There is no humor greater than gallows Humor. Hence, I freaking adore Black Butler.
Black Butler, or Kuroshitsuji if you wanna be picky, is one of the most successful and well-loved supernatural animes in the medium. Playing out more like a black comedy/gothic mystery, the show follows the ersatz family of the Phantomhive Manor, specifically lord Ciel and his Butler, Sebastian. Lord Ciel, no older than 12, is under contract with the demonic Butler to find and kill the assailant who murdered Ciel’s family and burned down the manor. Once that killer is no more, Sebastian then gets to devour the young boy’s soul.
For all the instances of blatant Yaoi-Baiting, and there are plenty, Kuroshitsuji has been one of my all time favorites for a very long time. With an elegantly written plot, bittersweet drama, and bust-a-gut dark humor, the show is a delectable piece of dark chocolate, albeit with a spicy kick.
But for all my praise, it’s hard to ignore what is, ultimately, the show’s biggest issue: Sebastian.
Uh-oh, I think he heard me….
Now before you link me to miles of fanfiction about how awesome Sebastian is, let me make it very clear that I adore the Butler; he’s unbearably charming, perfect at everything he does, and so apathetic of humanity it makes some utterly hilarious moments. But that in itself is the problem. Anything fighting him will lose; anyone threatening Ciel will be thwarted; Sebastian will never be caught off guard. This eliminates a lot of possible tension in the show, as with the Hellsing series, and it leaves a single question in mind: how has this show survived with such a huge drawback?
Well, the devil’s in the details, my friends. And this show has a wicked attention span when it comes to details.
- I humbly Introduce Lord Protagonist DeHuman
There’s no doubt Sebastian steals the show frequently, but he simply cannot be the hero. So, why not focus on a more likable, more squishy fellow, who has absolute control over our deceptive dandy?
Enter Lord Ciel Phantomhive, Earl and sole survivor of the Phantomhive Mansion fire. Ciel, a tiny human boy forced to mature, has all the agency the series needs. As the lord of a huge estate and family business, he directs where everyone goes and what gets done about any given problem. He has a weighty backstory that affects his every move, the ability to make bad calls that lead to trouble and, most important, he control’s Sebastian’s every move. This fact is not lost on the fans, who enjoy a host of naughty thoughts about their relationship.
The author also encourages this indirectly and directly. I’ve gotten used to it.
For all Sebastian’s power and grace he is, at the end of a day, a tool to be directed. Ciel decides what his Butler does and focuses on day to day, and that decision shapes the story much better than letting Sebastian wander willy-nilly. By putting the reins in a much more flawed character, our story blossoms and carves out a much better path.
- Focus on the Journey, Sir
With all the potential Ciel brings to the show, ultimately we know how it will end: Sebastian will find the killer, make him dead, and then Om-Nom-Nom on Ciel in a way the fans did not hope he would. With this hanging over the heads of all who watch the show, we run a very real risk of the audience becoming completely apathetic. So, the key here is to make the trip there interesting, dress it up all pretty.
Um, maybe not like that…
Black Butler is focused on solving a gothic mystery, and making the lead up to the end as crazy and tense as possible. Since you never know exactly when the show’s gonna drop the hammer, especially as we find more and more people connected to the Phantomhive Murder, the tension rises and you become more invested. It also makes the journey there as interesting as possible, with flashy animation, interesting antagonists, and a dark sense of humor that will “go there” or go home.
- If You Can’t Cry, Laugh
It’s hard to imagine such a premise being fun, isn’t it? I can imagine those outside the fandom wonder how fans of this show can watch it without feeling incredibly sad. After all, aren’t we watching the downfall, the tragic fall, of the Phantomhive Family because of one little boy’s fall from grace?
We are, but we’re also watching Sebastian coo over a cat.
It’s…. so… Fluffy….
Black Butler is a tragedy, to be sure, but it doesn’t really wallow until later in season one. The buildup to the big breakdown is pickled not with sadness but with laughter: dark comedy, slapstick, puns, you name it. And what should be jarring blends seamlessly because of Sebastian’s blunt detachment from the world, and Ciel’s bitter determination. Thus the show prevents itself from growing boring or stale by being what is, without a doubt, one of the funniest shows you will ever see, and one of the darkest.
- So Where Does This Leave us, Children?
It leaves with a show that is both funny and morbid, macabre and marvelous, and everything in between. With careful structure and clever writing techniques Yana Taboso created a show that your average anime fan may like, but your supernatural fantasy fan will adore.
Do you think Black Butler is the best or the worst? Why do you like/dislike the show? Feel free to leave a comment or question for me below, and don’t forget to like and follow for more content just like this.