with slightly confusing narrative in the first few episodes and understandably bad first impressions of being purely made to ‘cash in’ on the fandom. Whilst it does have its problems of extending a story that really didn’t need it and lacking the imagination that the first season excelled at, the second season is not to be completely disregarded. The characters still shine in their roles, especially the brilliant Sebastian, and the expanded demon mythology warrants these episodes at least one watch. Entertaining for fans, but you may want to take it as a side story or optional ending if you’re too fond of the first season’s conclusion.