Black Butler II was always going to be garbage, and I say that with a great deal of agonized affection. The series it works as a sequel to is inundated with enough low-key shota exploitation to require a shower after viewing, and my favorite “character who deserved better” is a walking transphobic joke. And yet.
I was a big fan of the first anime series as a teenager, with its trashy pseudo-gothic aesthetic and ability to wring a consistent character arc out of Ciel by veering away from the manga’s consequence-free borderline-sociopath. I even maintain a certain fondness for the canon’s depiction of that good old “death as bureaucracy” trope, and the musical spin-off The Most Beautiful Death in the World is straight up quality viewing to this day. So it was that I harbored high hopes for the show’s second season back in 2010, which pre-production information initially billed as “White Butler” – a series seemingly set in the same universe but with a different main cast.
Oh, if only that had been the case.
[Heads up: the point of these posts are to examine flaws in the subject as a whole – that means details and a fair amount of spoilers.]
This is the time of year when I’m reminded of my Stockholm Syndrome for horror stories. Traditionally I’m filled with a desire to consume them, which then conflicts with my need to sleep over the next several days. But then in high school I was introduced to Army of Darkness, and camp horror swooped in to rescue my circadian rhythms.
What’s camp, you reluctantly ask after I’ve singled you out? That’s an excellent question, theoretical reader. There’re a couple different definitions, which have evolved with time, but it comes down to a few basic components: theatricality, excessiveness, comparative mediocrity, and above all absurd exaggeration of the subject at hand. This generally comes in ‘deliberate’ and ‘accidental’ flavors. Drag shows can be camp, for example, as a means of playing up the ridiculousness of the ‘costume’ of gender roles. The films of Ed Wood (Plan 9 and so on) are camp because they hurtle past any bounds of empathy or believable fantasy and right on into self-parody. It’s a fine line, and achieving it deliberately is a lot harder than doing it accidentally – accidental camp comes with an air of charm, the feeling that the creators were honestly trying their best and just didn’t make it to traditional quality (whether from resources or the material itself being lacking); whereas deliberate and failed camp more often than not provokes eyerolling and the resentment of the audience.
Deliberate camp, particularly, needs to have something to say to really strike a chord. The exaggeration must exist to draw attention to something rather than existing for its own excessive sake (which is the domain of accidental camp). I’m convinced the reason The Rocky Horror Picture Show has much more reliable appeal than Repo! The Genetic Opera is because the former knew what it was paying homage/parody to (B sci fi movies and the sexual revolution), while the latter just kind of…is, in all its weird, cult-celebrity collecting glory (despite really wanting to be Rocky Horror).
In that light, I gathered up five great under the radar examples (in no particular order) of not just camp horror, but camp musical horror for your Halloween week. And for those of you concerned I might make it a whole post without mentioning anime, worry not. It’s in there.