Continuing the run of reviews of live action anime adaptations I took a look at the 2014 Black Butler movie. This is an adaptation of a popular anime that was taken from the Manga which has been on my to-read list for some time.
Following the murder of the wealthy and powerful Genpo family a young descendant, Kiyoharu Phantomhive, appears to take over the family and the business, accompanied by his mysterious Butler and protector Sebastian.
Kiyoharu is in fact the orphaned daughter of the family, Shiori Genpo, and Sebastian is a demon she sold her soul to in return for revenge for her parents death and the opportunity to investigate who was behind it.
It is worth pausing here to acknowledge the differences between the original anime and this adaptation. Firstly the anime is set in Victorian times whereas the movie is set in modern day. More importantly, in the anime the main protagonist is Ciel Phantomhive who although still the young heir is male (as opposed to female heir posing as male). I’m not sure what the purpose of the gender switch was, the reason given in the film is that only males can inherit the family estate and business but why change the heir to a female in the first place? To change the main character to female and then have them pose as male as they were in the original seemed to add unnecessary confusion. The only explanation I can suggest is that it was to make the relationship with Sebastian as the film progresses more….comfortable?
Shiori/Kiyoharu also has a position as a Queens Watchdog, a job carried out by the family for generations, as such the plot of the film sees Shiori/Kiyoharu investigating a number of mummification murders. They are drawn into a world of drug manufacture, human trafficking and terrorism that eventually leads to revelations of family secrets and the truth about Shiori’s parents murder.
Although lacking some of the fun and humour of the anime (as well as Sebastian oft-heard catchphrase “I’m one hell of a Butler”) it did instead have an attractive film noir feel to it. The fight scenes were beautifully choreographed to the point of looking like a dangerous dance. The characters have a lot to like about them, Shiori/Kiyoharu seems to me to be a lot less arrogant and irritating than his/her anime counterpart. Sebastian is fantastically played by Hiro Mizushima, with fluid, fast demonic movements and bishounen looks that are sure to appeal. The rest of the family servants also add some fun to the tale. Oh, and Sebastian still likes cats!
There are elements from each version, this one and the anime, that I preferred over the other, although not without its flaws I really enjoyed this adaptation and having started the anime I don’t think the live action takes anything away from continuing with it. This stands alone as a complex but understandable film that is dark but with flashes of fun and definitely worth a watch.