An Interview With Brina Palencia And J Michael Tatum, VAs of Ciel Phantomhive And Sebastian From Black Butler


  • The return of Black Butler in the Public School Arc brings a unique twist, showing Ciel navigating high school politics.
  • The stunning visuals of the show have intensified, adding depth to the dynamic between Ciel and Sebastian.
  • Brina Palencia and J Michael Tatum’s close friendship and synergy as voice actors enhance their performances on Black Butler.



After nearly a decade without any new animated material for a title that had a huge fandom in the late 2000s throughout the 2010s, Black Butlermakes its return with Black Butler – Public School Arc-. The currently-airing title is the first new installment in the Black Butler anime since the Book of the Atlantic film released in 2017.

We had the honour of being invited to the Phantomhive Manor in the form of a press junket hosted by Crunchyroll on the 6th of June, to speak to Brina Palencia and J Michael Tatum, the legendary voice actors of Black Butler main duo Ciel Phantomhive and the titular demon butler, Sebastian Michaelis, about their thoughts and experiences regarding the return of the anime adaptation of Yana Toboso’s hit manga.

Some parts of the interview have been edited for the sake of brevity.

BlackButler RELATED Spring 2024 Preview: Black Butler Public School Arc

What can fans expect with the return of Ciel Phantomhive, the Queen’s watchdog, and his demon butler, Sebastian Michaelis?

GR: What would you both say are your favorite things about the return of the Black Butler anime?

Brina: I think the Public School Arc is so unique, especially compared to what we’ve done in the past. It’s the first time that we’re getting to see Ciel around his peers and having to be treated as the child that he is, and I adore how flustered it makes him. He’s just so discombobulated – like he doesn’t know how to deal with it, he thought it was going to be so easy, but it turns out, high school politics? Real rough for for everybody, no matter how smart you are! (chuckles) There’s something very humanizing about it and almost sweet, just to see him in that light for the first time. I’ve really been enjoying it.

Michael: I love this new context for them both and how in Sebastian’s case, the cover he’s got of being a teacher now allows him to be a little sarcastic with Ciel in a way that he hasn’t been before. I mean, there’s always been a certain level of back-and-forth between them but here it’s especially evident and I love it because I think it adds so much humor to it and it’s fun to watch Sebastian watch Ciel deal with normal everyday things as a very wealthy privileged kid who’s never had to deal with everyday, normal things before (chuckles). I think it’s really a lot of fun, I think it deepens the dynamic between the two of them in a way that we haven’t seen up to this point. I also think the context is very relatable to the audience because I mean, who can’t relate to negotiating and navigating through the HELL that is school! (laughs)

black butler public school arc prefect 4 ©Yana Toboso/SQUARE ENIX,Project Black Butler 

Brina: There’s something really satisfying seeing a kid like Ciel who like you’ve said, is so privileged but is also incredibly smart; you’ve seen him do wild stuff up to this point, just really epic stuff and yet, the thing that feels like it’s besting him is just school politics! (laughs)

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Michael: It’s like the Hobbits coming back to The Shire after everything and being like, “Oh, now we just have to deal with… bureaucracy…” (laughs) and that’s an epic adventure in its own right! I love this new context. My other favorite thing about returning is getting to hear Brina in what is one of my favorite roles that she’s ever done, because I think her performance is brilliant and it also embarrasses her a great deal when I say that, so I have to say it every chance I get! (laughs)

Black Butler ©Yana Toboso/SQUARE ENIX,Project Black Butler 

GR: The Public School Arc has incredible visuals, dramatically improving the visual experience of Black Butler. How has this new look and feel affected your experience in the recording booth?

Brina: Well, definitely EVERY tea scene for me, is the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I also really love Soma’s elephant! (laughs) Soma’s entire entrance scene is so beautiful!

Michael: I think the show has always been visually stunning, but now they’ve just ramped it up. What’s so great about it is after all these years, I suspect we’re now getting to work with animation that’s been produced by fans of the show; people that grew up watching it. It’s always really cool to see what people who kinda cut their teeth on the show and have a chance to work on it professionally can do. It just feels like such a love letter to the franchise in a way that makes it so much fun to do because you feel a beautiful enthusiasm for the material in the visuals that makes it so easy to get into character. I think we feel very well supported by every aspect of the production, which is super cool, and we always have, but coming back after so many years its nice to be like “Oh.”

I have to say, man, I’m obsessed with Sebastian’s eyelashes. They’re beautiful! They’re absolutely gorgeous –they’re like limousine eyelashes, I want those eyelashes!

Ciel at Weston ©Yana Toboso/SQUARE ENIX,Project Black Butler 

Brina: I was noticing with Ciel yesterday when I was recording, because there’s something about his one eye that you can always see. The way his eyelid is made me think, “He has Billie Eilish eyes!” That half-eyelid down look where the eye is still large so it looks cool, I dunno. (laughs) The first time I was able to describe it in a way that makes sense to me was like “Billie Eilish! That’s what his eyes look like!”

Michael: That’s amazing, I won’t be able to unsee that now! I’m going to be looking for it in every frame like “There it is! There it is!” (laughs)

GR: Ciel and Sebastian are not the only iconic duo that happened to be voiced by both of you, with Kraft Lawrence and Holo from Spice and Wolf being another. What would you both say are the best parts of working together, and why do you think of this seemingly synergistic relationship you have together in leading roles?

Brina: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we’re very good friends in real life. I adore Michael, I definitely count him as one of my best friends. I think we both came up around the same time whenever it was still Funimation, and we grew together in our careers. There’s a lot about our lives that paralleled and somehow, beautifully intertwined. It’s almost like, soul mate-y! (chuckles)

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We just started instantly picking on each other and we were like, “Yeah, this is gonna be a really long friendship!”

Michael: It kinda is, I mean, it can sound cheesy but it really feels that way. I remember the first time we met in the halls of OkraTron [5000], if you recall, we just started instantly picking on each other (both chuckle) and we were like, “Yeah, this is gonna be a really long friendship!” and it has. Brina has been there for all the really important moments in my life, she’s had a role to play in them, which is really great. As a performer, I’ve always –and I feel Brina is this way as well– drawn from the performances of those around me for my own performance. I work off of other people. It’s very hard for me to work in a vacuum, in other words. There’s just something about what Brina brings to the table that just naturally brings out my A-game – Brina is so good at what she does.

Ciel Phantomhive in Black Butler ©Yana Toboso/SQUARE ENIX,Project Black Butler 

We’ve worked together as voice actors, in physical workshops and things like that where you get to work on stage-type environments, and I feel so well taken care of whenever I’m working with Brina because I know she has done ALL the work, that she is bringing everything she’s got and she brings her entire being into the role, which gives me permission, to go there, and that’s awesome! It’s enormously freeing as a performer, she is the perfect scene partner because of what she allows – and she hates every word of this (both laughing) – but it’s true.

Brina will always go there, and because she goes there, it’s like a gift to her scene partner, because it’s a way of saying “Look, I’m gonna go there, so you don’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself because I’m gonna go there and you can go there too.” That’s where the magic happens, on the edge of what you think you can do, and so when you have a partner that’s already out there encouraging you, it helps. My best work has always been attributed to who I’m with at the time, and I think it’s no accident that my most memorable roles are opposite Brina.

Brina: Same for me. Acting can be a pretty big trust fall, especially when you’re trying to do the type of acting that is not so controlled, when you’re trying to be a little bit more alive; which is really hard to do in a dub, particularly since we record alone. It does help that I know Michael so well because not only are we good friends, but we’ve also directed each other in pretty significant roles. I feel like as soon as we stepped back into Black Butler and other shows, it’s like, “I know what you sound like and I can predict a little easier,” and if I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing your performance, like if I record before you. I much prefer recording after Michael and we’re constantly fighting about who gets to go last! (both chuckling) You have to be able to just know or try to predict how the other person is going to sound and I know Michael’s voice so well, so even when he’s not actually there, I can still hear him.

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Michael: Same with Brina. I can just hear how she’d deliver the lines. To me, when she plays a character even if I haven’t heard her yet, I can just see that character and go “Yup, that’s her.” It’s a great place to draw from, and I love how you put it, it’s like a trust fall. It is very much like that, and it’s nice knowing you can just fall into it like “Yeah, Brina’s got my back.” I said earlier that her performance brings my A-game, but really, if Brina’s involved, I know I can be incredibly lazy because no matter what I do, I’m gonna great because Brina’s laid the groundwork, and Brina’s gonna sound awesome! (both laugh)

Ciel and Soma

Brina: What I will say for acting in general, a mistake that actors make early in their careers is thinking that they need to do more than they actually do. It’s feeling like you need to control and pre-plan everything rather than just living in the moment and seeing what comes out. That’s the scarier version and that’s what takes the trust fall, but once you allow yourself to do it and trust yourself and your partner to just fall into that –that’s what brings scenes to life– rather than trying to be structured and rigid with how you think it should go.

Michael: And Brina allows you to do that if you work with her. She’s great at giving into the possibility and the potential, rather than trying to look good. Brina is never concerned with looking good, she’s concerned about being real and I think that makes her an incredible performer. Imperfections and things like that are all subjective. She always has such a real and close relationship with the material that it cannot help but make it real for whoever she’s acting with because she becomes part of that reality that you’re responding to.

Brina: I am SO uncomfortable! (laughs)



About the Interviewees:

Brina Palencia is a Honduran-American actor and musician most well known for her roles in anime. She has voiced iconic roles such as Tony Tony Chopper in One Piece, Touka in Tokyo Ghoul, Ciel Phantomhive in Black Butler, Juvia in Fairy Tail, Yuno Gasai in Future Diary and Holo in Spice and Wolf. She also served as Music Director for Dragon Ball Super, Sing a Bit of Harmony, Zombie Land Saga, Show By Rock, Space Dandy, Negima!? and Rosario Vampire. Outside the world of anime, Brina is currently working on releasing original music, with her debut EP set to release in Fall of 2024. You can follow her music on Spotify and YouTube and get even more updates on music, life and gardening on her Instagram @brinakins.

Nurtured on anime classics from a tender age, he spent more years than he cares to remember in free-fall before landing, mostly by accident, smack dab on this industry. Cast as Rikichi in 2005’s Samurai 7, J Michael Tatum’s inexplicable luck has held long enough to see his flag hoisted on a slew of popular roles, most notably Kyoya Otori in Ouran High School Host Club, Sebastian Michaelis in Black Butler, Tomoe from Kamisama Kiss, Okarin Rintarou from Steins;Gate, Commander Erwin Smith from Attack on Titan, and many, many more.

Black Butler Poster Black Butler

Categorías: Anime

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