The Novel Strumpet Talks Anime – Black Butler

That’s right I’m kicking this off with a post about my favorite anime/manga Kuroshitsuji aka Black Butler. 

Judge me all you like for this being my #1, I don’t care.  I love it, end of discussion.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about (which boggles my mind) here are some brief notes and plot summary:

Kuroshitsuji is the creation of Yana Toboso (a thousand thank you’s Yana Toboso!) and started being serialized in one of Square Enix shonen magazines in 2006 and it’s still going. The first season of the anime was released in 2008 and since then has spawned 3 anime seasons, 1 two-part OVA, 1 live-action film, a few musicals (no I’m not kidding) and the latest release was a theatrical anime movie in 2017.

The Plot:

Ciel, a young man between 12-13 years of age, is the current Earl of Phantomhive. One night three years ago, his family was brutally murdered and he was kidnapped. The group who took him tortured him for a while and then forced him to take part in a ritualistic sacrifice so they could call forth a demon to do their bidding.  However, the demon has no interest in the group and instead focuses on the boy crying out for vengeance.  The demon offers the boy a deal, he will help the boy get his vengeance, but once that has been completed the demon gets to eat his soul.  The boy agrees and they form a contract, the seal of which Ciel bears on his right eye (he hides it with an eye patch) and the demon bears on his left hand.  After three years it is presumed the entire family is dead, but suddenly Ciel, along with a mysterious butler dressed all in black (nudge nudge), reappears and reclaims his birthright and everything that goes along with the title, which includes policing the underworld of society as The Queen’s Guard Dog.

There’s a lot more to it, but that is the basic gist.

Also, manga readers, I am well aware of what’s happening in the current arc right now, but this is about the anime so while I may reference the manga a bit I’m not going there.

***Warning – Spoilers Ahead***

Why it’s my #1 anime:

So what drew me to this anime?  Well, most people who know me would think it was the fact that it takes place in the Victorian era because I am a sucker for all things Victorian and that two of the story arcs focus on Jack the Ripper (S1) and Sherlock Holmes (Book of Murder OVA) – which I’m also obsessed with – but that’s not the reason.

Honestly, it is 100% the dynamics of Ciel and Sebastian.


Their relationship (I do not ship this! more on that later) is one of my favorites in any medium because it is so incredibly complex that you never know what to feel.  Sometimes they are an Earl and his Butler, sometimes a lost boy and a father figure (albeit that one is a little messed up), sometimes they’re partners, sometimes they’re enemies, sometimes they are a demon and his lunch, the relationship constantly changes and you never know from one moment to the next what you’re going to get.  The one thing you do know is that there is a deeper game going on between these two, and at times it’s hard to figure out who the demon really is.  After all, Ciel is no angel.  The world around him is a chessboard and everyone is simply a piece he is moving about the board and he will sacrifice anyone to achieve his goal, especially Sebastian since he’s a demon and all. I mean kind of hard to kill. In fact, at times Sebastian is the one pulling Ciel back from taking a step too far.  But before you start to soften toward the demon, every action he takes is essentially to add “seasoning” to his meal. Building Ciel up to tear him down again over and over.  It’s as brutal as it is beautiful to watch their battle of wills. I’m hard-pressed to know who I ultimately want to win.

Ciel Black Butler GIF - Ciel BlackButler GIFs

The world they inhabit may be filled with all the privilege a member of the aristocracy has, even one so young as Ciel, but since the Phantomhives serve as the “police” of the underworld, they also inhabit the underbelly of society as well.  The Queen’s Guard Dog has a reputation to uphold and Ciel takes to it like a duck to water, even though you get the impression that prior to the horrible events surrounding his family’s murders, he was a very happy boy who felt loved and safe.  His tragic experience didn’t break him, it created him into something else and despite his small stature, he is not someone to trifle with.  Sebastian may be the one doing most of the dangerous work and using his supernatural nature to achieve things no mere mortal could achieve, but make no mistake that Ciel is not someone you underestimate and he can be just as dangerous as any villain they come up against.

But it’s not all about Ciel and Sebastian: 

There are a host of other characters too that are just as complex, in fact it’s hard to find any character in this series who doesn’t have some sort of double life.  Like the Phantomhive servants.  A trio of seemingly incapable buffoons, but then you learn they weren’t hired to be the perfect servants, but the perfect bodyguards.  After all, one is an ex-soldier, one is an ex-assassin and one has almost inhuman strength.

Then there is Ciel’s betrothed, Lady Elizabeth Midford, who is a silly frivolous girl on the surface that wants to cover everything in bright colors and frills.  She truly adores Ciel and only wants to see him smile – a rare occurrence nowadays – and she goes about doing anything she can to make him happy.  But, she is also a badass with a sword and she has vowed to marry the Queen’s Guard Dog, and by heavens that is what she will do.

And let’s not forget the Grim Reapers – what you thought Sebastian was the only supernatural being in this show – often disguising themselves as normal humans in order to investigate incidents where large groups are mysteriously dying, they don’t blend in as well as Sebastian at times, but they manage.  Ok, most do, but Grell is far too fantastic to be relegated to obscurity.

Then there is the unending cast of characters that make up society’s underworld, like The Undertaker, who is probably my second favorite character outside of Sebastian/Ciel.  The more the series has gone on, the more you start to learn that this isn’t some weird goth guy who makes coffins and likes to make people tell him jokes.  He’s got his own game and Ciel and Sebastian are caught right in the middle.

Then there is every story arc that feeds into the next but also ties back to a previous and this recent manga arc is going to kill me!  Usually, I am that annoying person who can figure things out in movies, books, etc. fairly quickly and even I didn’t really see this coming and now that I’m going back to re-watch the anime and re-read the manga I’m kicking myself that I didn’t see what was so blatantly obvious before!  Yet another reason I love this series.  It keeps me on my toes and guessing.

And lest you think that you may give this a try and are expecting nothing but dark fantasy and mayhem I will admit now that this show does rely on a lot of humor.  Aside from the antics of the Phantomhive servants, and Lizzy’s over-the-top kawaii obsession, there is a lot of other outright slapstick and tongue-in-cheek moments. I mean, the Grim Reapers’ scythes alone are just bizarre, one has a lawnmower to collect souls.  I kid you not.  And Sebastian is the epitome of cool, but watching him take down his opponents with basic household cutlery is a thing of comedic beauty.

Lets’ Talk Voice Actors for a moment:

So, I’ve watched this series in both sub and dub and sorry but I’m team dub because Brina Palencia as Ciel and J. Michael Tatum as Sebastian are just divine and another reason I became obsessed with this show.  I mean they nail these characters and seriously any fan of this show is going to tell you they live to hear Sebastian utter “I’m simply one hell of a butler” or Ciel cry out “This is an order”. And yes, I have scoured the internet to discover what other anime or voice work they have done just so I can hear them act in those as well.  I love the timbre of J. Michael Tatum’s voice so much I’d have him read the dictionary to me. Weird, maybe, but anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for a good voice.  Fair warning now, be prepared for me to point out if Mr. Tatum voices a character in any future anime I talk about.

Actually the entire cast does a great job and I can’t for the life of me think of anyone else who could voice each of these characters.

The not so great:

Oh, there has to be some bad right?

Let’s start by acknowledging the elephant in the room.  Ciel is a minor and there are pretty graphic depictions of his torture and sacrifice, not to mention he is often in scenarios that may cause him physical harm if not mental anguish.  Granted, Black Butler is not the only anime (or show, film, book, manga) out there that depicts violence again minors but that doesn’t mean it’s ok.  I struggle with the fact that I like this series so much despite this, and I can’t really offer an excuse that ultimately makes it ok.  

The second thing that brings the series down is the second half of season 1 of the anime and all of season 2.  I think they don’t work because neither tie into the manga and – quite frankly – it shows.  Yana Toboso has done such a fabulous job weaving this story and all the elements together that when the show strays from the manga you can almost feel that it has gone off-script.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I still watch them when I do my binge re-watches but they are still the weakest links in this whole affair. I still can’t believe the ending of season 2 and how they thought that was a good idea, but thankfully season 3 came along and retconned all that.

Then there is the live-action film.  Oh, bless them.  I mean I struggle to think of any live-action anime movie that has really done the source material justice and it’s not the worst out there (looking at you Netflix’s Death Note) but they essentially took the entire arc of the first season, dropped it in the future and made Ciel a girl.  Ugh.  Again, I’ll still re-watch it from time to time because I don’t think the actors do too bad with what they were given but if you’re going to do a live-action movie then please either stick to the source material as is or – because Sebastian is a demon so has lived many lives – get away from the Phantomhive family and put Sebastian with someone else.  I mean we’d love to know about another soul he encountered right?

The Ships I’m sailing on:

Unpopular Opinion: I DO NOT SHIP CIEL AND SEBASTIAN!!!! Ciel is a minor. He’s around 12/13 when the show takes place and Sebastian is a grown @ss man – demon – thing. I will never ship them because it’s wrong, wrong, wrong. And don’t try to talk some weird logic to me about how a demon really has no age, or that this was ultimately meant to be yaoi/shounen-ai, that doesn’t change the fact Ciel is a minor.

However, in case you are wondering, or even if you are not, what ship I’m sailing into this fandom harbor, that would be aboard my headcanon OTP – The Undertaker and Vincent Phantomhive (Ciel’s father).  You would have to read the manga to understand. I would love to see a spin-off prequel series with these two, even if they aren’t romantically involved. I’m seriously about ready to write a letter begging Yana Toboso to write this, that’s how bad I need it.

Let’s talk about the pretties:

How can I be a fangirl and not gush over the characters I love?  I can’t.  And yes, these are all going to be male characters, because I want to.

Sebastian Michaelis

Yes, he’s an animated character, but c’mon.  Look at this beauty.  Behold the wonder that is this smexy demon turned butler:

Couple that with the aforementioned vocals and insta-swoon. It’s so wrong, but so right at the same time.  I’ll even look past the fact that he likes cats and hates dogs.

Vincent Phantomhive

Aka Ciel’s father, Former Earl of Phantomhive and former Queen’s Guard Dog – dear heavens:

Just look at that perfection, would you?  You almost want Ciel to grow up to see if he winds up coming even close to the sinful hotness that was his father. Granted he’s not in the anime that much seeing as he’s technically dead, but when we get him in flashbacks it is a cause for celebration.

Oh wait….the anime gods did smile on us with an OVA where Ciel is in an Alice in Wonderland scenario and for a hot second, and I do mean a hot second, they aged him up and yes he would do papa Phantomhive proud.  This meme about sums it up:

The Undertaker

Well, I’ve mentioned him so here he is.  You’d have to read the manga and watch nearly all of the animes to truly understand why I love him, but the most recent anime/manga arcs make him one of the most intriguing characters in the whole series to me:

In conclusion:

I could spend posts and posts waxing on about this series, but I was trying to be as concise as possible, I failed, but this could go on even longer, so…  I mean I could pick apart each character, each series of the animation, each arc of the manga, but I won’t. Ok, maybe there will be a future post where I talk about one specific season or film in the franchise, but this post is an overview.

Seriously, I’ve been watching this one for years, YEARS, and I still catch things at times I missed before.  And I have to stop now or I never will.

Feel free to share your thoughts below and send me any suggestions. Or hit me up on Twitter.

Next time:

I am a pork cutlet bowl of Eros!

Bonus Sebastian!  Because who can really get enough?  That’s right.  No one:

Somebody said Anime Tuesday? I Give you Black Butler!

Ok…I had to sneak in this Undertaker…because…just rawr…

One of my most used gifs because Ciel says it all:

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