Black Butler Movie Review


So… Warner Brothers have produced a film of the fabled Black Butler anime. They’ve changed about a million things, but still… it’s a live adaptation of the manga and ensuing anime!

Based on the best-selling comic series written and illustrated by Yana Toboso, the long awaited live-action film “Black Butler” finally arrived in UK cinemas as a limited release on 17th October 2014. The original comic was created in 2006 and serialised in the monthly G-Fantasy, published by Square Enix. Since then, this mega-popular series has sold 19 million copies worldwide in 42 countries and territories, and has been translated into over 20 languages. Any live adaptation will struggle to meet the expectations of its knowledgeable fans…

The Movie’s Plot:

When a young aristocrat is orphaned by the tragic death of her parents she does the only sensible thing and trades her soul to the demonic butler Sebastian (played by Hiro Mizushima) in return for his help in exacting revenge for the murder of her parents.

However, this was ten years ago – and what’s happening now is that the world is tipping into chaos. International dignitaries are being murdered and mummified all over the world, and each is marked by a mysterious tarot card left at the scene…

The young aristocrat has been hiding her female identity since her parents’ death. She – or rather, he – is now Kiyoharu, head of the Genpo noble family who owns a giant toy manufacturing enterprise. Kiyoharu also works as a secret watchdog for the Queen, just as his family has done for generations. When the Queen wants the mystery of the mummifications solved it is, of course, up to Kiyoharu to investigate, aided by his perfect demon butler, Sebastian…

The live action film has two directors – Kentaro Otani of the “NANA” series, and Keiichi Sato of “Asura” (2012). It certainly looks stylish, but it’ll be up to the fans to determine if the live adaptation is in any way the equal (or at least a worthy adaptation) of the original comic series by Yana Toboso.

Who is really behind the serial mummification deaths? Will Kiyoharu finally find out who killed his/her parents? We finally get to find out on the big screen.

Movie vs Manga:

The original manga was set in Victorian England, with Sebastian enthralled to the service of Ciel Phantomhive. In order to allow for the casting of Japanese actors, the live adaptation shifts the action forward a few centuries to a non-existent asian city where eastern and western cultures are blended and fused. So the film is obviously going to have a few… differences. It’s not the first time there have been substantial shifts in the plot. After all, the second season of the anime completely rewrote the ending of the first season with a controversial new one. The question is, does the shift to a sleek future work? On the one hand, you’ll still see the dark atomspherics and wonderful Victorian elegance (and Japanese actors, so no white-washing here), and the new futuristic setting allows for increased technology. On the other hand, sometimes the cars and guns and extra neon sleekness feel a touch out of place.

What about the liberties taken with the characters themselves? Well, Sebastian is and always will be Sebastian. It’s surprising they mucked around with his oft-quoted “I’m one hell of a butler”, replacing it with “I’m just… a devilish butler.” If it’s any consolation, Victorian literature did refer to things being “devilishly good”, so there’s still a pun in there somewhere. But… it’s just not the same. On the upside, Hiro Mizushima has huge fun with this role and one of the film’s strengths is a multitude of colourful new characters, all relished by the actors who play them. Despite a visually dark atmosphere the film has a tremendous sense of fun.

It’s flawed, definitely. But it’s intriguing to see Black Butler brought to life in a new live format, and for those able to see it in its limited UK run in mid-October, it was a treat to view on the big screen. There’s plenty to disappoint longstanding fans, but a fair bit to celebrate, too.

Oh, and Sebastian still likes cats. Some things will never change.