Black Butler Season 1, Part 1 (DVD) Review

Is the Popular Black Butler Anime as Good as its Fans Say?

Black Butler Season One Part One Blu-ray and DVD Cover Artwork
Black Butler Season One Part One Blu-ray and DVD Cover Artwork. Yana Toboso/SQUARE ENIX, Kuroshitsuji Project, MBS

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What They Say

Ciel Phantomhive is the most powerful boy in all of England, but he bears the scars of unspeakable suffering. Forced to watch as his beloved parents were brutally murdered, Ciel was subsequently abducted and violently tortured. Desperate to end his suffering, the boy traded his own soul for a chance at vengeance, casting his lot with the one person on whom he could depend: Sebastian, a demon Butler summoned from the very pits of hell. Together, they’ll prowl the darkest alleys of London on a mission to snuff out those who would do evil. They’re a rare sight, these two: the Butler who dismembers with dazzling cutlery – and the Young Master who carries the devil’s marking. Rest assured that wherever they may be headed, it’ll be one hell of a ride.

The Episodes

Good help is hard to find. It’s such a luxury to have someone upright and dependable to pour tea, clean house, weed the garden … and fend off kidnappers with kitchen utensils. Especially if the butler in question has demonic blood, and is bound to his master by a Satanic contract come hell (literally) or high water. He's also called, Sebastian.

Just as Sebastian himself has two faces, loyal servant vs. diabolical, otherworldly creature, so does Black Butler itself. One half is saturated with dread and darkness, all blood oaths and diablerie. The other half is pratfalls, dumb sight gags and dippy double-takes. The gags themselves are not the problem, I laughed a good deal at the other servants in the Phantomhive household for instance, it's when something that’s supposed to be horrifying is approached like just another gag such as when Ciel and Sebastian do battle with the chainsaw-wielding grim reaper Grell Sutcliffe, a character who winds up being played for laughs.

There is another character in this portion of the story who's handled far more seriously, and that goes some distance towards offsetting the silliness, but it's still jarring.

The real appeal of the show is in seeing the ultra-smooth Sebastian strut his stuff. Whether improvising a meal from burnt scraps, dangling thugs over a precipice or disciplining a werewolf, he never loses his cool, never lets so much as a single fold of his jacket come uncreased, and never lets his sly smile lose any of its electricity.

His charisma and his butler’s skills, which he uses to make silk purses out of any number of sow’s ears, are great fun to watch. “After all,” he says, in what has become this show’s perennial catchphrase, “I am one hell of a butler.”

What’s less fun, again, is how the show thrashes back and forth between being lightweight and heavyweight, often right in the same scene. Also, despite set in Victorian England, it handles its historical details frivolously (and sometimes downright anachronistically); fans of the original Black Butler manga (Japanese comic book) have complained about how much of the research featured there has all but evaporated here. Then again, the show’s main goal is to be entertaining, and it certainly entertains—it’s just wildly inconsistent in how it does it. Here’s hoping the second half of the season picks a tone and sticks with it.

DVD and Special Features

A relatively new anime series, Black Butler looks fine on DVD with little to complain about in regards to the image and sound quality. This release features two audio commentaries by the English voice actors, which are entertaining for fans of these actors but may bore most viewers, as well as the usual trailers and commercials for other FUNimation anime releases.

Who Should Watch?

Black Butler is an anime series that will appeal to anime fans in their late teens who are used to the slightly odd objectification of male characters in the genre. Black Butler's entire concept seems to be designed for fans who love to freak out over sexy men in suits and the supernatural elements keep the concept fresh. Do you love posting animated gifs of hot anime boys on Tumblr? This series is for you.

Did You Know?

There was a live action film based on the Black Butler anime and manga released in 2014. It was directed by Kentaro Otani (director of the live action Nana films) and Keichi Sato (director of the Tiger and Bunny anime movie) and starred hunky Hiro Mizushima in the title role.

Overall

This first half of the anime series that’s become a massive fan-favorite is uneven, sporting a curious mix of goofy humor and blood-curdling dread.

That said, most fans of Black Butler, and specifically, its swoon-worthy titular butler, will readily forgive such problems and is worth checking out for fans of this genre. Compare Prices

Edited by Brad Stephenson

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy. The DVD featured in this review is the Region 1 Blu-ray release. Alternate releases are available in other regions.