Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Black Butler (黒執事) (2014)

Black Butler takes extraordinary liberties with its source material—and pulls off something most interesting

A young nobleman and genius detective solves every case, even the fiendishly difficult ones—with a little help from a demon who will one day devour his soul. Both characters engage in philosophical debates about the nature of man. The demon obviously is a Butlerian (pun fully intended) while the noble is a Hobbesian. Hilarity ensues as they solve the most gruesome mysteries together.

Existing first as a manga series, then an anime, the live-action Black Butler film is a showcase of the human creativity that is called upon to deal with the problems that naturally arise from making an nth generation adaptation of a franchise. The more popular choices are all fraught with danger: a blow by blow recreation of the story would create a most faithful adaptation, but one devoid of surprises; an original side-story will please the fans but pose problems of canonicity and accusations of filler; a story set after the end of the original series would be nothing more than an encore before the final curtain bow.

Black Butler attempts to solve the problem by re-imagining the entire franchise. Plot-wise, it is almost a re-tread of the “Jack the Ripper” arc of both the manga and anime, with very much the same key plot points, twists, and structure. Key lines of dialogue and mottos are kept intact, often uttered as either a prelude or a punchline to long action sequences that are directed much like those from Ghost in the Shell and The Matrix–but with more improbable weapons that seem to be a mainstay of this film.

Yet in changing the setting from Victorian England (always a great period for Gothic and macabre mysteries) to the modern world (with its preoccupation with the theatre of terrorism), and shrinking a gargantuan cast of eccentric characters to a tag team/odd coupling of detectives with opposing philosophies, Black Butler becomes more than a fantasy drama with implausible cute characters but a commentary on the modern world, crime, and human nature.

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