Sunday, September 18, 2016

REVIEW: Black Butler (live action movie)

Oh look, it's my first review in over a month. Sorry, I've been in a horrible funk for a while now. Everything is hard: writing reviews, reading, and even watching TV. The only thing I've been doing is working, sleeping, and playing Stardew Valley. Here's hoping that this review is a sign that things are going back to normal, because I'm tired of doing nothing much. And also, I have an ILL book that's due in a week or two.

Anyway, yes, a live action Black Butler movie exists and I have watched and reviewed it. Contrary to what that movie poster might lead you to believe, it actually takes place in a modern day setting.

No watch-alikes, because I figured writing the review itself was hard enough. Also, warning, this review includes major spoilers.


I watched this out of morbid curiosity. To be honest, I was expecting it to be horrifically bad. I knew that the story and characters had been drastically changed in several areas, and I vaguely remembered reading something about Mizushima Hiro (Sebastian) losing weight for the role, because obviously the most important thing about Sebastian is his thinness.

In the end, this wasn't as bad as I originally expected it to be, but it wasn't great either. It helped a lot that I already knew it wouldn't be a redo of either the anime or manga story, and that the characters wouldn't be quite the same.

So, the story. The movie is set in some kind of alternate history modern day Japan. Genpou Shiori is a girl pretending to be a boy so that she can be the Genpou family heir. Several years ago, her parents were killed and she was kidnapped. She escaped by entering into a contract with Sebastian, a demon. Since then, her goal has been to find and punish those who killed her parents. In the meantime, however, she serves as a secret investigator for the Queen of England (I think?), for reasons that make no sense unless you have some familiarity with the original series and what's been twisted to fit the movie. Anyway, people are being spontaneously mummified, and no one is sure how or why. Shiori is tasked with looking into the murders, and her investigation unexpectedly touches on her past.

Fans of the original series might enjoy that this was a completely new story. As far as I know, nothing quite like it has appeared in either the anime or the manga, and the characters were tweaked just enough to (sorta kinda) cast doubt on the identity of the culprit. In theory, Black Butler newbies could follow along reasonably well, since there was enough new stuff here that the movie was forced to set the stage and introduce the characters.

In practice, though, there were things that wouldn't make sense to viewers unless they had at least a working knowledge of the original series. I'm sure that Rin came as a confusing shock to a lot of Black Butler newbies. Why did Sebastian fight people with butter knives? Because those were often the only “weapons” he had on hand in the original series. Why was Shiori working for the Queen of England? Because in the original series Shiori was actually a Victorian-era English boy named Ciel who secretly worked for the Queen. Why was Shiori a girl pretending to be a boy, and what was with Sebastian at the end of the movie? Well, the original series tends to portray Sebastian's relationship with Ciel as somewhat flirtatious (and the anime even more so). My guess is that someone involved with the movie wanted to keep at least a little of the flirtatious edge but wasn't comfortable with the idea of both of the characters being male.

So yeah, I'd recommend knowing something about Black Butler before going into this. That said, Black Butler fans are both the group mostly likely to enjoy this movie and the group most likely to hate it. There were lots of changes but also, weirdly enough, not enough changes - I wish the writer had committed more to this being an altered story. I understood why the setting had to be changed, but I'd have preferred it to have some connection to the original series – maybe Ciel as Shiori's ancestor or something, with Shiori being a completely new character in her own right. I was able to adjust to Ciel having been changed into Shiori, though. I also didn't mind that the servants had been scaled back to only two, Tanaka and Rin (Meirin). I had more issues with some of the deeper character changes.

This is where I get into spoiler territory. I initially assumed that Shiori's aunt was another change – rather than being a secret enemy, she was Shiori's true ally. The fact that she wasn't constantly dressed in red helped foster that assumption. In the end, I turned out to be wrong, but the aunt's story was tweaked in ways I absolutely did not like. She had previously loved Shiori's dad, just like Ciel's aunt had loved his father, but rather than loving him from afar the way Ciel's aunt had, Shiori's aunt had actually been married to Shiori's father. She miscarried and wasn't able to bear anymore children, so Shiori's father ditched her and married the aunt's sister, Shiori's eventual mother. The aunt responded by arranging for her sister and her former husband to be killed while she took a leisurely bath.

Ciel's aunt's story was tragic and terrible, made more tragic by her realization that she loved Ciel like a son and couldn't go through with killing him. Shiori's aunt's story was just plain horrible and painted everyone involved in a bad light.

Sebastian was also altered. Rather than being a demon who was truly waiting for the day when his contract with Shiori was fulfilled and he could eat her soul, he changed his mind just before her death and helped her survive, for no other reason than that he felt it would be more interesting that way. The movie completely and utterly defanged him, just so that it could work in a cringe-worthy “kiss” and a happy ending in which nothing horrible had to happen and no one had to make hard decisions.

The movie wasn't as bad as I expected, but, considering that my expectations were very low, that's not saying much. I don't regret watching it, because my morbid curiosity is now satisfied. I'd hesitate to recommend it to anyone, though.

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