Black Butler‘s brilliant cast of characters and fast-paced plot made it a favorite among anime fans after the show’s release in 2008. The show is packed with demons, angels, and Grim Reapers all vying for human souls though the plot mostly centers on the young Earl Ciel Phantomhive and his demon butler, Sebastian Michaelis.
Cool as they may be, though, there’s one character that stands out because there’s really no one else like them in the show and that’s Grell Sutcliff. The redheaded Grim Reaper was introduced early in the series as the butler of Baroness Angelina Dalles-Burnett a.k.a Madame Red.
Though they’re initially portrayed as comic relief, Grell Sutcliff quickly grew on fans because of their vibrant personality that just can’t be pinned down. Until today, fans are still debating certain aspects of their personality, particularly their gender identity.
1. Grell Is Surprisingly Complex
It’s not every day you see a comic relief character be teased as someone more nuanced on the inside in the same way Grell has been.
Sure, many shounen series will later reveal that their happy-go-lucky comic relief has a dark past or a sad childhood that made them determined to see the world in a more positive light. But there’s something decidedly melancholic about them when they sometimes let on in the anime and manga that they have serious issues.
Grell’s no INFP anime character, but it’s easy to tell that their sad past has something to do with their weapon since all Grim Reapers in the world of Kuroshitsuji, people who become Grim Reapers are people who committed suicide.
It’s theorized that they died at least a century ago. When you think about what Grell is like in terms of their obviously not cishet way of presenting themself, you get a subtle hint of what they likely killed themself over.
2. They’re Fabulous
For someone who gets ridiculed and treated as disgusting by many of the main cast, it’s amazing how fabulous Grell is both inside and out. They manage to keep a positive outlook and remain eager to meet new people (especially when they’re cute guys).
At the end of the day, though, their true love is Sebastian Michaelis, the demon serving Ciel Phantomhive. How much of that is genuine or just Grell being Grell remains to be seen, but they make an effort to look great for all the cuties either way.
Like, have you seen their hair? It would take so much conditioner to keep it as smooth and silky as it is.
During the Jack the Ripper arc, Grell serves as Madame Red’s butler and manages to serve even when they’re in a relatively plain butler’s uniform. Knowing them, they probably even picked out outfits for themself and Madame Red that would match thematically even if it was just a shared touch of red on both of their outfits.
Later on, we see them in all sorts of outfits. Their shinigami attire with the red oversized coat looks fabulous in shots where they’re running on the rooftops of London. And the church outfit with the tiny booty shorts? Controversial, but we love an icon willing to make bold fashion choices.
3. They’re a Gender Ambiguous Icon
You might have noticed by now that I keep calling Grell a “they/them” and that’s because Grell…is Grell. Is Grell trans MtF? Are they a drag queen? Are they genderfluid? Non-binary? No one’s sure! And that’s the beauty of it.
Remember, Grell came out in Kuroshitsuji around 2008. These days, it’s almost expected, even if it remains rare, that you get one queer character in a show.
While anime has never been as restrictive as some people might think, the medium has always played host to queer characters as seen in Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena. It’s just that we rarely see someone like them.
Okay, fussing over Grell aside, is there actually any basis for saying that they aren’t cishet?
Yana Toboso, the author of Kuroshitsuji, describes them as an okama, a Japanese word that generally refers to very effeminate gay men. The word gets more ambiguous when you consider that many cultures like Japan’s lump being gay/lesbian with being trans MtF/FtM together. At the same time, they often call themself by female pronouns and words.
Without getting too deep in Kuroshitsuji gender discourse, Grell is Grell and that makes them awesome.
4. Grell Is, Oddly Enough, One of the More Normal Characters on the Show
Grell Sutcliff is portrayed as an outlandish comic relief who’s obsessed with cute guys and looking hot themselves. Underneath all the jokes about them though, if you really think about it, they’re one of the more normal characters in the show.
Look, whatever trauma drove them to commit suicide the first time around clearly isn’t that big of a deal to them now compared to how it was back then. They’ve grown past it and have learned to adjust to being a shinigami.
Ciel Phantomhive? Still out there holding grudges. The demon hot guys? Obsessed with eating the souls of minor boys. Their co-worker Will? A workaholic who’s emotionally constipated.
By comparison, their gregariousness is about as normal as it gets in the show. Sure, they’re unserious as heck, but if you were isekai’d into Kurshitsuji, there’s likely no one else who’d make a better conversationalist.
5. Grell Is Relatable
As weird as this sounds, Grell is relatable and it’s this relatability that draws them and Madame Red together after they first met. They sympathize with Madame Red because, like her, they can’t bear children owing. They also often talks about very feminine “problems” such as feeling insecure around the guy she likes (Sebastian) and wanting to be treated like a lady by the other characters.
Grell is also very open about what they really want: A simple life in a quiet house with someone they love. They say this outright in Grell’s Confessional which is notably described as a section where “The self-declared lady Grell will answer some questions about her hobbies, tastes, and other interesting things.”
Trans fans of the manga and anime may relate to them even more because of their struggles and feelings about the people around them. If you’ve read it yourself, you may have picked up on how they mostly call themself as a she while other characters refer to them as he.
No matter how you see Grell or interpret their character as there’s no denying that they’re one of the most memorable parts of Black Butler up until now.