Of all the forces that make people act in unusual and surprising ways, love has got to be at the top of that list. It’s a complex emotion that shifts ones priorities and sees them think of another in a way separate from most. A special, personal connection…if it’s real of course. If we’re talking fake love, then that opens up a wholly different path, a twisting, turning, perilous path filled with speed bumps and potholes, sharp turns and those signs that tell you to slow down because there’s loose gravel and you don’t want to fling that into the windows of other cars. Granted, the more stylised of these shenanigans are relegated to the realm of fiction, but isn’t that what we’re here for? Fiction is the window into which we may peer, witness and walk away when we want. Speaking of walking away…
In one specific highschool, in one fictitious version of Japan lies a girl, a nice girl, a normal-ish girl who finds herself in a situation all too common these days; toxic friendships. Desperately longing to be accepted by a group of girls she honestly doesn’t like that much, Erika has invented a boyfriend. As the gaggle she finds herself hanging with, simply because they were the first girls to talk to her, are all “deeply in love” with their older, cooler boyfriends, Erika believes she must keep up in order to remain in the group. However there’s one small problem with inventing someone who doesn’t exist; a total lack of evidence. Once the trio of (maybe) popular girls quiz Erika on her lack of photos of her so called “Darling”, she does the only thing any sane person would do; photographs a complete stranger on the street about 50 times in rapid succession and tells the world that he is her boyfriend. No problems there, right? Wrong. As fate and plot would have it, that guy is the most popular boy in school and Erika somehow did not know that…because. Anywho, he finds out, she begs for forgiveness and Kyoya (popular boy) decides to go along with the charade if Erika promises to be his dog. Thus a romance for the ages is born, between one poor girl who places too much value on the opinions of others and a downright jerk who literally treats women like dogs…because he likes dogs more than women. Wrap your mind around that logic.
Now, you may ask yourself; “Why was the premise laid out so simply just now?” And I shall tell you. Simply put, that’s about the entirety of the film. Of course they wind up falling in love and their lie becomes truth, that’s just how these stories work, but the pacing of it all leaves so much to be desired. Though the initial hook of Kyoya’s true personality revealing itself hangs strong over the beginning of the film, shattering the preconceived notion that he is actual a sweetheart, his shift from bag of jerk to decent-ish guy plays out far to swiftly and in a much to staggered motion. With the speed in which a film is forced to play out, as opposed to a more long form style like manga, the story beats the film hits lack substantial weight or set up. From calling Erika his dog and forcing her to buy him lunch, the next important moment of Kyoya’s comes from him defending Erika from yet another highschool sleazeball, albeit in a self-centered way. Though it does show development in his character, or the hint that his scathing personality is in itself a facade, it does not feel earned. It simply feels as if we are meant to like Kyoya by comparison, as his sadistic tendencies aren’t as bad as the guy next to him and, I don’t know about you, but the whole “lesser of tow evils” approach does not do wonders for me liking a character. Combine this with the fact that Kyoya was played off a bit too flippantly throughout the film and you have a recipe for emotional distance. Was he supposed to be purposefully removed from Erika and his emotions? Absolutely, however I feel as if the performance of the character did not change as much as it should have to indicate his emotional state at the end of the film. Though his words were the same we are meant to infer a difference in meaning, that Kyoya has come to understand himself but is still unable to continuously show his true self. What we get however is the exact same character we’ve seen throughout the whole film, a flippant jerk who doesn’t like to have his things taken from him. And no amount of dramatically running across Japan to “find the girl” can undo that.
Speaking of the girl, let’s chat about Erika shall we? Taken from the pool of emotionally unsure highschool girls, Erika is ultimately the damsel throughout this entire film. and don’t let her actions confuse you, because the film will downplay each of her moments of strength by reminding you just how sad and lonely she is. Is it tough to break up with the guy you’ve fallen in love with? Probably, I’m not a Japanese highschool girl but I can at least imagine. However, rather than show this as Erika finally standing up for herself and walking away from the man who treats her slightly better than garbage, we begin a series of events that shows how broken she is without him and how little anything else in her life matters. To the films credit, her day out with Kusakabe does show some sense of self worth, even if to reveal that she isn’t quite over the guy who played with and broke her heart. It’s an oddly mature moment on both parts, Erika’s understanding that you can’t just stop your emotions, no matter how confused they are, and Kusakabe’s acceptance that the girl he likes does not feel the same about him, deciding to accept her feelings and not force the relationship any further. Of course, this is then followed by Erika rifling through the trash because she lost a keychain Kyoya bought on one of their fake “let’s impress/trick my friends” dates. Of course Kyoya finds her, gives her a present and the two walk off happily to be reprimanded by their school because their fifteen and out a god knows what time in a city they do not know. Sweet…for some. Now, for the sake of comparison, I did a little rifling of my own and skimmed through the series proper, and I have to say that the film missed a lot of touches that would have greatly benefitted it. For the sake of specificity; the trash scene. In the original, Kyoya finds Erika searching for the gift she had lost and actively helps her search for it. Though outwardly mean about the situation, the fact he is helping is indicative of his true feelings and shows a deal of personal compassion and maturity. In the film, he simply finds her after she had finished searching, overhearing two women discussing a girl searching through garbage. A difference that changes a lot. A difference that removes a lot. A difference that would not have taken too much time to film. A difference whose existence I question and one who I unfortunately have some theories about.
From what I witnessed in the source material, Erika and Kyoya’s relationship has a number of ups and downs. She is enamoured, disenchanted, brought back in and tentatively happy a number of times. In fact, the specific moment that the film chooses to end on occurs roughly halfway through the anime series, leading to a complete shift in meaning. After throwing water in his face after a particularly mean bout of Kyoya being Kyoya, Erika is left heartbroken…again. However, Kyoya immediately rocks up to her house, says some metaphorical and literal dog/master stuff and the two remain together…sort of. The film however adapts this fight into the one that ended their relationship, both the real and fake. Kyoya still buys her a necklace all the same, because a collar would make people talk, but the finality of the gesture makes the event even more twisted. Rather than a relatively small fight that the two come back from, Kyoya is able to get Erika back simply by being nice. Though she had finally quit being his “Wolf Girl” and begun showing her first signs of growth and independence, one gesture brings her back to the same place she was. Sure, he could be nicer now, the implications heavily leaning that way, but it is merely the last in a series of events that completely robs Erika of any sense of strength. We’ve seen her go to extraordinary lengths to stay in a toxic friend group, agree to become a boy’s dog in order to continue the farce, seemingly wait downtrodden for the entirety of her winter break because said boy did not organise anything and ultimately hang on to the most fragile of threads all in the hope that love might win. Though my personal disconnect from being a lovestruck Japanese highschool girl is admittedly strong, this film seems to be an argument that love is not only blind, but that it lacks a great deal of sense and self worth.
To speak of the film itself briefly, the cinematography of certain high intensity moments is…confusing. On numerous occasions, the camera began seemingly on the opposite side of an environment, slowly panning and zooming on the figures who we ware meant to be paying attention to. Said panning of passed behind structures as well, leading to a few moments were both parties were completely obstructed by pillars. No second example there, because there were honestly at least two scenes blocked by pillars. The camera also seemed to prefer aligning with the actual scene just as the characters had finished talking, because nobody actually wants to see their characters converse, right? The film also held a specific preference for long running single shots that followed a character as they made their way down the street. Running to take a picture of a boy you don’t know? Let’s spend a few minutes watching you duck in and out of crowds before very, very blatantly taking pictures directly in front of his face, completely undermining the aforementioned sneaking. Happy about a boy saying one fraction of a nice thing to you? Let’s watch you hum the entirety of a tune as you walk down the full length of a street for no plot relevant reason. Even Kyoya’s “I realise my mistakes and must now run across a city to find the girl” sequences is undermined by the simple fact that the music doesn’t kick in until about 30 seconds after the scene has begun. Why? I have absolutely no idea, but it’s a choice you never really think about until someone doesn’t make it. Though I may be reaching at thematic straws here, it has the effect of playing even this dramatic moment off as a side thought of Kyoya’s, like he still is not full invested. Admittedly, if this were the case, it would more likely be to represent his uncertainty regarding his new emotions, but after the picture I put together in my mind about Kyoya, that piece just doesn’t fit.
despite my misgivings about the premise and general aversion to these kinds of films, not being the intended audience and all, Wolf Girl and Black Prince is not a terrible film. It’s an average one. Though premises the world over are played out and worn, a good film makes you forget that simple fact, suspending it somewhere up there with your disbelief. This film lacks that particular skill and winds up presenting a story that hits all the beats one would expect, albeit slightly off tune. If more time was given to Kyoya’s development, he would have been a much more palatable character, if Erika had been given some sense of inner strength, her decision to return to Kyoya may have even seemed like her own. Instead we are left with a male lead who is only slightly less of a jerk than he once was and a female lead who seemingly lacks the ability to do anything that is not tangled up in her own preconceptions, and misconceptions, of love. Even her finally revealing the truth to her friends is overtaken by the film insistently showing how broken she now is. The girl has best friend, bring her back into the mix. Show that Erika was not wrong to ditch the emotionally manipulative guy she fell in love with because of a lie. Show that there are benefits to breaking ties with relationships of convenience, that there is a silver lining to the cloud that is raining down solely on you. Don’t show the world that you may as well take what you can get because being alone is the worst case scenario. Or if you are going to do all of these things, tell them as a cautionary tale, an example of what highschool girls should not do. Build them up, show them that there is something more important than being in love with the idea of love. But do not sell it as a heartwarming tale of compassion and emotional development because, to be honest, you didn’t earn that right.