Ciel and Sebastian are inseparable. I’m happy that I get to act the beginning of their relationship.
Set in England during the late 19th century, Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji) revolves around young Earl Ciel Phantomhive who has signed a contract with the demon called Sebastian. Under the Queen’s order, he solves terrible crimes happening in the underworld. The original manga, Black Butler by Yano Toboso, is very popular and still ongoing. The Black Butler anime adaptation has three series so far as well as an Original Video Anime. It has been 8 years since the first anime series began and its first theatrical movie is currently screening in Japan.
Voice actor Daisuke Ono has been playing the role of the titular character, Sebastian, for 8 years. He plays a demon who doesn’t share any human-like emotions. According to him, taking on the role of Sebastian in the movie is like ‘getting a reward’. The story is from the Luxury Liner Arc, which was published over the course of 4 manga volumes. It is considered one of the most exciting stories in the Black Butler world. It seems that Daisuke Ono sees this movie as an important opportunity to discover a new side of Sebastian.
[Interview: Tomoko Oomage]
Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic
Sebastian unleashes himself for the first time
— The popular ‘Luxury Liner’ arc receives an anime adaptation, the first Black Butler anime movie on a theatrical screen.
Daisuke Ono (Ono)
‘I believe that the Luxury Liner arc is the episode our fans have been truly longing to see. As the name implies, it is on a big scale covering all sorts of Black Butler elements from horror and action to comedy. It is no exaggeration to say that you would totally get why people love Black Butler so much when you see this movie. It’s like the story will tell you everything about it. So, I am so happy as an actor and as a fan of the work to be able to present this in the form of a theatrical movie.
–In the movie, Sebastian is different from how he is in other stories. He shows his emotions here, for example, by showing a desperate look on his face during a fight. At the beginning of the anime adaptation, I heard that you were cautious not to show emotions. How different is it for you to act Sebastian for this movie?
‘Director Noriyuki Abe is also the sound director in this one. To play Sebastian, the director told me, “Until now, I asked you not to show any emotions in acting as much as possible, but you can fully show them in a way you’d like to express them this time.” This is what Director Abe wanted, as well as the manga creator Yana Toboso. In the movie, a powerful enemy called Undertaker takes to the stage, who leaves Sebastian in a tough situation. He can’t control his breath and his emotions begin to emerge. This was something that I was holding back for 8 years, and now I am actually asked to “show everything I got”. This is kind of a rewarding moment for me. Until now, I was hiding my natural desire as an actor. Based on the bonds with everyone in the staff as well as the importance of the work, when I finally heard the phrase “please express emotions”, I was genuinely happy [laugh].’
— Through acting Sebastian for 8 years from 2008 to now, have you noticed any changes in you?
‘Speaking of technical aspects, I am now confident about using a deep voice consistently. When I started, I was repeatedly told to “stick to a deeper voice with less intonation and no emotions”. I couldn’t say this until now, but it was really hard for me in those days. I went through a phase worrying about this character, thinking about what if I wouldn’t be able to show emotions as long as I played this role. However, I now have the courage to subtract, thanks to that experience. In addition, I’m positive that the dilemma that I experienced has influenced other roles since then. As a result of playing Sebastian, my voice range is now wider, which leads to a variety of roles I can play. I get offers for some roles that I wouldn’t have been able to take before, such as an older character or a real tough character. I realized that I got to play a once-in-a-lifetime role.’
–In this movie, Sebastian faces Reapers Grell and Ronald, as well as the Undertaker. I notice that there are many action scenes.
‘Ms. Toboso also mentioned to “express his energy as much as possible in this movie”. So, I added many ad-libs to the action scenes so you’d find unseen sides of Sebastian. The Grim Reapers Grell and Ronald are naturally lively, and their action scenes are more energetic as well. I even thought to myself “Ah, so Sebastian breathes like this when he’s really fighting in a serious battle” [laugh]’
— Do you have any favorite scenes?
‘I think the highlight of this movie is the fact that you see most of the main characters. Another highlight is that the fans have a chance return to where it all began. I love the flashback scene in which Ciel and Sebastian first meet. Ciel says to Sebastian, “Your name is Sebastian from today.” Then, Sebastian asks, “Is that the name of your previous butler?” In reply to this, Ciel says, “No, it’s a dog’s name.” Sebastian bitterly thinks to himself, “how unfortunate of me to end up working for such an ill-natured spoiled brat.” This whole conversation describes Ciel and Sebastian so well. When I realized that this was the beginning, I felt really grateful for what I’ve been able to experience for the last 8 years.’
— That was the moment that the relationship between a master and a butler began.
‘The human soul is formed with superior spirituality and the opposite of that. Those two elements are closely tied to each other, illustrated as two sides of the same coin in Black Butler. You can get a glimpse of this in the flashback scene I mentioned. Now, Sebastian may seem to be perfect, but we can see that at first he didn’t know anything about aristocratic societies and had to learn from Ciel. In return, he helped Ciel with his demonic powers. Sebastian and Ciel are inseparable. I’m repeating myself here again, but I was really happy to take a part in the beginning of their close bond both as an actor and to witness it as a fan [laugh]. So, acting Sebastian was great fun throughout the movie.’
The joy of sticking to a character for a long time
— When you act Sebastian, how do you emotionally prepare yourself for that?
‘At the beginning, I felt like I was performing alone. Without expressing any emotions, I felt pressured to technically establish the role on my own. However, around halfway through the first season, I realized that it was impossible to make it happen all by myself. So, whenever I now perform in Black Butler for the first time in a while, I make sure to listen to other voices, especially Ciel’s. When you create something alone, I’m almost certain that it only works for you, but for nobody else. It becomes blurry instead. This may be similar to the relationships between the characters. When Sebastian was there as a demon, he may have been all by himself. However, he exists here because he met Ciel. It means that he wouldn’t be here without Ciel. That’s what I mean when I say that Sebastian and Ciel are inseparable. To me, it’s the voice of Maaya Sakamoto that switches on my “Sebastian” mode.’
— As you tell me about Black Butler, I can feel your love towards the work and to your character. What is it like to play the same character for 8 years?
‘I have been doing some work on the radio and events for 10 years, but this is the only anime work that I have been doing for such a long period of time, 8 long years. This is the longest time I’ve spent on one anime. In addition, I get to be in the middle of the circle as a leader. However, I can tell that all the production staff including Ms. Toboso love Black Butler and that hasn’t changed a bit from the beginning. Every time I hear about the new series release and whenever I act Sebastian, my joy of performing in Black Butler gets bigger. It’s such a happy feeling.’
— The number of your fans must be growing as Black Butler continues.
‘I’ve been working on this anime for 8 years, and I often hear younger staff say to me, “I like Black Butler ” when we’re working on a different project. I feel very privileged to be part of such a popular work, which still continues to be serialized and gets anime adaptations one after another. I’m not talking about how great it was in the past, but it is still just as awesome in the present.’
— Plus, it hasn’t lost any of its strength. The Black Butler world gets deeper and more mysterious in the original manga. Obviously, you are a fan of the series, so please tell me what makes Black Butler so appealing to you as a fan.
‘Earlier, I mentioned that this Luxury Liner arc captures all the charm of Black Butler , and I believe that the whole Black Butler series contains all the elements that manga titles should have. For example, this movie is categorized as a horror and suspense movie. It also has action scenes as well as some serious drama. There is an element of humor, which can’t be missed in Black Butler . I think the movie is full of entertaining aspects. It even describes both the beautiful and unsophisticated parts of humanity. I actually have a question to ask Ms. Toboso when I get a chance. It’s about Sebastian’s line saying, “I am simply one hell of a butler”. I would like to ask her, “You just wanted him to say that, right?” [laugh] To me, that particular line tells us everything about Black Butler: It has style.’
— Yes, that line certainly captures everything about Black Butler.
‘We don’t normally come across series with catchphrases these days, but Black Butler has iconic catchphrases all the time. I think this shows the quality of the great entertainment it provides. It never lets the fans down, working like the Inro from Mito Komon [laugh]. This recently made me realized that it could be the reason why the series is still active.’
— You’re saying that Sebastian’s desire for Ciel’s soul is condensed in his expression.
‘This is just my speculation, but it seems like Ms. Toboso wrote the first chapter so that she could include the line, “I am simply one hell of a butler”. When I see how the relationship between Ciel and Sebastian begins in this movie, though, “I am simply one hell of a butler” has many different layers of meaning. I wonder if she fleshed out the story around this expression and made the storyline branch out into various directions. On the surface, Ciel and Sebastian seem to form a beautiful master-butler relationship, but that catchphrase could also mean, “don’t forget that I’m a demon” or “never underestimate me”. Ms. Toboso hasn’t changed the style and its dark horror element in the 10 years since she wrote the first chapter. I greatly admire her for that.’
— Lastly, could you please give some messages to the Black Butler fans and everyone who is going to see the movie Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic?
‘This movie is a compilation of Black Butler, and I am confident that it’s going to satisfy all the fans who’ve been supporting us from the beginning. It has all the charm of the series, so everyone, including those who haven’t seen Black Butler, will enjoy the movie. I think anyone who likes Black Butler will love this movie for the rest of their lives. It’s the same for me; this is the work of a lifetime. I would love to be a part of this for many years to come.’