Obscured by a veil of feathers, a boy floating above a sacrificial altar is warned by a crow that if he rejects the faith even once, the gates of Heaven will forever stay closed to him. The boy responds by saying that if he was truly among the faithful in the first place, he never would’ve summoned the crow. The two parties then make a contract and the screen fades to black so that the intro can start playing. Immediately after the intro however, we’re treated to the same child waking up for the morning and a tall, handsome man in a jet black suit as his enigmatic butler performing his duties. After the title card pops up, we’re then treated to the comedic antics of his other servants styled like it was ripped straight out of Fullmetal Alchemist.
The above paragraph sums up the first 5 minutes of the first episode of this show. If that doesn’t sound particularly appealing to you, well… I don’t blame you. The 2008 Black Butler anime is many things and being a master of mood whiplash is one of them. When the whole Black Butler hype train came around here stateside back in 2010 when Funimation licensed the anime, I honestly wasn’t even that interested to begin with. I was all about Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece at that point in time and so a show about some kid with an eyepatch and his hypercompetent demon butler didn’t really catch my eye.
When I did give this show a chance in mid-2014 just a few months before Book of Circus came out, I came out of this particular anime feeling rather… hollow. There were bits and pieces of a truly amazing story to be found, but I had to dig through mountains of bullshit just to even find it in the first place. The very beginning of the pilot episode implied that this entire anime would be a Faustian tragedy and well… it is on some measure, but the finished product that we ended up getting seemed to try so many different things and just failed miserably at all of them.
Obviously in the current year, I’ve long since watched every single Black Butler anime ever released, caught up to the manga, and indeed, have written reviews of some of the Black Butler instalments that I’ve read or watched. Still, the 2008 series sticks out in my mind the most because A-1 Pictures still intends for this anime to be the starting point for newcomers to the franchise. That’s actually pretty fucking baffling when you consider how little of this anime actually follows the manga.
Officially, we’re expected to watch up to episode 15 and then start watching everything from Book of Circus onward. HOWEVER, only episodes 2-6 and 13-15 are actually necessary to comprehend everything from Book of Circus going forward. Everything else is well… filler! Okay, it’s not actually filler since the rest of those episodes tie in with the second half of this anime but uh… why would you want to watch it? Rhetorical question of course because there actually are many reasons to watch the second half of this show. But those reasons have a pretty fucking huge warning label over them: don’t expect anything that makes sense.
Originally when I first watched this anime without any prior context on the manga, on the upcoming adaptations, or any of that other stuff, I kinda liked it. Upon retrospect, that was because the anime decided to stop the stupid gag comedy and actually try taking itself seriously. The problem here of course was that the show started taking itself seriously far too late into its run and because of that, a lot of the plot felt like it was strung along until the 24 episode mark where it just ends. I still felt that way at the time, but I felt like I had to give the show credit for actually going out and doing its own thing. I mean, a lot of shows nowadays are terrible because they try to play it so safe and then end up becoming faceless, mediocre garbage. I certainly respect an artist that actually tries to take risks, especially in an industry where profit margins were already low to begin with.
While I still maintain that position on some level, I’ve also come to realise that it’s dangerous to romanticise risk-taking because of the fact that disastrous results from failed gambles often ruin the overall integrity of the project in question. Even if a project is successful with most of the risks that they take, the few that do fail become especially noticeable. I absolutely adore the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime and the risks that show took did pay off to me, but there were some parts that ultimately fell extremely flat because the gamble they took didn’t pay off.
Unfortunately, A-1 Pictures didn’t have the tact of Bones in this regard. One of the most irksome parts of Black Butler is how heavy-handed the show is with its fanservice. It’s no secret that Black Butler has a huge fujoshi fanbase and it’s also no secret that Yana Toboso originally intended to make Black Butler a yaoi series before deciding against it. If this anime is any indication of what Black Butler would’ve been like as a yaoi series, I’m fucking grateful that Toboso decided against it.
The most uncomfortable aspect of this show for me is the amount of yaoi subtext that A-1 Pictures added to Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship. It was like that when I first started watching it and it’s still that way a good 6 years after the fact. Surprising though it may seem, the manga actually didn’t have much in the way of subtext between Ciel and Sebastian. In fact, it actually went through great pains to show the exact opposite. Their relationship in the manga is actually one of grudgingly mutual respect.
Ciel’s horrifying past led to him losing any faith he had left in God and his apostasy led to Sebastian being beckoned. It’s explicitly stated that the kinds of people who summon demons aren’t always like Ciel, so of course Sebastian is interested. The terms of the contract are stacked against Sebastian in that he must never lie, he must have unquestioning loyalty to Ciel, and that he must always protect him no matter what. What’s more is that Ciel’s contract seal is on his eye and it’s stated that in Episode 4 that the more visible the seal is, the stronger the contract is. Ciel knows that Sebastian will act like a monkey’s paw if his orders aren’t explicit enough, and yet he has security in the fact that Sebastian’s extremely good at his job, won’t ever betray him, and won’t ever lie to him.
These would ordinarily be terrible terms for a demon to live under, but Sebastian did so anyway. From his perspective, a once-innocent child was willing to sell his soul to a demon to live. You don’t don’t often find masters like that, so that’s one point for him to stay. Next, Ciel’s fundamental distrust of others allowed him to see through any potential demonic trickery on Sebastian’s part. Given how the typical Faustian protagonist is some dumbass who trades away his soul for something stupid like money, power, sex, or what have you, it’s no surprise to think that Sebastian would be interested in dealing with a master who has some degree of foresight. Finally, we have the fact that Ciel’s duties as the Earl of Phantomhive regularly exposes him to the absolute worst that humanity has to offer. Mind you, Ciel is a child and he hasn’t come out of every encounter completely unscathed. From a demon’s point-of-view, such trauma at a young age only for more to follow as he gets older is effectively the same as his own dinner cooking itself.
In short: Ciel and Sebastian have to put a great amount of trust in one another due to the nature of their contract. Their relationship isn’t devoid of conflict since Sebastian acts like a monkey’s paw and Ciel doesn’t always have the best temper despite usually maintaining a level head. Even if the contract didn’t exist in the picture, there’s a mutual respect between the two because well… Sebastian’s good at his job as both Ciel’s butler and primary caretaker and Ciel’s pretty self aware about his own morality and feels obligated to continue his march into the abyss because he’s already come this far.
Given *all* of that context into Ciel and Sebastian’s relationship, it comes off as especially revolting as A-1 Pictures tries to really hammer home the idea of SebaCiel. To be absolutely fair here, there are moments in the manga that do come close to crossing the line (i.e. Sebastian cradling Ciel when he has a traumatic flashback to the cult during the Circus arc). However, the line was never fully crossed because such moments in the manga always had the context shown to be Sebastian only comforting his master at the bare minimum necessary so that he doesn’t go insane.
Any remotely intimate moment between Ciel and Sebastian in the anime doesn’t have this context. Instead, it just comes off as if Sebastian’s grooming Ciel. To be absolutely fair here, it’s not like there isn’t a concept for demons who prey upon children sexually or otherwise. Indeed, countless cultures across the world have some idea of a supernatural force preying upon children. The thing is though that the anime doesn’t really run with the idea of Sebastian having a vested interest in Ciel beyond the contract. There’s still some effort put in to show that Sebastian ultimately cares more about the contract than he does about Ciel, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. In the end, all we really get is one episode where Sebastian ends the episode as a hypercompetent butler followed up by another where A-1 Pictures wanted to give the fujoshis a reason to buy the BD sets.
I know I’ve been bitching about this for a while, but it really must be said just how much this detracts from the overall experience. The initial impression from the very first episode, and indeed, some of the most iconic moments across both halves of the anime (i.e. everything involving Jack the Ripper, Ciel’s own awareness of how fucked up his life is, the backstories of the Phantomhive servants and their reasons for their undying loyalty to Ciel, etc) show bits and pieces of a truly fantastic show that just ends up getting buried under all of the additional shit that A-1 Pictures put on top of it.
Now we get into the second half of the anime’s story and boy, where the fuck do I begin? I would imagine that Yana wasn’t particularly involved in the writing process for the second half of the season beyond a few vague hints at things that would later happen in the manga. A-1 Pictures had 9 episodes to wrap everything up and considering how the manga’s well past the 160 chapter mark with no sign of stopping any time soon, it’s no secret that it doesn’t bode well for the overall quality of these episodes.
Upon rewatching for the first time in well over 6 years, I can’t really say I finished the season enjoying it as much as I once did. The biggest problem with the second half of the show is that it throws so much information at you at once without any inkling of foreshadowing or consideration for character interactions. There’s a point where Ciel ends up finding the cult who tortured and defiled him before Sebastian was beckoned, and not once are we treated to any sign of visible trauma on Ciel’s part during the whole proceeding! Why?! The manga didn’t really touch upon the cult specifically beyond the backstory needed to show Ciel and Sebastian’s first encounter. I’d actually be pretty down to see Ciel actually investigating the cult and his own reactions to the faces that traumatised him. But no, it’s yet another missed opportunity.
As far as the ending is concerned, it was lukewarm for me. By the time I finished the show, so much had happened so fast to the point where I kinda just wanted to be done with it. I would say that it’s a pretty definite conclusion, but we all know at this point in time that Black Butler II completely and totally shits upon that notion. Still, I’d like to think that Black Butler II didn’t happen and that the finale of the 2008 show is the more fitting conclusion to the anime’s continuity. I’ll write up another rant on Black Butler II, so I’ll cut myself off here.
Character-wise, we don’t really have much to go off of here. While the anime is *supposed* to be adapting the first 23 chapters of the manga which actually provides a great deal of character context and development, we already established that the anime doesn’t actually do this well at all. In the end, the Phantomhive servants sans Sebastian are treated as comic relief, Elizabeth is more of a burden on Ciel rather than his actual fiance, Grell is comedy relief and also Sebastian’s biggest fan, the other reapers just… exist and don’t come into the anime’s story unless the plot demands it, you get the idea.
The only two characters that actually had any effort put into their writing was Ciel and Sebastian, and honestly… Ciel’s portrayal isn’t even that good. Instead of being a relatively composed though still short-tempered child, Ciel is basically the spoiled brat that everyone who hates Black Butler thinks he is. Mind you, he’s certainly not in the same league as Alois Trancy is in Black Butler II but we shouldn’t use the core of the earth to judge what’s below the bottom of the barrel.
Ciel’s biggest problem throughout the 2008 anime is that he’s completely incapable of functioning without Sebastian at his side. While it is true that one of the terms of the contract is to protect Ciel no matter what, the practical reality of the situation is that Ciel’s duties as the Queen’s Watchdog make it difficult if not outright impossible for Sebastian to always be by Ciel’s side.
Indeed, the manga actually does account for this and so any time that Ciel would likely be separated from Sebastian for any duration, they’d have the necessary preparation to take care of important tasks separately if needed. The manga actually shows that Ciel is a capable hunter, that he has some history of training with his future mother-in-law, and that he sleeps with a gun under his pillow and that he isn’t afraid of using it. Mind you, all of these details are revealed in Chapter 14 of the manga between the conclusion of Jack the Ripper and the beginning of the Curry arc, which technically this show is supposed to be adapting and yet Francis, Ciel’s future mother-in-law didn’t make her anime debut until Book of the Atlantic came out!
Coming back to this show knowing full well that Ciel should be capable of defending himself on some measure only to see that he really can’t and relies on Sebastian for everything is pretty fucking infuriating, not gonna lie. His overall demeanour isn’t noticeably different from that of his manga counterpart, but it differs just enough to piss me off. If Ciel had no desire for survival, he wouldn’t be the Earl of Phantomhive in the first place. That’s like Peter Parker being forced to learn responsibility from Nick Fury in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon: Peter Parker wouldn’t be Spider-Man if he didn’t already learn the lesson of responsibility from Uncle Ben’s death. Same concept.
Given all of the above, it does my heart some good to know that A-1 Pictures didn’t mess up Sebastian too much. Both in the manga and the anime, Sebastian is portrayed as a more elegant though admittedly less powerful counterpart to Alucard from Hellsing. He too is a supernatural accomplice to a greater mastermind, with all of the wit and sarcasm of a Victorian-era gentleman to boot. I would bring up the level of Sebastian’s power detracting from the overall experience of the show since he’s rarely in any real danger barring the later stages of the anime’s second half.
Still, I just find our butler to the core so fucking enthralling whenever he’s on screen. Sebastian’s own charisma easily manages to make any otherwise boring bit about food, tea, or high society that much more entertaining whenever he’s in the frame. Sebastian’s own ruthless efficiency is nigh impossible for a human to accomplish and yet he’s purposely holding back from using any more supernatural power needed in order to maintain his cover as the Earl of Phantomhive’s faithful butler.
Granted, it’s not like the manga really makes an attempt to explain why Sebastian does things the way a human would rather than simply using demon magic for everything. Indeed, we don’t get any such insight as to why that is until the middle of the Luxury Liner arc. Still, I’ve often theorised that Sebastian needed to maintain some cover so seeing that theory confirmed when I read the manga leads me to believe that the same can be said about Sebastian in the anime. Mind you, this is all speculation on my part but I have no reason to believe otherwise.
The anime-exclusive characters like Pluto, Ash, and the anime’s own version of Queen Victoria are better left to be experienced. I say this not because they’re pinnacles of character growth or development that deeply impacts the lore of the show as a whole. Rather, I say this because the show is so fucking incompetent to the point where these characters make absolutely no sense. A description isn’t really necessary since your reaction to them will give you all the information you really need for motives, investments, and so forth.
Now that we have all of the story and characters out of the way, let’s talk at length about the superficial stuff! You know, animation, art direction, soundtrack, dubbing, that kind of thing. As far as the artwork and animation are concerned, Black Butler has aged phenomenally well. Then again, it’s no surprise considering how A-1 Pictures has always been really good at creating a visually stunning show. In fact, they’ve only gotten better as time went on if the anime from Book of Circus-onward is anything to go off of.
The overall colour palette of the show is fairly muted with lighter scenes having a light grey cast and darker scenes gravitating more toward the blacks and dark blues while also using shadow and limited lighting to great effect. Fairly fitting considering how this is a work taking place in Victorian England and I personally like it because it just adds to the overall Gothic atmosphere that the series both anime and manga strive to achieve.
The thing is though that Yana Toboso’s style involves blending together real life and the supernatural in such a way where it still stays true to the status of the time. The anime does do this as well, but some of their own additions like a shapeshifting naked bishonen with the brain of a wolf kinda detract from how grounded the artwork and animation is in relation to its setting. There’s also another thing that detracts from the overall quality of the animation: CGI.
Now, A-1 Pictures is NOT Gonzo when it comes down to its usage of CGI. However, there are a number of scenes where the viewer is treated to an otherwise well-designed landscape marred only by a bunch of CG horses pulling CG carriages. Mind you, that is fairly minor on the list of transgressions (especially considering how the CG got even worse in Black Butler II) but it’s that nasty habit of A-1 Pictures where they give us such a visual delectation and yet there’s points where the budget got stretched and then there has to be an addition of a CG element to compensate. This is something that also happens in other A-1 shows like Sword Art Online, Your Lie in April, and of course, the other Black Butler animes.
On the subject of stretched budgets, I would imagine that the show tended to rely heavily on chibi gag humour because they’re simpler to draw and easier to animate than the more dramatic stuff which requires proper attention to detail. Make no mistake though, A-1 Pictures didn’t neglect these segments of the show at all. Indeed, the level of polish put into the anime’s gag humour shows a similar dedication that Bones had when they animated stuff like Fullmetal Alchemist, Brotherhood, Ouran HSHC, and so on. I often find myself watching compilations of the anime’s gags because the jokes themselves are actually pretty fucking funny in a vacuum since it’s not detracting from the show trying to take itself seriously.
As far as the audio side of things is concerned, I’m happy to say that the soundtrack has aged gracefully as well. Every background track fits the scene tremendously well and indeed there are many tracks that do stand out in my memory. The one background track that stuck with me the most however is a track called “Si Deus me Relinquit” which is Latin for “If God Has Forsaken Me.”
There genuinely aren’t enough words to describe just how much I love that particular song. If there was any song that could adequately describe what Black Butler actually is, then it’s this particular song. It starts off as a slow, sombre piece where a woman is vocalising the lyrics and it then slowly builds up until a Gregorian chant briefly comes into play. Then the orchestra takes over and turns it into a bombastic, yet also incredibly melancholic tune. This song alone manages to perfectly capture the sheer drama and also inevitable tragedy that Black Butler is all about. This song playing in the background of the show’s most serious moments alone almost makes me look past all of the uncomfortable subtext between Ciel and Sebastian that the anime tries to shoehorn.
The openings and the first ending are also some of my all-time favourite songs in any anime ever released. I’ve been a huge fan of SID ever since I first heard them doing the first ED to Brotherhood back in 2009, so I was completely on board to hear them again. It actually shocked me to realise that SID did Black Butler before ever touching Fullmetal Alchemist, so that kinda made me wish I actually picked it up back in high school. There’s just something so nostalgic and comforting about mid-to-late 2000s J-Rock that makes me get hype to watch whatever it is that’s next, even if I know full well that the next episode is gonna be abject rubbish.
Also, get this: you know how virtually every anime ever released ends up changing its opening halfway through the show’s run? A-1 Pictures actually made a different opening animation but they actually used the second half of Monochrome Kiss by SID for the OP which is so fucking amazing to me. There’s a lot of really amazing songs I’ve been pointed to ever since I first started watching anime, but you never really hear more than a minute and 30 seconds of the song in question. Using the second half of the same (already amazing) song still blows me away because I don’t think any other anime studio has ever done that before or even since A-1 PIctures did it.
The first ED track is actually an upbeat pop punk song from an AMERICAN band of all places called “I’m Alive” by BECCA. I’ve always loved animes that use foreign music for their OPs and EDs. That’s actually part of the reason why I adore shows like Wolf’s Rain and Serial Experiments Lain. What’s more is that again, there’s something really comforting and nostalgic about mid-2000s pop punk to the point where I can’t help but enjoy it. I often don’t like upbeat endings because they tend to contrast horribly with more dramatic scenes that an episode could end on, but this ED is used primarily during a time when the anime isn’t really taking itself seriously to begin with, so I really didn’t mind much in the scheme of things. Hell, the ED animation is actually just chibi segments of Sebastian doing his mundane duties as a butler. I can’t really complain, now can I?
Now we get to the dubbing… and this is the part I’ve been dreading the most. On the Japanese side of things, we’re treated to wonderful performances by the likes of Daisuke Ono, Mayaa Sakamoto, among others. They’re a duo I’ve appreciated listening to going as far back as Wolf’s Rain, so glad to see the partnership continuing here. If you’re looking to stay sub-only, you really won’t have any complaints outside of whether or not you’ll be watching the shitty fansubs from 10 years ago. Of course, you’re probably not reading this part of the review to find out whether or not the Japanese audio is good.
Back when Funimation still held the licenses to the entire Black Butler franchise sans the manga, they produced the dub for this show sometime in 2010. Around this time, Funimation was also working on dubbing Brotherhood since it was supposed to air on [adult swim] in the USA. I haven’t seen this sentiment echoed elsewhere, but I feel like being produced so close to Brotherhood had some degree of impact on the overall quality of the dub.
Make no mistake: this isn’t a bad dub by any means. Well… once you get more than 3 episodes in but that’s beside the point! My biggest issue with this dub is that while Funimation opted to make sure that all of the characters who speak English use British accents, the only ones who are even remotely convincing are Brina Palencia as Ciel, J Michael Tatum as Sebastian, and Lydia Mackay as Madame Red. The Phantomhive servants, endearing though they might be, unfortunately end up spoiling the entire bunch due to their over-exaggerated Cockney accents.
Speaking as someone who actually watched Hellsing Ultimate before coming over to Black Butler kind of disappoints me. I know that Ultimate was originally a Geneon show and that Funimation spent a long time gathering the original cast back together to finish the dub of that show which didn’t happen until 2014 despite licensing a good chunk of the Geneon library back in 2008. Still, was it too much to ask for Funimation to at least hire some actual British people to do some voice acting? Come on man, Victoria Harwood and Steven Brand were easily the best parts of the Hellsing Ultimate dub! My heart would leap out of my chest the moment I heard Steven Brand saying “Yes, my lord” in that wonderfully thick Scottish accent of his. Sadly, it’s a missed opportunity.
There’s also another point of contention I want to make: I love Chris Ayres and Patrick Seitz. They’re both wonderful voice actors and I’ve enjoyed many shows that they starred in. If there’s one thing I must say against them though, it’s that they can’t pull off a fucking Indian accent to save their lives. Speaking as a Desi man, I can’t help but cringe any time I have to listen to Prince Soma and Agni for more than a minute at a time (okay, they’re not that bad but they do get pretty fucking unbearable at times). In Funimation’s defense, I will admit that they’ve been getting better about this since they’ve been hiring more amateur talent now with all of the simuldubs they’ve been pushing out ever since 2015. Still, if Brian George was able to pull off a convincing Indian guru when voicing Guru Pathik back in 2006 for the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, I really don’t understand why Funimation didn’t try something similar.
Again, I want to reiterate that this is NOT a bad dub whatsoever and indeed, J Michael Tatum is easily the best part of the dub as Sebastian. In fact, the same cast gets back together to do the voice acting for the anime from Book of Circus-onward and the accents aren’t anywhere near as exaggerated. I can only imagine that Funimation did actually give it their best shot with what they had and they did fairly well but with plenty of noticeable rough edges. Still, any time J Michael Tatum says “Yes, my lord” while Sebastian looks at the screen smiling and kneeling before Ciel is enough to make me swoon. Take the bad with the good and you’ll find that the dub is perfectly watchable. If you get put off like I was at first, just wait until Book of Circus to listen to the dub.
Now we come to the most subjective part of this whole review! My own personal enjoyment of this particular anime. While I do certainly still enjoy this anime on some measure, I can only really find myself enjoying particular bits taken out at random points during the show’s run. From start to finish, this show was kinda painful and even boring to get through at some points and honestly, I feel like the time you spent watching this could’ve been better spent reading the manga.
This isn’t something I normally say, since I used to be such a big defender of anime deviating from their source material because the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist anime is quite literally my all-time favourite anime and that differed so wildly from the manga. The thing is though that Fullmetal Alchemist was never intended to be a 1:1 recreation of the manga. It wouldn’t have been possible at the time for Hiromu Arakwa to actually keep up with the pace of episodes being released.
Instead, we found the 2003 anime maintaining broadly similar continuity from the manga at the very beginning while slightly changing up certain concepts (i.e. how alchemy works, the core component of a philosopher’s stone, tensions in Ishbal and Lior with the Amestrian government, etc) and then slowly expanding that as the show came closer and closer to running out of manga to work with. By the time that this does happen though, the anime’s own lore and internal logic have developed sufficiently to make sense without needing to rely so heavily on the manga anymore.
To be absolutely sure, the 2003 anime did actually contradict itself at some points and there are still many unanswered questions that the audience is left with considering how fast the final 5 episodes of the show are in comparison to the slow pace of the anime from Episode 28-onward. However, Bones still made an earnest attempt at trying to resolve their loose ends and they actually tried to tell a story that makes sense within the context of the universe that they created.
A-1 Pictures really didn’t put the same level of dedication into their own gecko ending for the 2008 anime, which really is a shame. I genuinely do believe that anime studios should be able to exercise creative liberties with whatever show they’re making. However, I feel like studios need to exercise much more caution whenever they exercise those same creative liberties. From all of the failed projects that I’ve left on the backburner for years at a time, I can easily attest that it is genuinely hard to create.
However, the difficulty of creation is something that shouldn’t be used to justify mediocrity. If you have the nerve to actually go out there and make something, that’s all fine and dandy but please, I beg of you, make sure that you do more than just the bare minimum necessary to wrap up your story. As the wise Hank Hill once said, “whatever you do, you should do it right, even if it’s something wrong.”
One of the things I’ve been struggling with for the last 5 years at this point is just how little joy I really get out of anime nowadays. I used to find myself getting engrossed in the story and characters as I was watching, formulating my own theories on whatever the subject may be, anxious to click on the “next episode” button because I didn’t know whether or not I could handle whatever would come next only to have the autoplay force the next episode in. Those were genuinely exciting times.
Unfortunately, the only things that really seem to come out nowadays are overly ambitious shows that try so many things at once only to fail miserably. Sometimes I was indifferent like if the current talk of the community was something like Re:Zero and other times, I went in hopeful only to come out bitterly disappointed (i.e. Your Lie in April). Coming back to Black Butler for the first time in years actually did briefly bring back some of that joy I used to feel way back when, but unfortunately that joy just doesn’t stick around because of how badly it fucks up the stuff that actually matters.
The fact that A-1 Pictures intends for the 2008 anime to actually be the starting point for new Black Butler viewers is ultimately the worst part about all of this. As much as I adored Book of Circus/Murder/Atlantic, I would’ve preferred it if A-1 Pictures just decided to make a full-blown reboot that was actually faithful to the manga from the very beginning. Then we wouldn’t have people on Kissanime wondering where Pluto, the naked dog man went. But I digress, as I’ve gone blathering about for far too long.
Should you watch Black Butler? Yes, but I’d like to add a LOT of asterisks to that remark. As a fan of the entire franchise, I wholeheartedly believe that you should watch Black Butler… at some point. Honestly, it would make more sense to start off at Book of Circus now because Book of Circus actually has quick flashbacks to important characters pre-Circus arc and the first episode more or less gives you the overall feel for what type of series Black Butler is. I cannot in good conscience recommend the 2008 anime if you’re looking for a good anime introduction to the Black Butler franchise as a whole. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t watch it, as I do firmly believe that you should definitely give it a shot since it’s not without merit whatsoever.
Still, first impressions are important and unfortunately the 2008 anime has soured MANY people on their overall opinion of Black Butler. If you go into this anime knowing full well about its flaws and choose to ignore them for the sake of entertainment, I don’t doubt that you’ll be entertained. It’s really the matter of the show being consistently entertaining. At best, the 2008 Black Butler anime is only passable which is truly unbecoming of any tale told about the Phantomhive family. While I did enjoy it, I’m not gonna be quick to recommend it.
Anyway, that’s all for now. Feedback is always welcome and with that, I’m out. Peace :)
This is an updated review of Black Butler I that wrote on 26/6/2020. To put it short, my old review was painfully out of date considering how much has changed since my first review in 2014. I have it saved and I plan to publish it on my MAL blog at some point in time.
Also, another update that I forgot to mention in the main review itself: Funimation has long since lost the rights to a LOT of Aniplex shows that they've dubbed around 2016/2017. You can still stream some of them on Funimation's website and indeed the whole Black Butler anime series is available for you to watch there. However, they no longer produce DVDs/BDs of stuff like Fullmetal Alchemist and Black Butler. Granted, Funimation still has the rights to Book of Circus/Murder/Atlantic along with Black Butler II at the time of writing. So if you wanna pick up a decently priced DVD/BD release, get it while you still can.
Unfortunately, this comes with the grim reminder that Aniplex of America will inevitably try to overcharge us on DVD and BD releases once Funimation loses their rights. The current offering they have for the 2008 anime is a DVD (not BD) release that comes in a posh metal box with some other nice extras, but it costs $120-something USD! If you really want a DVD/BD copy of the 2008 anime, buy a secondhand Funimation release instead. Lord only knows that they've sold enough to keep them relatively cheap.