I watched episodes 1-3 of Kuroshitsuji II the other night. So far, it is every bit as decadent as you want it to be. Much like episode 1 of Kuroshitsuji I, the first episode of Kuroshitsuji II is a primer on its characters. In the same way that the original series opened with an obscure glimpse of the moment in which Ciel makes his deal with Sebastian and receives the mark of their contract, this one opens with a naked and battered Alois making a deal with a spider whom we will later know as Claude Faustus. What a name. But after that, it is clear that the episode progress by means of emphasizing the ways in which Alois is, in fact, the opposite of Ciel. The two butlers, while also very different, are probably a little too similar for comfort.
Whereas Ceil was a boy who met with tragedy and essentially lost his childhood forever to become the prematurely serious Earl of Phantomhive, Alois is a dilettante. He is cruel, sadistic, vindictive and prone to throwing tantrums. He is practically manic in his desire to live life to its decadent extreme. He wants what he wants, and he wants everything.
Alois constantly tries to provoke Claude, a butler who is stern and serious to Sebastian’s dry wit, and one of the first scenes of Alois interacting with the rest of the staff has him tricking Hannah, the maid, into making eye contact with him. As punishment, Alois calmly plucks out her eye. For real. With lots of blood. Whereas Sebastian would often intervene when Ciel was about to do something violent or that he might regret later, Claude does not stop Alois from attacking Hannah—when Claude arrives on the scenes moments later, he merely commands the staff to clean up the mess and then calmly wipes the blood of Alois’s fingers.
We learn too that, like Ciel, Alois had also disappeared for some period of time and had returned to England with his dark butler in tow. Alois was born to the aristocratic Trancy family but was kidnapped when he was still an infant. He was missing for many years, his mother going crazy and eventually committing suicide. When Alois returns, he lives with his father for a year before his father dies under somewhat suspicious circumstances and then Alois inherits the family title and estate. Alois’s uncle, however, does not believe the story and suspects that Alois is not even his brother’s lost son.
The events of episode one begin a year and three months after the conclusion of the original series. Much to my surprise, Sebastian makes an appearance early in the episode. He shows up in the middle of a dark and stormy night carrying a large suitcase and concealed by a high-collared coat and hat. Alois is delighted to be visited by such a dashing and mysterious figure at such an inappropriate hour. Claude is immediately suspicious. I’m not even going to tell you what’s in the suitcase but suffice it to say that I actually said “No. Way.” out loud.
Since I can’t say much more without spoiling a number of things, I’ll conclude by telling you a bit more about Claude Faustus (man! I can’t get over that name!). In the original series, we were introduced to Sebastian’s powers and given the hint that he’s not human when he manages to salvage a formal dinner for a guest in a mere 2 hours. He then must “take care” of said guest who may or may not end up in the minced pie made for dessert (but never served—no cannibalism in this show . . .). Since we already know that Sebastian is a demon and that he had a contract with Ciel to consume his soul, Kuroshitsuji II doesn’t attempt to hide that fact that Claude is a demon with a similar contract to Alois. Claude is also called upon to perform a miracle when Alois’s uncle announces he is visiting with a priest in order to try to prove that the boy is NOT who he claims to be. Alois had long since ordered the entire manor to be stripped of anything reminding him of his father and so Claude is called to return the house and dining room back to its original state.
This is the scene in which it’s pretty clear that Claude is the spider, as he spins a new room in preparation for the Uncle’s visit. This was also one false note of the episode for me. To prepare for his spinning, Claude begins by tap dancing on a high railing to “Summer: III. Presto” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (a very spidery song, I must say, so well done on that). At first I found that over the top. I mean, a demon with the last name of Faustus tap dancing? I suspected it to be a conceit more interest in establishing Claude’s difference from Sebastian than having grown organically from his character. But the dancing doesn’t last long and then Claude springs to the chandelier and begins his work. What follows next is pretty damn cool. Claude grabs the corners of the rug and literally tosses all the furnishing of the dining room in the air and then changes everything before it settles back down. What’s even better is that this is all done in slow motion while the violins continue to race in “Summer.” Upon later reflection, I decided I didn’t mind the tap dancing so much because of the slow motion effect. While Claude dances, his steps become faster and faster and faster until he is ready to spin his web in air. It ends up making a really great contrast in speed between the motion of his feet, the speed of the song, the speed of his spinning and the molasses slow movement of everything in the room. As the table settles back down and then slams to the floor, a reminder that it is a formal, heavy wood table and not a feather, in the newly reappointed gothic décor, Claude slides up to the table on his knees, almost like a big finish in a dance. It ends up being a pretty great scene.
There is, of course, a fight between Claude and Sebastian which is delish. By all means, let’s see more of that! Claude realizes who Sebastian is and attacks him. But for my money, and I don’t know if this was intentional or not, Sebastian clearly has the upper hand. He is the great, black bird at his most terrifying, as he was in Kuroshitsuji. Sebastian mocks Claude-the-Spider, shows that he can do him one better, and it is ultimately Sebastian’s masterful display of his demonic power that reduces Alois to a crying mass on the floor.