Matt Kamen on the satanic servants of Black Butler 2
The first series of Black Butler, based on Yana Toboso’s manga, was a parable on the cost of revenge, following the single-minded Ciel Phantomhive as he sought vengeance against his family's murderers. Ciel’s only aid came from his demonic butler, Sebastian Michaelis, to whom he paid the ultimate price. In contrast, the anime-original second series explores the price of greed and obsession. Introducing the cruel and scheming Alois Trancy and his own malevolent manservant, Claude Faustus, the 12-episode run spotlights the machinations of the new young lord as he vies for the prestige of the Phantomhive name.
But the rise of Alois Trancy doesn’t mean an end to the legacy of Ciel Phantomhive, and despite the seemingly final ending of the first season, viewers haven’t seen the last of the popular anti-hero. While Sebastian’s fee was paid in full, he has further need of his former master, acting to bring about his resurrection – could the demon actually care for a human? Meanwhile, Alois plots to usurp his rival’s life, taking everything from his name and fortune, to his position of service to the Throne of England and his very soul, coveted above all others in Hell.
Wanting to cast Alois as the opposite of Ciel, new director Hirofumi Ogura and returning writer Mari Okada inverted both his personality and his supporting cast to be in stark contrast to those of his predecessor. Where Ciel was outwardly cold and stern, he was frequently shown to actually care deeply for his family and friends. Alois instead often appears friendly, sweet even, only to nonchalantly abuse the people around him. While their respective butlers are similar in demeanour – perfect in all manner of housekeeping, the pinnacle of decorum and deadly capable in battle – the rest of their servants couldn’t be more different. The Phantomhive staff – chef Bardroy, gardener Finny, steward Tanaka and maid Mey-Rin – are a chaotic bunch, always squabbling and fighting. Conversely, Trancy’s estate is tended to by an unsettlingly ordered lot. His handmaid Hannah is meek and submissive, even after Alois casually gouges out her left eye for a perceived slight, while three identical triplets – only once referred to by their given names of Timber, Thompson and Canterbury – work together in perfect, silent synchronicity, be it in tending to the house or engaging in combat. Perhaps most tellingly, while Ciel does his best to hide the mark of his demonic contract behind his eye patch, Alois constantly shows off his sigil with pride, burnt into his tongue. For Ciel, selling his soul was an unpleasant means to an end; for Alois, a trivial price to satiate his avarice.
With the players arranged like pieces on a chess board, the final battle between Ciel and Alois lays ahead. However, the Ciel that has returned from the grave seems different than before. Can the support of his allies restore him, or is the end nigh for the Phantomhive line?
Black Butler 2 is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.