Image source: 映画『傷だらけの悪魔』 on Twitter

As someone who’s personally experienced bullying, bullying is a serious issue to me. That’s probably why the live-action film adaptation of the Kizudarake no Akuma–lit. Demon Covered in Scars–manga is so offensive.

The story of Volvox Sumikawa’s Kizudarake no Akuma follows fifteen-year old Mai Kasai (played by Rika Adachi in the film), a girl who moves from Tokyo to a place out in the Japanese countryside due to her father’s work. At her middle school, she was part of a group of girls that brutally bullied their classmate Shino Kumura (Manami Enosawa)–so badly that she transferred schools altogether. However, Mai didn’t directly bully Shino–she was just a lookout who stayed on the sidelines.

Mai moves into her new school, planning to control the social hierarchy so she can live an easy school life. Just as it seems like she’ll be able to get in good with the queen bee of the class, Yuria Fujitsuka (Kayano), Shino starts hyperventilating in class and tells her classmates that Mai is one of the girls who bullied her when she was living in Tokyo. Immediately, Mai is turned from fun girl from the city into class enemy #1.

From here, Mai finds out that Shino Kumura–now with the last name Odagiri–has pretty much lost it at this point due to being bullied, and is determined to get revenge on her for all of the bullying she endured by making Mai suffer the same fate. And she does–aside from verbal abuse, Mai’s belongings are thrown in the trash, her desk is vandalized, and she even has water and ink dumped on her.

Image source: 映画『傷だらけの悪魔』 on Twitter

Self-centered and brown-nosing, Mai is not the best person in the world. In the manga, she starts to realize her own mistakes and how she should move forward by experiencing the same pain as Shino. It even seems hopeful in the film when Mai has a heart-to-heart discussion with one of her former middle school classmates about her regrets on a trip back to Tokyo.

However, the film does a complete 180 when she returns to the countryside. Instead of trying to improve herself as a person, Mai starts making a hit list of all of the people she can use to take down both Shino and Yuria. Mai becomes just as bad as Shino, manipulating the feelings and safety of her classmates to get petty revenge. She even goes so far as to trick and control the only two people in her class that ever were nice to her.

The reason why the original Kizudarake no Akuma manga was so compelling was because the “hero” and “villain” were so ambiguous. Shino went through hell thanks to Mai, and now Mai gets a taste of that medicine. But on the other hand, after Mai gets so much harassment, the reader finds themselves wanting Shino to be defeated and Mai to finally be set free. But then you think about it again; Mai’s not a good person. From the get-go, she has only thought about herself and sucked up to anyone she thought she could use.

At the end of the film, Mai tries to push the same message. Who is wrong in this situation? Shino? Yuria? Or Mai? While this question might have been a difficult one in the source material, it’s obvious as to who the villain in this scenario is: It’s Mai. This is the girl whose actions lead to one of her classmates actually falling down the stairs and being found in a pool of her own blood, but even so, she shows absolutely no concern or guilt. And despite this, the film demands that she is the heroine, the victim. What is this teaching people? That it’s OK for bullies to never regret their past actions because hey, that girl was crazy anyway?

Also unforgivable is the amount of large plot threads left hanging as the film (abruptly) ends. At one point, a male teacher who we’ve only seen once refuses to save Mai when she’s locked away in a closet by bullies, and walks away. This is never brought up again. We know absolutely nothing about this character, making this action of his completely pointless.

Similarly, Mai’s homeroom teacher basically leaves her to die when she’s being bullied because she believes children need to learn the harshness of society. While in the manga, this same character has a backstory of being bullied at the company she previously worked at, the character in the film has no such story, making her actions an absolute mystery. And like the male teacher, this plot thread is never mentioned again.

In addition to these, the film decides to bring up multiple plot threads from the original manga–male classmate Toma’s crush on Yuria, the popular cool guy Yū’s embarrassing birth name, Shino’s painful past, etc–but these are all mentioned in passing and are of no consequence. While I appreciate the effort to put in as many references as possible for the fans, an adaptation is an adaptation for a reason–things are going to have to be cut, and just throwing in random references to the source material haphazardly isn’t going to help anyone. If anything, it’s going to confuse viewers.

Leaving the story aside, the cinematography and soundtrack are just as bad. The director apparently wanted to use the “taken with a shaky video camera” method for a large portion of the movie, making it almost impossible to see when the characters are talking. The horrible lighting choices, awkward jump cuts, and excessive use of wide shots don’t help either, removing the impact of the emotions on the characters’ faces–that is, if you can see their faces at all.

The musical cues are no better–the use of happy music during bullying scenes and classical music during grotesque ones feels extremely inappropriate and pretentious. The inappropriate use of the graduation theme during the final scene had me laughing at the discordance. Really. The scene is a comedy masterpiece. If you ever get the chance, take a look.

Image source: コミックナタリー on Twitter

And it’s really a shame that this movie had to be such a mess–Rika Adachi (seen top left) does a stellar job of playing the cynical teenager that Mai was intended to be and actress Kayano (seen center left)’s portrayal of the class princess Yuria is equally convincing and natural. Despite both being older than the roles they are playing–age 24 and 22, respectively–the two bring the characters they were given to life. Because the two actresses handle their roles so well, the scenes in which the two clash are the most interesting. If only they were given a better script to work off of…

In the end, I think the reason this film irritated me so much isn’t because it was a bad movie based off of a manga I really like. It’s because as a stand-alone movie, it fails on so many levels–including actually opening a discussion on bullying.

Image source: 映画『傷だらけの悪魔』 on Twitter

Kizudarake no Akuma opened in select Japanese theaters on February 4. There is no word of an English release.

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