He's no angel
BASED on a manga series of the same name, Black Butler tells the story of Kiyoharu Genpo (Ayame Goriki), the young head of the noble Genpo family, owner of a massive toy manufacturing company, and secret watchdog of the Queen – a hereditary role the family has performed for generations.
Kiyoharu is also really Shiori Genpo, who witnessed her parents being murdered by mysterious individuals, and narrowly escaped death herself by bartering her soul in exchange for the help of the demon Sebastian (Hiro Mizushima). She fakes her death and resurfaces as the illegitimate male child of her father, in order to inherit the title of Count, gain control of the company and avenge her parents’ murders.
In “his” capacity as Queen’s watchdog, Kiyoharu is ordered to investigate the mysterious deaths of several foreign dignitaries, who were found as mummified corpses with a demon tarot card left at each crime scene.
With the assistance of his demon butler Sebastian, Kiyoharu discovers that all is not as it seems, and the murders may have a connection to her parents’ death.
Fans of the original Yana Toboso manga would note that the original protagonist, Ciel, is nowhere to be seen, replaced by Kiyoharu – possibly because the movie is set 130 years after the events in the manga. It’s a time when Western and Eastern cultures are greatly converged.
Mizushima’s portrayal of Sebastian is flawless – from his graceful and sensual movements and fluidity in battle (using cutlery – I will never look at a butter knife the same way again!), to his inherent arrogance.
Of course, his comments on humans are also spot on, and delivered in a faintly curious tone that belies his demonic origins.
His greatest joy comes from watching his young master struggle with the darkness in his soul, which (as he keeps reminding Kiyoharu) belongs to Sebastian anyway.
Fans of the manga will also be pleased to see that aside from the messy hairdo, Mizushima’s Sebastian is almost identical to the Sebastian Michaelis of the manga.
Goriki is also quite believable as both Kiyoharu and Shiori – the angry heir and the struggling girl.
Witnessing her parents’ murder while she was bound and helpless as a child left some deep psychological and physical scars from which she has never recovered.
Shiori’s only motive in life is to find the killers and exact revenge.
Yet it is obvious that in spite of the seething black rage, Shiori is intrinsically a good person, and towards the end, chooses the high road.
My only complaint with Goriki’s performance is that at times (especially when Kiyoharu is grappling with an inner struggle), her face becomes a blank canvas.
One nice surprise is the character of Rin, played by Midzuki Yamamoto. She is the housemaid, a bumbling, nearsighted character who is more of a liability than an asset.
Yet Rin turns out to be more than meets the eye, and in the few minutes that she sheds the maid role, she really steals the show.
She portrays her determination to keep her master safe with just the right amount of vulnerability and affection, and really gets the audience rooting for her.
When she pulls out a couple of guns and starts shooting at the bad guys with confidence and skill, it’s really fun to watch.
Yuka, who plays Kiyoharu’s aunt Hanae Wakatsuki, starts off sweet, loving, affectionate and loyal, and plays that role perfectly.
But towards the end of the movie, her performance goes over the top – way over, which spoils the overall impact of her own story arc.
The story, only loosely based on the manga, actually boasts a tightly woven plot with a good amount of suspense, betrayal, humour and surprising depth.
It is a tad draggy at certain parts, but overall it flows pretty well, and (almost) ties everything together in a nice, neat bow.
Overall, the movie is a good watch.
It’s not lightweight fare – there are some pretty heavy moments – but, if for nothing else, watch it for the cool fight scenes and Mizushima’s Sebastian.