This is a basic introduction/primer for the Japanese animation/manga series titled Kuroshitsuji, also called Black Butler. If you are new to the series, unfamiliar with it or interested in getting involved with the series, this should help you understand what the series is about, a little about the characters and what material you might have questions about within the series.
This summary was last updated on March 16th, 2012.
Kuroshitsuji, called Black Butler when referring to the American dub (and print/translation of the manga), is a Japanese animation series aimed towards an older teen and adult audience. The manga was started in 2006, serialized as an anime in 2008. The author of the manga is Yana Toboso. Currently, the series has 66 chapters, 2 anime series/seasons, 6 OVAs, and 2 musicals.
While Kuroshitsuji is considered a shounen manga/anime, the majority of the audience is female.
Ratings vary depending on which form of Kuroshitsuji you are looking at. The manga varies between a G rating and a fairly solid R. The first season of the anime hovers fairly steadily around PG-13. The second series of the anime is often considered highly offensive, and can generally be rated between PG-13 and R. The series is not recommended for viewers under the age of 16, and is generally recommended for the over-18 crowd. The manga can be read by a slightly younger audience, though I wouldn't recommend it to anyone under 14.
The reasons for the ratings tend to be violence, sexuality, religious themes and mentions of rape and torture. Sexual themes are more prevalent in the anime than they are in the manga. Violence is more prevalent, and graphic, in the manga. Pedophilia is also a subject that is touched on more than once and should be considered when viewing or reading the series. Please note, the series does not encourage pedophilia.
Genre-wise, Kuroshitsuji is considered a black comedy. It mixes very dark undertones with generous amounts of humor, letting people enjoy the lighter side of life while reminding them that death is ever-present. On-going themes in the series include friendship, defying fate and the reality that, sometimes, hope is meaningless. The series is also considered a tragedy, as readers are told from the very beginning that the main character will die and is working actively towards his own destruction.
What is the story about?
In the year 1885, the Earl Phantomhive and his wife were murdered. Their entire way of life was utterly destroyed along with their mansion.
In the attack, their only child, 10-year-old Ciel Phantomhive, was kidnapped and sold as little more than meat on the black market. He was purchased by an occult group. Then, was beaten, tortured, raped and finally murdered as they offered him up as a sacrifice to a dark creature that they called the Noble Beast.
At the moment that he was murdered, Ciel summoned a demon. The demon offered him a bargain. The demon would help Ciel to achieve revenge against the people who destroyed his family. When that revenge was complete, the demon would devour Ciel's soul. Ciel agreed. After being given the name Sebastian Michaelis, the demon began to serve as his butler.
Three years later, Ciel is the new Earl Phantomhive. He leads a busy life. With Sebastian at his side, he works for Queen Victoria as the Queen's Guard Dog. Working in the shadows of the British government, he resolves sticky situations that could dirty the royal family's reputation. He also oversees his massively popular toy company, Funtom Company, and deals with his own problems all while working towards the one thing that will seal his fate forever
While the various forms of Kuroshitsuji have their own plots, they all follow this basic background. In general, Kuroshitsuji consists of a series of chronological sub-plots, usually involving Ciel's investigations of things for Queen Victoria. These sub-plots range from saving friends (and making new ones) to exploring the dark realities behind the incidents that lead to the death of Ciel's parents, Vincent and Rachel Phantomhive. Since the story varies so widely for Kuroshitsuji, it is a difficult series to summarize. Your best bet is to try reading a few chapters of the manga (I recommend at least the first 12) or watching a few episodes of the first anime series (at least to episode 4) to decide whether or not the series is for you. With the anime, do not judge from the first episode - it was produced as a stand-alone, and does not connect well with the rest of the series.
Meet the Cast
Here are a few of the characters for the series that you will need to know about:
Earl Ciel Phantomhive
Ciel is the main character of the series. A 13-year-old British earl, he is the last surviving member of a family of dark nobles who serve Queen Victoria by eliminating threats to the Crown. When he was 10, he entered into a contract with his demon butler, Sebastian Michaelis, and now continues his family legacy as he searches for revenge.
Sebastian Michaelis is simply one hell of a butler. In other words, he is a demon who is posing as a butler. After entering into a contract of service with Ciel Phantomhive, Sebastian serves as Ciel's servant while helping his master to work towards the eventual goal of revenge. He is a very faithful servant, if a little devious, that will help the earl to achieve his goals... until the day he devour's the boy's soul.
Elizabeth 'Lizzy' Middleford
Lizzy is the bouncing, shiny, very happy and very cute presence that manages to annoy both viewers and characters alike. She is the 14-year-old daughter of Ciel's Aunt Frances. She is also Ciel's fiancee through an arranged marriage. Her goal in life is to make Ciel smile the way he did before his parents were murdered. Also, she delights in covering everything in pink and making it cute.
The Phantomhive Servants
MeyRin, Bard and Finny (along with Tanaka, not pictured) are the other servants that serve Ciel Phantomhive. Friendly, helpful and a little bit out of the ordinary, they work to make sure that their young master's life is as easy and uneventful as possible. And, if trouble does happen to brew, they can take care of it just as any servant of the Phantomhive family should be able to.
The Shinigami Dispatch Association (also called the Shinigami Death Society, Shinigami Haken Kyoukai and Shinigami Death Dispatch)
Death is good business in Kuroshitsuji. Shinigami, or grim reapers, are employed by the Shinigami Dispatch Association and control what happens to souls after they die. Due to the nature of their work, they often run into Sebastian and Ciel while master and servant are out and about. (Pictured, from left to right are Ronald Knox, Eric Slingby, Alan Humphries, Grell Sutcliff and William T. Spears)
Creepy and perhaps a little off-kilter, the Undertaker is a good source of information when it comes to corpses, death and murder. His information comes at a price, however, and he's always up for a good laugh.
A young and up-coming detective for Scotland Yard, Fred Abberline is often sent in to investigate many of the same cases that Ciel looks into. His good-natured, naive outlook on life is an endearing contrast to the sometimes ruthless motivations of the people around him.
Can I read Kuroshitsuji online?
Yes. Yes, you can. Go here: www.mangareader.net/102/kurosh…
What is the best way to get into the series?
My personal recommendation is to watch the first season of the anime and then read the manga when you have finished. People who read the manga first sometimes have trouble stomaching the anime (which changes many of the character's personalities). I generally advise against watching the second series/season of Kuroshitsuji all together, as it does not fit with the rest of the canon and is, quite frankly, bizarre.
Is Kuroshitsuji a yaoi/shounen-ai series?
Yaoi/shounen-ai/boys love refers to series that focus on male characters who are gay, contain large amounts of gay content or have a romantic plot involving a male gay pair. Kuroshitsuji is not a yaoi or shounen-ai series. That being said, it has very strong shounen-ai undertones and is very suggestive. The series does have canonically gay characters and at least three canonically gay pairings that show up with prominence. There is also quite a bit of cross-dressing, and one of the characters is a man who wants to be a woman. This series is definitely not suited to anyone who is homophobic.
Is Kuroshitsuji a religiously offensive series?
While one of the main characters in Kuroshitsuji is a demon, the series does not follow any particular given dogma or religion and is not generally considered religiously offensive. The manga contains practically no religious content at all, only stating that Sebastian is a demon and never detailing anything of his past, species or origins beyond that. The first anime series includes an angel and occasional talk of God. One of the musicals contains several references to a shinigami who forsook the name of God and will burn in Hell. That being said, do keep in mind that the series is about a 13-year-old boy who sold his soul to a demon.
Does the Kuroshitsuji anime follow the plot of the manga?
No, it does not. Parts of the anime are taken from the manga (both series contain the Jack the Ripper and Curry Bread arcs), but most of the anime is completely separate from, and occasionally disagrees with, the manga.
Does Kuroshitsuji contain pedophilia or sexual content relating to boys under the age of 17?
There is no good short answer to this. However, I will have to say that, yes, Kuroshitsuji does contain pedophilia. Many of these overtones can be overlooked. Some are not evident at first glance, anyway. However, there is no way to deny that the theme is present. Pedophilia is not presented in a positive light in most scenarios. That being said, it should be noted that the Sebastian/Ciel pairing is at least vaguely canon, and many fans believe it to be completely canon.
A running gag in the series is the fact that Ciel is repeatedly kidnapped. More than once, it is made quite clear that he was kidnapped by perverts for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with money. At least one very suggestive scene involving Ciel is shown in the series, both in the anime and the manga, even if it is not what it looks like. In the second series of the anime, one of the teen boys is shown as having been raped by a man and willingly sleeping with people. A fairly large percentage of the characters in the series show some sort of sexual or romantic interest in one or more characters under the age of 15. Needless to say, this can be offensive.
Will there be a third season of Kuroshitsuji?
I cannot predict the future, but at the present time there have been no announcements regarding a third season of Kuroshitsuji. The second series/season bombed rather badly and I find a third season unlikely.
Can I watch the musicals subtitled online?
I have been told that the first musical was subtitled by someone (who must have been very bored), but I am unaware of where it may be available. If you want to watch one of the musicals, watch the second musical. It has a much better cast, an excellent storyline and unforgettable characters. You can find links to a raw copy on the BlackButler.Net forums or watch the subtitled version on YouTube. A word of warning: the subtitles on YouTube are very inaccurate.