Black Butler, Season One Part 1 – DVD Review

Review by: Ai Kano

Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: $64.98 US
Running Time: 300 minutes
Genre: Supernatural
Rating: TV 14
Release Date: Available Now

This is one hell of a gothic anime series.

If you’ve been to Tokyo’s Akihabara or Shibuya district lately you might find yourself surprised by pretty maids serving cake and cafés where handsome young waiters dressed like proper English butlers are pouring cups of Earl Grey. So it’s no surprise to find manga and anime with a delightful old English twist that makes for some interesting and very different titles. Season One Part 1 of Black Butler joins these series with a deliciously gothic tale well worth savoring.

In the dark, a voice rises to ask a lone boy a question that will forever change his life and, not too long after that, the boy resurfaces and he isn’t alone. Somewhere in London we are introduced to the young master Ciel Phantomhive and his ravishingly handsome butler, Sebastian. Despite his age, Ciel is the lord of the estate (his parents were killed in a fire) that includes a likeable staff like Finnny (the gardener), Baldo (the chef), Mey-Rin (the maid) and Tanaka (who just drinks a lot of tea).

Oh, but there’s nothing normal about this household because – as an Italian guest who has secretly sold a Phantomhive business finds out – there’s a dark supernatural aura to Sebastian that makes him an man you do not want to cross. Sebastian, you will know by his own words, is one hell of a butler who is able to make delicious deserts but also handle silverware like deadly weapons. He will do anything and everything that Ciel asks for and will be at his side until the very end as he will often tell him.

Ciel might have his responsibilities as the head of the estate but he is also an integral member of a group that even English monarchy depends on to keep the peace in the country. As a result, Ciel becomes known as the “Queen’s guard dog” and looks into criminal matters … such as the recent string of prostitute murders by a killer the newspapers are calling Jack the Ripper.

In fact, Ciel and Sebastian find themselves face-to-face with Jack the Ripper … whose identity will certainly not fail to surprise and become one of the many memorable moments from this first season. Even the investigation into identifying the murderer – that includes Ciel dressing up as a girl – is a lot to fun to watch. Then, inviting his staff along, they even look into a mysterious case that is a nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” that involves a Demon Hound. The result of this story ends up surprisingly enough as the Phantomhive household gains a very curious new member.

The series has a wonderfully dark tone and a sense of mystery that has a lot to do with Sebastian as the episodes slowly reveals what he is and his relationship with the young master. There are also some bloody moments, particularly in the Jack the Ripper case and the Hell Hound investigation. Still, the series isn’t all serious since it also has a delightful sense of humor that makes even the villains comical despite the things they do. You just have to love the Undertaker character who shows up a few times as a certain character who proves to be evil … and a big fan of Sebastian.

We also meet Ciel’s betrothed, a lively young girl named Elizabeth Midford who joins Ciel in a few fun moments in this series such as when Ciel and Sebastian participate in an ice sculpture contest in order to win a ring that contains the famous Hope Diamond. When Elizabeth is taken by a puppet master who is determined to make beautiful people into living dolls. Oh, but there’s somebody else pulling the stings that we will certainly see more of in Part 2 of this season.

My biggest gripe, however, is an obvious one to anyone who has seen an anime with British characters and that’s the accents. The English dub performances are excellent but I finds myself not quite convinced by Brina Palencia (who voices Ciel) and Monica Rial (who voices Mey-Rin) who try but just don’t quite get it right. Then again there’s J. Michael Tatum who makes it sound so good that it makes Sebastian sound even just as good as he looks.

Season One Part 1 of Black Butler isn’t just a great anime series but it’s one of those rare “instant classics” that will not fail to make a fan out of you from the very start. With an easily likeable cast, well-executed animation and a compulsively watch-worthy story, Black Butler serves up a delectable anime series that should be in your collection right now.

DVD REVIEW BREAKDOWN

MOVIE/EPISODES: A-
A guardian of the city and the young master of the Phantomhive estate, Ciel has made a most unusual and mysterious pact that includes a handsome and skilled butler named Sebastian that is destined to stay at his side to the very end. Together, along with his staff, Ciel involves himself with strange cases that include the legendary Hope Diamond and even Jack the Ripper.

VIDEO QUALITY: A
The series a very distinct look background and character-wise and those who love the gothic look will certainly find a lot to love about the animation. There are also splendid visual effects throughout this series and all of it looks stunning on DVD. Here’s hoping FUNimation releases a Blu-ray edition as well.

AUDIO QUALITY: B+
The Japanese voice actors make the dialogue work wonderful if you don’t care for English accents and the English dub isn’t bad at all since there are excellent English accents (J. Michael Tatum and Ian Sinclair being the more notable) and so-so ones (Monica Rial and Brina Palencia being the more notable). However, the gorgeous soundtrack makes up for it with a grand score by Taku Iwasaki and great opening and closing theme songs (we love BECCA‘s closing theme song).

EXTRAS: B+
The two-disc package contains two audio commentary tracks (one with Colleen Clinkenbeard and Brina Palencia and the other Ian Sinclair and J. Michael Tatum) plus a text Musical Profile for BECCA (who was discovered by Meredith Brooks and has a loyal following in Japan). There are also the clean opening and closing theme songs, trailers and a featurette called “The Story Thus Far” featuring narration from Tanaka himself.

OVERALL: A-
It’s rare to find an anime series with a gothic appeal that makes for an original viewing experience but Black Butler pulls it off easily. Balancing dark supernatural elements, solid action and comedic elements that will not fail to make you chuckle more than a few times, Part 1 of Season One of Black Butler is just what you’re looking for if you’ve been dying to get your hands on one hell of an anime series.

Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment

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