Name: Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana)
Studio: Zexcs ( My-HiME, Speed Grapher)
Writer: Shuzo Oshimi (original manga)
Director: Hiroshi Nagahama (Mushishi)
I don’t think there was any other anime last year that was as polarizing as Flowers of Evil. People that loved it called it a wonderfully crafted masterpiece while those that hated it saw it as an overindulgent tale of teen angst. A dark psychological tale examining the turbulence of youth, Flowers of Evil is an ambitious work that tried to set itself apart from other school-centered shows that usually overrun the anime scene. Unfortunately, all that ambition almost killed its potential.
Flowers of Evil follows middle school student Kasuga Takao, who’s pretty bored with his life and spends a lot of time reading, his favorite book being Charles Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, which he clings to like it’s his bible. His crush on Saeki Nanako, a popular girl in his class, takes a strange turn when he impulsively steals her gym uniform. He’s caught by the foul-mouthed outsider Nakamura Sawa, who forces him into a contract in exchange for keeping his secret.
There was quite a bit of controversy before Flowers of Evil aired, particularly amongst fans of the original manga, due to the fact that it abandoned the original character designs in favor of the more realistic style of rotoscoping. In a nutshell, rotoscoping is tracing over live-action film. It does sound lazy, but this was what Oshimi wanted if his work was ever adapted into an anime. I’m open to studios getting creative and hey, with anime being filled with ridiculously big eyed, moe characters for the last four or five years now, trying something different seemed like a great idea. While I can’t say the rotoscoping was very good (hello faceless people running down the street!) I don’t think it was as ugly as naysayers made it seem. I think it’s hard to digest for anime fans since they’re so used to characters not looking like real people that having some that do really threw them off.
There is also a lot of focus on the backgrounds which were amazingly detailed to the point that they looked real. While you could tell the characters were animated, their movements and facial expressions (when you could see them) were more like actual people’s and putting them in such a real looking environment made for a rather surreal watching experience.
Watching Flowers of Evil was an exercise in patience because it is soooo slow, particularly in the early episodes. You will probably want to give up several times (I know I did), but the middle episodes more than make up for this. The pacing issue mostly has to do with the directing more than the writing. I haven’t seen Mushishi, so I’m unfamiliar with Nagahama’s usual style, but he had the tendency to drag out a scene more than it needed to be. It worked sometimes and I can appreciate the fact that he was trying to build a certain atmosphere, but most of the time I did feel myself zoning out. When you have thirteen episodes to work with, I want you to get to the point, so watching characters walk for ten minutes or open a door for six minutes (yes, really) it starts to seem more than a little excessive.
This is Kasuga’s thought process throughout the entirety of the show.
I don’t think I could call any of our leads likable. Interesting and complex, yes, but certainly not people you’d want to know in real life. Kasuga’s so whiny that he could give Shinji Ikari a run for his money and when push comes to shove, he never takes charge. I felt bad for all the abuse Nakamura heaped on him, but most of the time I just wanted to tell him to man up. He does start out fighting against Nakamura’s twisted actions, but at the same time, he can’t help but be drawn to her.
Yes, of all things Flowers of Evil is a love story. Not a fluffy, sweet love story that will make you squeal, but a poignant, if warped, love story nonetheless. He understands her frustration with their small, mundane world and her need to find something with meaning, even if it’s in the most insane way possible. It becomes increasingly difficult for him to maintain his morality as his infatuation with Nakamura grows and you wonder how long it will be before he gives in completely.
Nakamura showing off her charming personality. Obviously this is why Kasuga fell for her.
Abrasive, manipulative, and cunning, it’s easy to forget that Nakamura is a thirteen-year-old girl. She doesn’t just delight in chaos, but enjoys the most perverse aspects of people. The driving force behind Flowers of Evil, Nakamura’s only redeeming factor is that she’s clear about what she wants and that is to destroy everything. Ok, she’s a psychopath, but surprisingly I found myself empathizing with her near the end.
Not that Nakamura gives a shit about what anyone thinks about her.
She doesn’t see a point to anything, she doesn’t understand why people are so content with their lackluster lives, so instead of going with the flow, she rails against it. She’s drawn to Kasuga because she thinks she sees a part of herself in him, another who takes pleasure in the sordid and repulsive, so she becomes determined to pull that dark characteristic out of him. She wants to push him to his limit, to drag him to the depths of hell with her, even if that means wrecking the lives of others in the process.
Saeki’s character didn’t quite have the impact that Nakamura and Kasuga had, but she did have a rather unexpected character arc. Saeki’s sweet and nice, and everybody likes her, but once Nakamura starts exploiting Kasuga’s fascination with her (he calls Saeki his muse), cracks start to show and you wonder if she’s as pulled together as she looks.
Flowers of Evil uses very little background music, which was usually very soft and melancholic. While a lot of scenes used normal background noises that you would expect to hear in your house, at school, or outside, there was also this weird, creepy rustling sound that really makes you think that something sinister is about to happen. The noise usually led into the ending theme song, which is the most haunting piece of music I’ve ever heard. It’s this weird, dissonant song that’s guaranteed to make chills go up your spine as it starts out slow before becoming a frenzied, chaotic mess as it reaches the end. It really gives Flowers of Evil the eerie, creepy vibe it was aiming for, so props to the music.
〜花〜 A Last Flower by Asa-Chang & JUNRAY
Even now I’m not sure how I felt about Flowers of Evil. It had some fantastic, mind-blowing moments, but man did it take a long time to get to those moments. The story was there with its raw look at sexual awareness, loneliness, and finding one’s significance in the world, but the execution made it a chore to watch. The show has an open ending, teasing about things to come in a second season, but that looks highly unlikely considering that the DVD/Blu-ray release was cancelled. The manga ended this month, so maybe I’ll pick that up to see how everything turns out. Or you know, Japan could make this a drama or a movie. I would absolutely watch that.