"Black Butler" Part Two: One Hell of an Ending
Part One of Black Butler ended on a high note, with Ciel and Sebastian managing to save young Lady Elizabeth from a creepy doll maker. It had a level of action, suspense and intensity that you would expect from any exciting show, and revealed that the innocent Angela wasn’t quite who she seemed. Part Two, unfortunately, doesn’t start off on the right foot. Really, the entire last half is inconsistent in its representation. When Black Butler is good it is good, but when it is bad it becomes cringe-worthy. The show would have done well to stick to its serious side, because that is when it shines. Fortunately, it does come through at the end and will leave viewers feeling satisfied.
From the beginning of the series, the underlying plot-line has been about Ciel’s search for his parent’s murderer(s). His contract with Sebastian dictates that when this task is accomplished and revenge is taken, Sebastian may eat his soul. Black Butler uses mini-episode arcs to slowly creep toward this goal, with one event or another bleeding over into a subsequent arc. Part Two continues this approach with Ciel acting as the faithful guard dog of the Queen as she assigns him tasks the regular police force cannot solve themselves. The first of these is an investigation into a series of murders related to Indian immigrants. Within this and later cases the questions surrounding Ciel’s parents begin to become answered, and Ciel soon finds himself questioning his loyalty towards the Queen when he is accused of smuggling drugs. Ironically, Ciel learns that the only one he can trust is the one who will end his life.
For a show organized as a succession of mini-arcs to work, all the arcs need to be equally thoughtful and entertaining. Having one arc that is excellent and another that is silly and dumb is frustrating. This happens to be the case with Black Butler, and is especially true for the first three episodes of Part Two, where Ciel is more or less forced to be the babysitter for an Indian prince and his bodyguard. The idea in and of itself isn’t terrible, but the execution is. Both the prince and his bodyguard are incredibly dramatic and over the top whenever they are on screen. Now, Black Butler has always been a bit melodramatic at times, but this just takes things a bit too far. When you have a group of people turning evil due to curry bread I begin to roll my eyes and wonder why I am wasting my time watching it.
Black Butler is at its best when it mixes the serious with only little tidbits of comedy. This rings true for the next arc, which features Ciel and Sebastian going to a church that prides itself on “cleansing” individuals of their impurities. Grim Reapers get involved, and we soon learn that there is a creature behind the cleansing rituals. The plot builds up just enough to get the viewer on the edge of their seat and then takes off when our protagonist learns who might be behind his parents’ death. In short, it is a great arc and captures the smooth atmosphere that Black Butler does well at creating.
Despite having numerous side characters, the story has always been about the relationship between Ciel and Sebastian. It is somewhat ironic that the only individual Ciel believes he can trust is a demon, a creature notorious for being evil. This fits well for Ciel, seeing as he has cast aside all those around him and sees everyone but the Queen as mere pawns. Part Two makes this dynamic a bit more interesting by throwing their relationship out of kilter, as Sebastian begins to question whether or not Ciel is as determined to take revenge for his parents as he first thought. It serves as a nice way to break their “perfect” partnership and throw some turmoil into the story. It also gives a bit of characterization to Ciel, who seemed very one-note during the first half of the show. We learn that he is capable of having human emotions when he literally finds himself all alone at one point. In episode 21 the three other servants of the Phantomhive household get a bit of back story as the viewer learns how they became hired at the estate. Before they had merely served as comedic relief, so even the little characterization they get here is welcome and is done quite well.
Sebastian’s characterization remains the same. In another series this could be a negative, but it works for Black Butler. Sebastian is meant to be cool, calm and badass no matter how difficult the situation appears. Had he undergone a change in mindset it would have ruined his character. While he functions as a deus ex machina, by the end of the series it has gotten to a point where you don’t mind that he defeats all of his opponents. At times it can be easy to forget that he is a demon, but that temptation completely vanishes during the final fight, where we get to see just how serious Sebastian is about obeying his master. The contrast between him and the antagonist (whose identity I will not spoil) serves as a very interesting dynamic for the series and makes the ending pretty exciting when they have their final confrontation.
The character designs in this series are definitely geared towards fangirls, with the pretty-boy look evident in the protagonists Ciel and Sebastian. I’ve always sort of been a fan of this look if only because it looks so crisp and clean. The character designs mixed with the colors, fighting and blood overall give the entire show a very sleek look. But I have one major complaint about this series: the English vocal track. To be frank, it is terrible and at times is painful to sit through. The accents all feel forced, and this can be heard not only with the British accents but also the Indian accents. If you don’t mind subtitles then watching it in Japanese is the best way to go because the characters sound way better. Included in the extras are commentaries for episodes 16 and 21. They aren’t particularly informative but still worth listening to if you enjoy cast and staff interactions.
While the series is flawed and at times predictable, Black Butler is also just a lot of fun. The series builds to a very satisfying climax despite some bumps in the road; and, after all, at the end of the day it is difficult to find a series that doesn’t have an episode here and there that is sub-par. While Black Butler has a look that is geared towards fangirls, it has a mixture of drama, action and comedy that gives it a depth that will appeal beyond that demographic. I encourage any viewer to at least give the show a shot; you might quickly find yourself entangled in the web of mystery that drives Ciel and the story.