Anime Reporter turns an inquisitively raised eyebrow to Black Butler, (or Kuroshitsuji), the live-action film. Based on the manga of the same name reviewed here many times, this film version plays around with the formula just a little bit, shifting the story from 19th Century England to an alternate, none-too-distant future set in The East, one of the two world powers at play in this world. The protagonist is changed from young boy Ciel Phantomhive to a young woman, Genpo Shiori (played by Ayame Goriki) whose public face is the boy, Genpo Kiyoharu (who pretty much just looks like a young woman with a short haircut).
The story begins with one of a string of deaths in which the victim is mummified with only a mysterious card depicting the devil left to provide any clues as to the nature of the death. While these deaths take place in the East, they attract the attention of the queen of the West, who orders her faithful watchdog Shiori to get to the bottom of it all. Shiori is aided somewhat in her investigations by her socialite aunt and her butler, Sebastian (played by Hiro Mizushima), who also happens to be a demon bound to follow Shiori’s orders until she dies and he can claim her soul. (Try to guess which one of her allies is the more helpful of the two).
Shiori dutifully connects the dots, following up on every lead to solving the mystery of the mummy-murders but also generally keeping an eye out for any clues about the people who murdered her parents in front of her when she was a child. Her search leads her to a mysterious society bearing a serpentine symbol.
While many elements depart from the source material, this film remains, visually, quite faithful to the Black Butler manga. Costumes are quite similar to those worn by the manga’s characters and there a few nods and winks to details from the original story. Where this film differs from the original, it’s simply difficult to say why this was necessary. At its core, the original Black Butler is a mix of Gothic elements and a detective plot. The Victorian setting allows for plenty of superstition and fringe science to play out and mask Sebastian’s wonderful abilities while any society with access to digital security cameras and automatic weaponry limit his opportunities to impress while also hindering viewers’ ability to suspend disbelief. Mizushima should be praised for his portrayal of Sebastian, working in that hint of duty just barely obscuring a cruel demonic nature while his fighting style wonderfully captures Sebastian’s ability to fight tooth and nail while maintaining the stiff, even bored, demeanour of a good butler.
The plot, though quite similar to elements of the manga, fails to capture its skilfully woven mysteries and the characters are quite hard to empathise with. Ultimately, the film just feels a little messy, unsure of what genre it should aim for and at points it feels like a poor adaptation of the 2009 Sherlock Holmes film rather than of Yana Toboso’s manga series, The acting is fine, though there aren’t many standout performances to be seen. The antagonist, (who won’t be named, since this is supposed to be a mystery film), provides some wonderful monologues, but rather spoils it when the time comes for the villain-laugh. This film leans just a little bit too much on its action sequences to impress audiences when it should probably be trying to intrigue, terrify or disturb the hell out of us.
Black Butler is currently available on DVD and Bllu-Ray from Warner Home Video.
62% – “A Fairly Lackluster Black Butler” – This live action adaptation borrows just enough from the source material to be able to call itself Black Butler but lacks a lot of the charm of the original. There are some solid action scenes here but the overall effect is something uninspired. Diehard fans of the anime or manga may appreciate what the film has to offer but if you’ve never read or seen Black Butler before, this film is not the place to start.