Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer 2010: Black Butler II

For the past few years, the role of the servant has been quite prevalent in anime. Most likely, the servant has come in the guise of a maid, whether it be the actual house servant (Emma, Hanaukyo Maid Team) or one that is primarily the "Akihabara maid-cafe" kind (Maid-sama!). However, the butler has finally been getting his props after years of neglect, even if those roles have been few and hardly serious in nature (Ladies vs. Butlers!, Hayate the Combat Butler).

If there has been one series that has reversed the trend of the butler's utility in anime, it would have to be Yana Toboso's Kuroshitsuji ("Black Butler"). The initial anime television series had mixed the tastes from Japan's "boys' love" fan community with the gothic style of fashion that had wandered over from visual-kei bands, creating a tale of suspense from 19th-century England that both tweaked murder stories of the past and corrupted the horror show with occasional bouts of comedy.

The original series featured the relationship between Ciel Phantomhive and Sebastian Michaelis, lord and manservant on the manor. However, that relationship was more of the guest-host variety, as the pact formed between Ciel and Sebastian was merely one of temporary satiation. Once the young Ciel gets his revenge on those who tortured him in the past, he is to become Sebastian's prey in a demonic ritual. Whether or not such a contract was fulfilled in the first series is not so obvious, perhaps a reason the second series Kuroshitsuji II was created, the current anime being shown on Funimation's video site.

However, we open to a series that is both similar and dissimilar—the lord of the manor in question is Alois Trancy, a boy who had returned to his empire after a scarred past that was just as corrupted as Ciel's. However, almost in direct contrast, Alois is an imperfect being, faking his mirth behind a smile while doling punishment out to his servant Hannah in a very explicit scene. He too has a demonic servant by his side in the form of the impervious Claude Faustus, his contract sealed on Alois's tongue.

Sadly, although I promised to hide all spoilers from the first episode, that would be like hiding the world's worst-kept secret from people. The first mystery that Alois and Claude must face comes knocking on their door during a raging storm, holding an oversized trunk and a hidden agenda. Of course, that stranger turns out to be Sebastian himself, on a quest to restore the Phantomhive name through his master's own revival, but the connection between the Phantomhive and Trancy legacies appears to be one so intricate that the "spider" in the opening shots wove it itself.

While later episodes of the Kuroshitsuji II anime return to its roots—the first Kuroshitsuji anime was known for hitting the viewer with seemingly-unrelated stories before getting to the meat—the underlying adventure is laid out intricately with the return of charming characters from the first series and the debut of disturbing characters from the Trancy clan. While the black butlers dueling in this series may be too perfect to anoint a clear-cut "winner", it is this sudden arrival of an "evil twin" that could provide some interesting stories—for every situation that Ciel managed to show his tolerance for society in the form of kindness, there is the other side of the mirror where Alois shows his as manipulative treachery.

And it appears to be pretty obvious that the clash will be brilliant, even if the battles to get there will be trivial, as Kuroshitsuji II again provides intricate gothic design with brighter colors. The series has been constructed with an elaborate story that forces the viewer to get through smaller mysteries, but a provided antithesis to the main character in a form all too familiar to the original makes the quest "worth its salt", as Sebastian would suggest. While there is still half a season to go, Kuroshitsuji II is, so far, one of the better shows of the summer.

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