REVIEW – Black Butler, Collection One (2008)

Videovista have my review of the first ‘collection’ (which may or may not be the same thing as a series) of Toshiya Shinohara’s anime adaptation of Yana Toboso’s Black Butler manga.

Black Butler is a not particularly intelligent, not particularly inventive and not particularly interesting series that sees a young man form a pact with a demon to help him find the person responsible for the death of his parents.  The demon takes the form of an uber-competent Jeeves-style butler who not only helps the young man to manage his business empire but also to battle underworld threats to Victorian Britain. The steampunk fantasia that makes up the series’ foreground is, quite frankly, utterly derivative but the series is made watchable by a yaoi-inspired subtext that introduces a strong erotic charge to the boy’s relationship with his butler:

All of these elements (including the weird top-bottom, master-slave relationship) will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever encountered the Yaoi or Bishonen genres of manga but the fact that these elements are present in an ostensibly mainstream and youth-oriented series lends them a fresh and subversive feel that is undeniably attractive and engaging.

While the series just about held my interest, it did make me wonder why you would watch this rather than an actual work of Yaoi or Bishonen anime. Neither of these sub-genres is particularly marginal or all that subversive… why hide their influence in the closet of a mainstream anime series?


  1. You’re so stuck on the shounen-ai themes that you completely ignored what actually makes up this series. Get off the blatant Yaoi themes and actually pay attention to the story.


  2. Interesting that this comment should appear now as I have been thinking about this review quite a bit recently.

    In order to understand where I was coming from with this review, you have to understand the context in which it was written. The review was published on a generalist film site and I am very much a film and genre reviewer. What this means is that while I had seen and reviewed a lot of anime over the years, my knowledge of the form was very much that of an interested outsider with a casual interest. In fact, back in September 2011 I was not all that familiar with the concept of fan service.

    Because of the context in which I discovered the show, my attention was indeed drawn to the shonen-ai elements as these are the elements that seemed fresh to me. I had reviewed and watched loads of action/adventure anime and encountered quite a bit of steampunk and so these elements of Black Butler struck me as boring and derivative. Conversely, the tendency to stick the main character in a dress and have him flirt outrageously with his demonic sidekick was really quite new and engaging.

    I disagree with you that the show isn’t ‘about’ the shonen-ai elements as I think that fan service is as much an element of this show as the action adventure stuff. In fact, the yaoi elements really were what made the show interesting to me and had the show not contained those elements I would not have hesitated to describe it as dumb and derivative.

    Six months down the line, I am now a good deal more familiar with both anime genres and the eccentricities of anime fandom and so I now realise that putting a male protagonist in a dress and having him flirt with another guy is very much a cliche. I accept that now but it doesn’t change the fact that I had not encountered these elements before Black Butler and that they captured my imagination in a way that the non-yaoi stuff failed to do.


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