Sunday, November 7, 2010

Black Butler II (anime TV series), via Hulu

Things aren't looking good for my NaNoWriMo novel.  So, as I struggle to keep my kitten off my keyboard and engage in some corporal cuddling, here's another blog post. It is the fruit of my NaNoWriMo procrastination.

Beware the huge spoilers. If you've been keeping track of this blog at all, you should probably already know that I tend to post spoilers more often than not.


Synopsis:

The series begins with Alois Trancy, an arrogant boy whose moods range from playful to cruel, and his butler, Claude. A stranger who turns out to be Sebastian arrives to steal something from Alois, something that allows him to reawaken his master Ciel.

The series then progresses as though the events that ended the previous season/series never happened. Ciel still performs various duties for the queen and is still looking for the person or persons who killed his parents. It gradually becomes clear, however, that the series has not somehow restarted itself. Rather, Ciel has lost his memories, and those around him have been instructed by Sebastian to play along.

At the end of the previous season/series, Sebastian was all set to devour Ciel's soul when another demon swooped in and stole Ciel's soul instead (or something - I can't quite remember the details). That demon was Claude. For his own amusement (and perhaps to avenge his brother, whose soul I seem to remember Alois thought Sebastian had eaten as payment for destroying their village), Alois pits Claude and Sebastian against one another.

Unfortunately for Alois, it backfires on him. Claude becomes infatuated with Ciel, obsessed with the thought of stealing him from Sebastian and eating his soul himself. Alois, who desperately wants Claude's affection or his recognition or at least to have his desire to eat his soul focused only on him, is deeply upset. Claude kills Alois, trapping his soul in a ring, and begins pursuing Ciel in earnest. Using the ring, Claude messes with Ciel's memories, blurring them with Alois' and making him believe that Sebastian is his enemy and Claude would be the better demon butler to have a contract with.

Claude and Sebastian fight each other over Ciel's soul, but there's one thing they didn't count on - more competition. Hannah, another servant of Alois', turns out to be a demon as well. She makes it possible for Alois' soul to take over Ciel's body, and she makes a contract with Alois. In order for Alois to give back control of Ciel's body, his contract with Hannah must first be satisfied. All Claude and Sebastian know of the contract is that Alois wishes for Claude and Sebastian to fight each other to the death, and they do. Claude loses, but Sebastian hasn't truly won. It turns out that Alois had another wish: that no one would get Ciel's soul. Hannah turns Ciel into a demon, and Sebastian, who had recently promised to be Ciel's butler forever, finds himself bound to a fellow demon, never able to devour the soul he had so carefully cultivated. The series ends with Ciel and Sebastian leaving the Phantomhive manor and everyone they knew behind.

Commentary:

This series was like a roller coaster for me.  The very first episode had me chomping at the bit, remembering everything I enjoyed about the first season. I couldn't wait to see more...and then I got really confused, because the second episode seemed to have nothing to do with the first. When Alois and Claude finally showed up again, it was still a bit of a letdown, because, quite frankly, Alois was an annoying and sadistic little jerk and Claude seemed like a pale imitation of Sebastian. I was a bit put off by some of the more sexual moments in the show (Hannah and that musical instrument comes instantly to mind), and, although I hated Alois, I was very unhappy when Claude decided to ditch him after just one taste of Ciel's blood. Granted, as annoying as Ciel could be, Alois was worse, but, darn it, Claude chose him. For him to just up and abandon Alois as soon as someone more attractive showed up seemed fickle. It definitely made Sebastian seem like the better butler.

After Claude killed Alois, it was a while before I watched more episodes. It took the encouragement of some other fans of the show, plus a few deliciously cryptic comments, for me to start watching again, and I'm glad I did. Although I expected Claude to go after Ciel, I hadn't expected him to be so successful. Watching Sebastian experience something that looked very much like jealousy was so much fun. And, let me tell you, I know I'm not the only fan who was thrilled about watching this part of the show. Whatever you might say about Claude, I like him because, without him, my favorite part of this series would never have happened.

Then Hannah had to go and ruin it. I suppose I should have seen it coming. At the beginning of the series, I thought she was a human who for some unknown reason didn't escape to go serve somewhere else, not even after Alois gouged out her eye. Even after it was revealed she was a demon, I figured she was little more than a pitiful one, a sort of demonic sheath for a sword that holds more power than she does. When she started doting on Ciel, I figured that she, too, had become infatuated with him, probably because he was the first person to be kind to her. Boy was I surprised when she swooped in and put her plan into effect. I would never have guessed that she loved Alois, or at least came as close to loving him as it was possible for a demon to come.

The highest point of this roller coaster was when Sebastian got all demonically jealous...and I think the lowest point was the ending. I don't know if there are plans for another season, although I'm thinking that the shortness of this season compared to the first season probably doesn't bode well for that. If it were possible, I think I'd want another season - something about the ending of this second season was very unsatisfying. I may have found the thought of Ciel dying at the end of the first season to be sad and a bit depressing, but I can stand the thought of Ciel as a demon even less. And, darn it, it sucked to see Sebastian beaten like that. I like Sebastian best when he's oozing charm and confidence.

When this season was good, it was really, really good. When it sucked, it really sucked. I think the good points were good enough that I'd want to watch it again and probably own it, but if I do watch this again I think I'm going to skip the last couple of episodes or so. Or hope really hard that there's another season. The thing is, if there were another season, I wouldn't be able to say how I'd want it to end. Somewhat happily, I guess. I don't want Sebastian to be beaten, and yet I don't want Ciel's soul to get eaten. Still, I'd take Ciel having his soul get eaten over a demonic stalemate any day.

It was actually harder to come up with the list of watch-alikes and read-alikes for this than it was for Black Butler, because the ending of Black Butler didn't color as much of the series for me as the ending of Black Butler II did. After Black Butler finished, even after all the weird and gross stuff with the Queen, I still felt like it was a fairly light-feeling series overall. Black Butler II, on the other hand, just feels darker.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Godchild (manga) by Kaori Yuki - Another semi-historical series set in England, starring a boy detective of sorts. If I remember right, this is a fairly dark series. For those who especially like the relationship between Ciel and Sebastian, there's a servant (not sure what he is - butler? something else?) who serves the main character and whose relationship has a similar appeal.
  • Loveless (anime TV series); Loveless (manga) by Yun Kouga - For those who liked the master-servant stuff in Black Butler II, this one might be a good one. It features lots of damaged characters (sometimes physically, but mostly emotionally), interesting fights (better in the anime, in my opinion), and lots of pairs of characters with really intense bonds. For me, the main drawback of this series is that the anime ends before all that much even happens, and I feel like I've been waiting for ages for the next volume of the manga to come out, although, as far as I know, Yun Kouga hasn't abandoned the series.
  • Blood+ (anime TV series) - Another series in which there are characters with bonds to good-looking non-humans who act as their guardians and more. There are at times hints of romantic feelings to some of the relationships, although don't hold your breath waiting for something to actually come of all that.

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