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Anime that doesn’t suck…First installment

I am all over the place in this blog!  I just wanted to share something that I have learned and in which the internets have been of little value…

Usually if I am interested in finding out about something that I am not familiar with, I go to google and I type the subject in and I find someone who knows something about it and lots of information as to how they came to their conclusions.  Usually.  Unfortunately there is not really a firm guide for folks who consider themselves mature, functioning adults who just happen to also like anime. 

Firstly, I want to reassure you that, yes, you can be an adult and like animated shows.  I am not stating this just because I and nerd-kind embrace you and love you for who you are but SOCIETY, though they may try to hide it, also encourages you to enjoy that which you love: animated shows. 

Exhibit A: The Simpsons.  It’s one of the longest running shows in the world.  Seriously it just keeps coming and coming.  And why?  Because millions of people watch it. 

Exhibit B: Family Guy.  It’s one of the the most popular shows in Primetime, as noted by this article on Wikipedia:

            “Family Guy has been nominated for 12 Primetime Emmy Awards and 11 Annie Awards, and has won three of each. It has garnered three Golden Reel Award nominations, winning once. In 2009, it was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, the first time an animated series was nominated for the award since The Flintstones in 1961.”

I can’t make this stuff up, folks…

Exhibit C: Adult Swim.  After a certain time in the evening, there is a whole channel devoted to animated shows for adults.  Ever seen the Venture Brothers?  It is probably one of the funniest shows on TV and, while animated, it is very obviously created for and by adults. 

So now you know it’s not just you, coming home from your office in your suit and tie, closing the blinds and switching on the Venture Brothers.  It’s the majority of America.  We don’t have to hide in shame!  Open those blinds!  Let everyone see you in your wife-beatered-boxered-chip-eating-cartoon-watching glory!

Anyway, I am done justifying my lifestyle for now and I will climb off of my soap box to tell you what I have learned…  This will be the first installment of a series as I find more anime that I enjoy!  May as well add another layer of information to the blog…

Black Butler

Firstly, the theme for this show is unexpectedly catchy.  I find myself humming it a lot, especially the last 20 seconds or so.  This is the full song.  The theme for the show begins at 1:20 (then they take out 1:24-1:31, but you get the gist).  The pictures on the video are, I think, from the manga the show is based on.  The illustrations in the show are a little less compact, the lines are lighter, and Sebastian has a slightly different facial structure.  Wow, nerdy much?  Anyway…

Well, the chorus is anyway…

This show debuted in 2008, but wasn’t released here until last year.  It is based on a manga series of the same name.  Okay, so the plot is just, well, odd… The show is set in Victorian England, mainly at a sprawling estate called the Phantomhive manor.  The main character is the 12 year-old master of the estate, Ciel, who was  orphaned at a young age after the murder of his parents.  He is heir to Phantomhive Toys (the presumed source of his fortune) and serves as the “young” Queen Victoria’s “dog,” enforcing order and investigating paranormal “cases,” Gothic-animated-X Files style.  To further the already twisted narrative: after the death of his parents, Ciel forges a Faustian-style contract with a demon to be always at his side and to help him in his quest for vengeance for the death of his parents in exchange for his soul.  The demon, Sebastian, becomes his “butler” at the estate and, to all intents and purposes, serves in that position in every aspect, but also helps him solve England’s problems one step at a time.   He wears an eye patch to cover the mark which seals their agreement.

This show is, at times, cheesy.  For instance, the punch line that is in every episode after a seemingly impossible task is accomplished by Sebastian and an onlooker (there is always some “bystander,” like an aunt, or cousin, or visitor who isn’t clued in to the unusual arrangement between Ciel and his “butler”) asks how he accomplished such a thing.  He turns to the camera and says “Because, madame, I am one hell of a butler.  If I couldn’t do something so small for my master, what kind of butler would I be?”  Or something very close to that.  Hell.  Of a butler.  Because he’s a demon.  Butler.  Cheese to the nth.  Also, until the last few episodes, the four members of the house staff are the quintessential exaggerated anime characters.  They spend most of their time being extremely clumsy and destroying things in the house but are always forgiven.  The characters, which provide the slap-stick comic relief, so you can see my point, are…

Mey-Rin: a maid in her mid 20s whose thick glasses do nothing to prevent her clumsiness.  She refuses to take them off or change them because they were the first gift Ciel gave her when she moved into the manor.  She has a strong British-ish accent that doesn’t follow any particular dialect, but seems to suggest that she is from a poor background.  It’s not until the end of season one that you see that she is much more than a clumsy maid.

Bardroy: the American cook, also in his mid 20s, who rarely cooks anything, but rather destroys things by trying to cook with flamethrowers and participating in other ridiculous shenanigans.  You also find out that his purpose in being at the estate is much more than it seems at the end of the season.

Finnian: is the gardener who you would assume was in the same age range, but looks like he is a pre-teen.  It’s never stated how old he is, but he seems young and innocent.  He tends to break things with super-human feats of strength.  At first, it seems this is just part of the exaggeration of his character as an air-headed lummox, but soon seems to be one of his actual qualities. (On a side note, what’s with the token “mentally challenged” character in animes?  Bleach, anybody?  You have no idea what I’m talking about…) Anyway, he is the bleeding heart of the group.  He over-emotes anytime something sad happens which, in this show, is basically all the time.  His purpose, like the others, also becomes clear at the end of the show.

Tanaka: Tanaka is the house manager who, for some reason, is miniature and can’t talk unless he has a burst of energy.  Then he becomes a sophisticated, intelligent house manager who is extremely loquacious and helpful.  He tends to be deflated and can only make laughing sounds 90% of the time, but always seems to expand to his full potential when his advice is needed the most. 

Then there are the side characters, a towering “demon hound” named Pluto, the “young” Queen Victoria and her assistant, a young lady named Angela who first tamed Pluto, Ciel’s aunt-Lady Red, a cache of rogue-ish grim reapers, Ciel’s pre-arranged fiancee, Elizabeth, and so on and so forth.

It’s just a mish mash of paranormal stuff.  And by now, I am certain you are thinking, “How is this good?  It just sounds utterly bizarre.”  And you are partially right!  It is outright bizarre!  It still, somehow, manages to be one of the most compelling shows I have ever watched. 

It is fantasy/paranormal/historical fiction at its most strange, but brightest.  The first few episodes are light and silly and fun to watch just for their novelty but then the show takes a serious turn and becomes this nightmarish, apocalyptic, dystopian phantasm.   You watch as the “arrangement” between Sebastian and Ciel, characters both cold and seemingly devoid of emotion, seems to become a mutual trust in and care for each other and then seems to flip back to strictly business.  You never know how to feel for either character or how to read their intentions and it makes the experience so rich as you can’t help but feel torn yourself.

There are so many facets to the story, but I don’t want to give anything, not a single thing, away.  It is so much better to discover each for yourself.  I can’t remember a time I have watched something so vivid and imaginative as this.  It is bizarre, unmistakably Japanese, and unforgettable.  The characters are simultaneously ridiculous and impossibly engaging.  It is rare that I find anime that I like because I have very specific standards, but this is one of the more surreal and indelible shows I have seen of any genre, and while its just fantastical presentation and singular components make it a strange thing to approach, it is worth every second spent watching it.

     “If it’s your wish, I will follow you everywhere.  Even if your throne crumbles and your shiny crown truns to rust.  Even if the bodies pile up endlessly.  Above the bottomless pile of corpses, beside you as you lie, softly, down, I will be until I hear the words “Check.  Mate.”
-Sebastian

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