ED – I just realized I’m an idiot and didn’t explain what any of this is… Wow – I hope I make it to 2018, folks. Karandi form 100 Word Anime, and I both have very strong feelings about Black Butler that differ on a few key points. One of the biggest ones is that I really like season 2. Yup, I was the one. Wonder how that could even be possible? Read on:
I: Some of you may know that I have what can politely be referred to as acquired tastes. One of the many ways this presents is in my unique devotion to Black Butler’s second season. Some may call this folly, or madness, or just plain indefensible bad taste. Today, I’m going to attempt to defend it.
K: Meanwhile, I’m completely in love with Black Butler, and also found Book of Circus and Murder highly entertaining, but really prefer to pretend the second season never happened. For me, it was a complete misfire. While I greatly respect Irina’s views, I’m going to have a go at dismantling her arguments.
Round One: Narrative Focus
I: While the first season had some pleasant enough narrative dalliances, let’s face it, it was really all over the place. So many seemingly important characters were suddenly abandoned with little to no payoff and plot points were disorganized to the point that even basic continuity got muddled.
For instance,we never got any proper context for Ciel’s role as “watchdog of the queen” even though it was primal to the main plot and as a result I really didn’t get Ciel’s motivations half the time. Lau’s character is largely underdeveloped so his appearances boil down to thinly veiled Deus Ex Machina moments. Grell goes through some jarring personality changes as he morphs from the relatively serious and terrifying monster portrayed by in the manga to the goofier, campy comedic relief he eventually becomes for the show.
For half (if not more) of the first season, you really get the impression that the series doesn’t quite know what it wants to be and goes off in a dozen different direction. As a result, the tone of the show varies wildly from one episode to the next and characters are generally inconsistent. I wouldn’t call it unpleasant but it limits the series ability to tell a coherent overarching story.
By contrast, season 2 is clearly worked out from the beginning. Every episode brings us closer to the inevitable conclusion, there are much less wasted characters or throw away plot points. The story is much more involved and detailed as a consequence. This means that the writers could give every character proper motivation for their respective roles in the story, without the need to constantly adjust them to a shifting narrative.
Since most of the characters were already established in season 1, their personalities have been worked out and defined before the beginning of s2 and they remain much more consistent. Their interactions become clearer and more relatable as they are acting in ways which seems in line with their characters. This also gives the show more space to properly introduce the new cast, as there are less of them and not as much exposition is needed to properly define them.
Having characters that act in a logical way with some semblance of reason and react in a plausible way for everything we know of them, makes them much more relatable and in turn easier to get attached to.
K: I’ll admit the first season of Black Butler is a little all over the place in its tone. The comedy contrasts somewhat jarringly with the more serious and dramatic moments and for some people that’s going to be a distraction. Despite that, there’s a lot to like about the narrative structure of season 1, and there’s a very clear reason why season 2 isn’t as appealing.
Season 2, other than the first episode which introduces one of the worst excuses ever to have a character that should essentially be dead (story over) returning for a sequel, the entire rest of the season has a single focus on the rivalry between Alois/Claude and Ciel/Sebastian with a few minor distractions and other plot points thrown in. While a single story can work with Black Butler (Book of Circus and Book of Murder both proved this), season 2 doesn’t work because ultimately the narrative it sets up undermines the original premise of Black Butler (and while this might not upset some viewers, I find it really frustrating).
And that is where season 1 works very well. From the beginning it is the story of a boy and his butler and the deal made between them. Ciel is going to get his revenge for being humiliated and he is going to use his demon butler to get it, and then he’s going to die and his soul is going to be eaten. It is as simple a story as it comes and it is very effective. It provides a perfect beginning and end point to the narrative and throughout all of the stories in the first season, there are persistent reminders that this is where the story is heading.
The ‘filler’ and throw-away characters in the story are a result of having such a clear narrative focus. The story between Sebastian and Ciel is taking place on a larger stage but neither of them really care about anything or anyone outside of their contract. As a result, while they wait for progress on one front, they fill their time and occasionally give into their whims. Ciel also is quite young and so at times he acts contrarily to his best interest due to the impulsiveness of being young. Even he reflects on some of his decisions after the fact and realises they probably weren’t the best choices in the situation.
The other significant advantage of having the first season go through a range of mini-arcs within a larger narrative is that if you aren’t liking one particular story, you know sooner or later the focus of the show will shift again. I personally didn’t much like the story where Ciel went to investigate the ghost dog. Yet, even this story introduced important elements to the main plot, such as introducing Angela and the demon dog, both of whom become significant in later story arcs.
I guess, as with most things, this one will come down to personal preference. But for me, the greater story was Ciel and Sebastian’s pact and season 1 ended that beautifully. I was utterly infuriated when season 2 jumped through all of those hoops to somehow make that ending less than what it was in order to extend the story. Though, I should probably admit, the end of season 2 and where Ciel and Sebastian end up, is pretty awesome. I just don’t like that they destroyed one of my favourite season ends ever to make that happen.
I: Oh, the resetting of the series with essentially – psych – he wasn’t really dead! was incredibly cheap. And so in line with the ridiculous aspects of Black Butler I love so much. Let’s face it, the season 1 end was a bit of a bummer and any continuation of the franchise would require revisiting and, to a certain extent, retconing it. I liked that they chose not to be too precious about it and just go – You know what – we got the cash for more episodes!!!
It also opens the door for a potential season 3 now that continuity isn’t really much of an issue anymore.
K: Please do not let there be a season 3. I would rather they continue with the OVA’s where they add in more stories and missions that Sebastian and Ciel dealt with either before the events of season 1 or during season 1. Given the timeframe was always a little iffy, they could literally just keep inserting side stories forever and not upset the ending of season 1.
Round Two: The Antagonist
I: Sure you could consider Ash a powerful enemy worthy of Sebastien, but the ultimate conclusion of season 1 proved that to be a gross overestimation. On the other hand, Claude actually had that potential. As a demon himself, he stands on a much more leveled filed with Sebastien, not only in abilities or power, but in information. Claude is more familiar with the limits of Sebastien’s power. He can understand how to get around him and best oppose him in a way no one else could.
Having a second demon character also opens up the possibility of better defining demons in the Black Butler universe as a whole.
Let me be honest, I am not a fan of Claude. I believe his character is much better in conception than in execution. But I also appreciate the potential he held and I found him ultimately much more easy to accept as a threat to Sebastien than anyone else.
K: While Claude does know Sebastian inside and out as a demon himself, to say that he is a better antagonist is kind of stretching. Angels vs demons is pretty standard fare for a supernatural story and Black Butler pulled it off beautifully. Ash/Angela were a fantastic opponent to create a sense of external conflict in the first season.
It also left you with the more complex question of wondering who was actually the bad guy in everything that had happened. Sebastian is a demon who has made a deal to consume Ciel’s soul. He hasn’t got any real inhibitions on how he achieves his master’s commands and he acts strictly in his own self-interest. And yet the show positions the audience to want Sebastian to win the final fight on the bridge against Ash. They made the angel seem creepier and more unstable than the demon.
Admittedly, the fight itself is nothing much to look at with more being insinuated than shown and ultimately Ash is overpowered as Sebastian lets loose, what is more important about the conflict is how it makes the audience reconsider our labels of good and evil within the narrative. Claude isn’t capable of bringing that kind of moral question to the table because he’s just another self-interested demon and one that isn’t even that loyal to his master. So while he might bring a more impressive fight to the table, he isn’t going to have as much affect on the audience in terms of how they consider the situation after the show is done.
I: Now this may be just me but I’m pretty used to the “evil” angel trope. In fact, I find it so overused that whenever an angel shows up in any story I’m immediately suspicious. At this point I would be more surprised by an actually kind angel. They’re usually somehow compromised (fallen) or so rigidly righteous they come off as cruel.
But that’s not my issue here. I found Angela/Ash pitifully underdeveloped and ultimately boring. I was never in any way intimidated by the character, in fact, I couldn’t care less about them. As the only antagonist of the season, this made then tension pretty non existent. Good thing there was so much else to enjoy.
K True, Angela/Ash as an idea are better than Angela/Ash in actuality and they definitely did need more development. Good point about the overuse of evil or fallen angels in stories as well.
Round Three: Tone
I: Occasionally, the first season strayed into more sincere and sweet moments. Those were fine, but hardly the best part of the series. Black Butler 2 is solidly camp. There isn’t a single moment you can point to that isn’t completely ridiculous and exaggerated. One could argue that it may be a bit too self aware but again: hyperbole is everything Black Butler is about. So even in the winky meta quality, season 2 goes too far and that’s what I love about it.
K: Again, this one falls into personal preference, but given my general dislike of comedy, the lack of the darker and more serious moments in Black Butler 2 is a solid strike against it. Certainly, if the camp moments are what attract you to season 1, season 2 will definitely deliver, but what it loses are those moments that make me think, make me empathise and ultimately make me care about the show.
Book of Circus got the balance a little better with a more fun overall feeling while still delivering a poignant and fairly emotional finale. But between season 1 and 2, I’ll pick season 1 any day even if some of the humour does get a bit too much.
END OF pt1
I: Well guys, I hope you enjoyed this. Honestly if you had half as much fun reading it as I had writing it, then you had a blast! And because we are genius writers who know how to create suspense, we leave you on a cliffhanger! Make sure to check out 100 Word Anime’s upcoming Friday Feature for part 2.
UPDATE: Part 2 is now out! YAY!!!!! Go read it here: https://100wordanime.blog/2017/12/15/fridays-feature-black-butler-2-one-hell-of-a-debate-part-2/
Are you still here? – Go!
Day 1 of 12