High school is perhaps one of the most prominent times in one’s life where peer pressure heavily influences who we are and how we act. We want to fit in any way we can, changing and transforming who we really are in order to successfully be considered acceptable to those around us. This may even include going as far as outright lying to our peers all in an attempt to be somebody or something that we are truly not. It is a powerful effect for sure, holding sway over many who simply do not want to be perceived as the “outsider” in relation to their academic and social peers.
Based on the manga from Ayuko Hatta, director Ryuichi Hiroki’s Wolf Girl and Black Prince is one such film that deals with this subject matter albeit in a largely unsuccessful manner. The film follows Erika Shinohara, a high school student who makes up stories about having a boyfriend in order to fit with her group of friends at school, all of whom currently have or have had boyfriends already. As her friends begin to question the legitimacy of her stories due to never actually seeing her purported boyfriend in the flesh, Erika searches for a solution. She finds it in taking a picture of a random boy on the street in order to prove to her friends that what she had said is true, happily showing it to them the next day. Unfortunately for her, they immediately recognize the him as Kyouya Sata, a popular boy that attends her school and is known as the “black prince” for his impolite behavior. She then privately fesses up to Kyouya about lying regarding their relationship, finally asking him to be her pretend boyfriend, with Kyouya looking to take advantage of the situation.
Given the film’s narrative initially dealing with the inner workings of peer pressure, Wolf Girl and Black Prince is seemingly caught between striving to be a valid commentary on the rather crude role that peer pressure has in negatively influencing our actions or simply wanting to be another tired run-of-the-mill romance story. The film initially starts out leaning towards the former, with Erika, played by the charming Fumi Nikaido, going to extensive lengths in order to prove that she actually has a boyfriend. This is where the film’s narrative finds itself being relatively unique and in many ways captivating considering its honesty in how individuals attempt to fit in with those around them. Where the narrative falters heavily is when Kyouya, played stoically by Kento Yamasaki, enters into the picture as his association with Erika follows one strange and rather crude turn after another.
While the film attempts to portray Kyouya as a tsundere - someone who is initially cruel towards another person but slowly begins to be kinder to them - the severity of his harshness towards Erika as the film progresses becomes increasingly intolerable. Foreshadowed in the film’s title, Kyouya continually refers to her as his “wolf/dog,” forcing her to do his trivial biddings in an attempt to blackmail her into not having to spill the truth that he is not really her boyfriend to the remainder of the school. The chemistry between the two characters is simply nonexistent, with the film defaulting, in a rather unsurprising and impertinent fashion, on the notion that because Kyouya is Erika’s first “love,” that she does truly indeed care for him - even though he is constantly putting her down and embarrassing her both in private and in public situations. Perhaps even more insulting is the subplot regarding Erika and her fellow classmate Yuu, which provides a more reasonable and logic potential romance for Erika, in which, quite oddly, the narrative rejects in order to reinforce Erika’s perceived affection for Kyouya.
The film’s only saving grace is Nikaido’s cheerful performance that lends itself to her ability to adapt to the simplest of roles such as the one showcased here. She brings life to the character of Erika, bringing forth the vulnerability and naivety that her character calls for in a way that brings forth some much needed honesty. Although her performance becomes increasingly muddled towards the end given the film’s acclimation to the irrational decisions of its two lead characters, she does stand out as a positive element in a film riddled with logical fallacies. Wolf Girl and Black Prince is ultimately confused as to what it truly want to be, simply diluting down to a serviceable love story masquerading as social commentary on the functionality of peer pressure. If only it would have adhered to the latter would it have had been a more impactful examination of the high school experience, instead timorously deciding to stick with the tried-and-true formulaic narrative exercise we have seen in similar films before it.