Mania Grade: B+
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- Audio Rating: B+
- Video Rating: B+
- Packaging Rating: A
- Menus Rating: B
- Extras Rating: B
- Age Rating: 14 and Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
- MSRP: 64.98
- Running time: 300
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Black Butler
Black Butler Season 1 Part 1
Black Butler Season 1 Part 1 Anime DVD Review
By Chris Beveridge
January 18, 2011
Release Date: January 11, 2011
Black Butler Season
The dog of the Queen deals with the odd and unusual cases of 19th century England alongside one hell of a butler.
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.
This limited edition comes in a sturdy chipboard box embossed with silver foil accents designed to replicate the original Japanese packaging and is sized to hold the DVD volumes of both parts 1 and 2.
Contains episodes 1-12.
Black Butler comes with a pretty standard audio design as we get the original Japanese language in stereo encoded at 192kbps and the English 5.1 mix at 448kbps. The Japanese track is pretty solid as it deals well with the dialogue and music to good effect. There's some good placement with it and a few sequences where the depth adds to the action. The music has a good flow to it as it doesn't ramp up too high and drown out the dialogue but it's still adding a good layer of warmth in a number of scenes. The English track has a louder feeling to it in general but adds a bit more clarity to the various sound effects and the music has a fuller feeling to it. Dialogue for both tracks is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in late 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is spread across two volumes with seven episodes on the first and five on the second plus an episode-length extra. This series has a pretty dark look to it as much of it takes place at night or indoors with minimal lighting but it holds up rather well. There's a very distinct look to it but it doesn't go over the top with a layer of added grain or anything. The colors are generally a bit murky but certain vibrant colors, such as the reds at times, really stand out well. There's a lot of detail to this show in its backgrounds with the elaborate walls, paintings and so forth and it all comes across very well without any serious or noticeable loss. The show looks quite good here overall and feels like it represents the source materials well.
Black Butler marks one of the first releases of 2011 to utilize the newer packaging style that FUNimation is using with a number of releases. For a $5 premium, the first run of releases like this will get some limited edition items to it that won't be available once they run out, which will then have the release just as the keepcases in a simple sleeve and discs themselves. The first press edition we have here is definitely perfect for this release.
The box is a good heavy chipboard type that has a really slick full deep black wrap to it with silver embossing for the logo and the framework around the image itself. The front cover has Ciel and Sebastian together with a purple background that's filled with a lot of really great detail and a design that's wholly appropriate for it. The back has a lightly glued on one-sheet that has a good breakdown of the show, several shots from it and a clean listing of the discs features and technical information. It's certainly decently done, but you want what's behind it, which is the same design as the front but with Grell and Ciel's aunt against a red backdrop. As serene as the front is, the back has the feeling of rage and violence to it. What's really nice is that since this box is designed to hold all four thinpak cases, the buffer box inside is done in black and both sides have some really great piece of artwork that would look fantastic framed.
Inside the package we get a pair of thinpak cases that are clear in nature. They stand out well because the rtwork is done primarily in black and white with the only real color being Sebastian' face. He's on both covers with very different expressions and styles that shows the two ways an encounter with him can go. The logo is kept simple and there's a really nice black ornate border that feels very appropriate here. The back cover is all black for its background with a bit of Victorian style to it. Through the center we get the simple breakdown of the episode numbers and titles. The reverse side of the covers are done up really nicely with each of them featuring a two panel spread against a black background of the various main characters of the series so far that has a good sense of placement and design about them that's quite appealing.
The menu design for Black Butler works well as it uses a background style that's evocative of how the mansion and Victorian homes are with the print style as it's done with shades of purple and black. Inside of it there's a large block in the center with character artwork that looks good, especially with Sebastian and her very demonic look because of his expression and eyes. The navigation strip along the bottom of it has a good looking font to it that gives it a touch of elegance without going into a script style and there's enough ornate material around it that it all feels very appropriate and sets the mood with the somewhat menacing instrumental music. Sometimes static menus can work well. Unfortunately, the discs did not read our players' language presets and defaulted to English language with sign/song subtitles.'
The extras for this release are interesting overall and I like how one of them is classified. The first disc contains a pair of commentary tracks for two of the episodes which lets the English language production crew talk about their experiences. The second disc has a few extras well with the clean opening and closing here. What's also included is a full length episode that is essentially a recap that serves as a recap for the first collection overall. With only twenty-four episodes in this series, a recap episode feels odds but I can see how it'd be used during the original broadcast over the holidays to keep interest and to bring in potential new viewers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga series by Yana Toboso which began in 2006 and is still ongoing, Black Butler is a twenty-four episode series that takes us to the realm of 19th century England. The manga and this first season of the anime scored quite a lot of fans during its initial release and the cosplay crowd really took it to heart as well with numerous incarnations of a few key characters throughout the 2009 season. Going into this show was kind of awkward as I had missed it the first time around but watched the simulcast of the second season so I have a familiarity of it going into but from a very different perspective based on how that season went.
The series takes place in the Victorian period of England where we're introduced to a young Ciel Phantomhive who is about twelve years of age. He's the master of his mansion as his parents died some three years prior in a fire that destroyed everything. In the time since then, he was essentially missing only to return to a mansion that was rebuilt down to the same exacting details of the first. And with his return, he's come with a butler named Sebastian who tends to his every need and carries out his every order. There are other servants that work there carrying out chores inside and outside of the mansion, but they're there largely for comedic effect more than anything else. At times they prove useful but I found them to be more of a distraction than anything else from the show.
Ciel isn't like he used to be as a child, something a childhood friend named Elizabeth realizes as she talks about how he hasn't smiled since before his parents died and there's something different about him. She's still very much in love with him and tries to figure out ways to bring back that smile. Lizzie is a fun character overall and thankfully she's kept to small moments where she's a whirlwind in the otherwise staid mansion. For Ciel, he's leading the life of a serious noble as he's gained favor with the Queen as a person who can get very unusual jobs done and taken care of. The Phantomhive family has quite the history to it which is only lightly touched on here but it helps to paint the picture of why he's able to get away with the things he does.
What makes these jobs even more possible is his butler as Sebastian is something more than just a normal butler. Though you can figure it out from the start, the reveals come over time as we learn that he's something otherworldly that has established a supernatural contract with Ciel that has cost him something with his Eye as he wears a patch over it. It does get dealt with a bit, but what the show largely focuses on is Ciel giving Sebastian the orders and seeing him carry everyhting out because he really is literally one hell of a butler. And he does it with incredible style and a sense of suaveness and wit that helps raise him up to a really fun level. He's not without his issues, as one story has him dealing with dogs and he's not all that keen on them so he's not exactly the ultimate at everything.
Watching Sebastian in action is a lot of the fun here as his style is what sells it, especially when he shifts from being mildly amused by what he's doing to being coldly serious. Because of his nature, he's pretty hard to kill as well as we have a kidnapping sequence with Ciel and Sebastian gets shot repeatedly only to just spit out the bullets and fling them back. And Ciel knows it so he get exasperated over the way that Sebastian takes so long to actually get going in taking care of the problem. There's a length story involving the pair and the servants going to a somewhat remote village that Ciel is going to turn into a resort, though that's more of a cover, as their real job is to investigate a demon dog that's running around there causing trouble. Sebastian carries off his role very well because of the kind of style he's using as there's a very light amount of smugness to it that's tied to a very warranted self confidence.
Where the show won me over in a very particular way is when it comes to the character of Grell. Operating as a truly bumbling and ineffective butler for Ciel's aunt, Grell is much more than he seems. When his true nature is revealed and we get a look at what his role in history is, it just adds a really delicious flavor to him. When Greel goes full blown into this mode and attempts to take down Sebastian, it goes over the top but introduces more of the supernatural elements to the show. Grell's true origins are really interesting as it takes a particular supernatural element in a way most don't by making it an office. Grell really introduces the really crazy and off-kilter approach to things, both in his butler form and afterward, just by force of personality. Yet he has the semblance of seeing the world through his eyes in a way that feels right to him and that gives him a kind of confidence that just adds to his over the top moments.
Visually, I rather like the show even though it has young characters like Ciel and Elizabeth who typically annoy me. The Victorian setting works very much in its favor as it has a different air about it and characters like Sebastian with his proper butler uniform is very much in style. The character across the board are nicely designed and those like Grell and the Undertaker have their own really good sense of style as their stories play out a bit. The backgrounds are good as they show a dark and dreary London but also know how to show off some really attractive scenes, especially at the Phantomhive estate. The animation is rather smooth throughout with some very fluid moments to it but it rarely looks like a budget show and when it does, it looks to be more on purpose than anything else. The look and feel of the show is very appropriate for the place and stories being told. It very rarely looks Japanese.
Black Butler is a rather fun show as it almost has that whole wink and smile thing going on as it runs through the stories. The characters are generally quickly likable and the stories aren't kept to single episode adventures, but they're not overly long storylines either. There are undercurrents of events playing out among it that largely hint at what's to come while also slowly clarifying the relationship between Ciel and Sebastian, but it also changes things up mid stream with characters like Grell and his apparent sponsor changing our expectations of what they are. It's easy to see why this show gained a following and what we get here is essentially fun and stylish. This set went by surprisingly quickly and I found myself wanting to watch more as soon as it was over. It may not be for everyone but it's a show that's definitely a lot of fun.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, English Language Commentaries, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Recap Episode
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
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