This anime seems to have caused a divide among the anime community. Some praise it as a beautifully unique, dark tale while others say it’s a boring, ugly-looking mess. Me, personally? Well… It’s interesting, I’ll give it that. Whether you’ll enjoy it for not, however, is an entirely different question and it’s also one of those shows where I can totally understand the points of view from those who love it and those who hate it.
Takao Kasuga is a normal, book-obsessed student. He doesn’t have many friends and his only joy in life are his books and his long-lasting crush on his classmate, Saeki. One day he goes too far, however, when he spies her gym clothes left at school after everyone has gone home and can’t resist temptation and decides to nab them. To make matters worse, Nakamura, a strange and fairly sadistic fellow classmate of his, knows of his moment of weakness and uses it to her full advantage to ‘tear down his walls’, as she puts it. As Saeki begins to notice him and Nakamura begins to turn up the heat, Kasuga begins to question what the significance of his actions really are.
Strangely enough, it’s this aspect of the show that seems to have divided so many and with good reason. For those who aren’t aware, Aku no Hana was animated solely through the use of rotoscoping and this turns out to be a real double-edged sword in terms of quality.
The style is very refreshing and it’s good to see a story being told in a more creatively unique way than what we’re used to in anime. I also give massive credit to the fact that the character models do look like genuine Japanese teenagers rather than the usual formula of ‘short skirt, big eyes, wacky hair colour’ that’s usually seen in anime. Not that this formula is a bad one but it is nice to see a high school set in japan where the characters do actually look believably Japanese.
So, what’s wrong with this technique? Well… Imagine for a minute that you were asked to trace something like, say, photograph. You get your tracing paper ready and you copy all the lines through it till you’ve traced it all. You then remove the photograph from the paper and look at the paper on its own. It still doesn’t look much like the original photo, does it? Of course not. Because only when you add shading and detail to your outline, does it start to resemble the original picture.
And that’s Aku no Hana’s animation’s biggest problem. The character models look like they’ve been traced from live action but no detail has been added. As a result, some scenes look incredibly awkward. Characters don’t appear to have facial features when they’re a certain distance away, the shirts of their uniform simply look like white blobs from a distance and the lip movements look stilted and unnatural. No shading has been added to skin tone at all, meaning their skin is just one flat colour, and no detail had been applied to facial features either. Nakamura, in particular, looks very off in a lot of scenes. Whenever she gets a close-up, she looks like a grotesque female ogre that wants to come out of the screen and eat you. You just want to physically push her face away from you and the other characters don’t look much better via close up.
However, I will say this for the animation. As the series progressed, the quality did get much, much better and I noticed more detail was added for things like hair and facial expression. There’s a scene around episode eleven or twelve (I forget which) where Kasuga sees Nakamura in a dream sequence with a purely white background, surrounded with black flowers, and this scene had a definite, twisted beauty about it. There’s a few moments like this near the end of the show and they actually are rather striking. The backgrounds looked fairly nice and detailed, even though they didn’t seem to mesh too well with the rotoscoped character models.
So, on the whole, mostly a mixed bag of the style balancing out to the animation. Most of the time, it misses but when it hits, it hits rather well. I’d say its worse moments are definitely the first few episodes, which also had some really strange editing techniques as well (what was the purpose of those jump cuts? And why did that scene replay over five times? And is there really a need for so many still frames? And what on earth was up with that weird angel vision?) that may take a bit of getting used to. But, as the series progresses, the style grows on you and the animation slows down and begins to take its time a little more.
The opening is a combination of different sections of the same song in order to tell the separate points of view of the three main characters (them being Kasuga, Saeki and Nakamura). All three versions are enjoyable to listen to and give us a good look into what our characters are thinking at certain points in the story. Of special note is Nakamura’s version, which is enjoyably demented. The rest of the music is mostly dark atmospheric tracks that do wonders setting the mood and tone for the show but unfortunately aren’t very memorable on their own. The ending song… honestly couldn’t have been more fitting. The creeping mechanical voices and minimal music makes even the most positive of episode endings seem uneasy and sets an uncomfortable mood every times it creeps in near the end of an episode.
The voice acting was fitting for most of the cast, though Kasuga’s VA did grate on me for a little while. Until I realised that’s exactly how the character was supposed to be and didn’t mind it as much. Nakamura’s voice actor steals the show for the most part, with her demented ramblings and sadistic threats dripping with glee every time she says anything.
As you’ve probably guessed from my focus on the both of them, Kasuga and Nakamura are where the core of the story lie. While Saeki plays a significant part of the story, these two form the centre of the story. As for said story… honestly, it feels all over the place. For example, one of the shows major plot points is the stealing of Saeki’s gym clothes, which Nakamura uses to blackmail Kasuga to do twisted, pointless things because she gets a sadistic thrill out of it. This is all fine and good but I feel that this plot point takes up too much of the story. The gym clothes are just a catalyst in order to get the show going. So, do we really need to be still discussing them in episode five of a thirteen episode anime? If you really want to start exploring complex ideas of perversion and sexuality like this show obviously does, you should probably not give something fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things so much focus. Aside from the obvious solution to the problem (why not just give them back and tell her he found them lying somewhere?), it just takes up too much of the story.
I also feel there are points where the show takes itself too literally and blows certain events WAY out of proportion. For example, when Saeki’s gym clothes are first stolen, the whole school’s reaction seems too extreme. They talk of how someone who did that must be the scum of the earth and the lowest kind of pervert imaginable. One student even remarks about how he’d love to shoot the guy that did it, for god’s sake! Even though they were really stolen, did it really never cross their minds that someone could have picked it up by mistake and had every intention of giving it back the next day? There’s another scene like this where the class finds out that Kasuga and Saeki have started dating and the school reacts like a bunch of hooting chimps at the mere thought of it. I know the idea is that high schools are obsessed with gossip but… not to this extreme. I wouldn’t focus on details like this so much except for the fact that the show focuses on them too much.
The themes and ideas of the show don’t really start to pick up till the second half. Till then, show feels like it falls into the ‘so bad, it’s good’ category. But as the second half goes on and all insignificant plot points are thankfully now forgotten about, the show starts to find its feet. There’s a very interesting struggle between Kasuga about Saeki and the idea that idolizing the one you admire can sometimes be more harmful than degrading them as it forms unrealistic expectations of the person in question. There’s also a theme shared by Nakamura and Kasuga of deliberately distancing yourself from others and using hobbies that are different from others to gain a sense of superiority over other people, not because you genuinely enjoy those hobbies.
These was really good themes and ideas that they touched upon that I honestly wish I could’ve seen explored more throughout the course of the show and I’d say it really is worth sitting through the sometimes ridiculous first half in order to get the second. The shows biggest saving grace is its atmosphere and underlying implications. The ending is open with the almost certainty of a second season and, judging from what I’ve read ahead in the manga, the second season looks to be far more promising and, if it delivers, I’ll be very happy to see these themes developed further. While the relationship between Saeki and Kasuga seems innocent enough, there’s always an underlying uneasiness to it, made all the more unnerving by Nakamura’s full support of it and a second season focusing more on it as well as these themes is more than welcome.
As much as I hate her guts at times, I have to admit Nakamura keeps things entertaining. Violent, foul-mouthed and downright destructive at times, her bipolar outbursts of extreme anger or chirpy, sadistic happiness is what makes her enjoyably unpredictable. She seems to operate on nonsensical logic, blackmailing Kasuga to do things that she feels will make him realise what a disgusting deviant he really is in order to mold him into someone similar to herself. She’s not likeable in the slightest but she is interesting (and is right up there with Haruhi Suzimaya in my list of ‘characters I find entertaining in fiction but would loathe in reality').
Sadly, the same cannot be said of Kasuga. While the premise of his character is intriguing, he comes off as unbelievably bland and feels more like a puppet being used by the writers to move the story along rather than having any defining will or character of his own. He whines and complains and repeats himself all the time rather than thinking of what he should do about his situation.
Saeki is much the same but does seem to have a little more of a mind-set to her. While she seems overly simple, it feels like that was the intention in order to set up her character for the second season. She’s underwhelming but that feels like how she was meant to be. As such, the show has to rely on the potential of one character. This necessarily isn’t bad; it just makes the other two seem even blander in comparison.
On a side note, a small mention here goes to Kasuga’s two supposed ‘friends’ or, as I like to call them, ‘the twat team.’ Yeah, I know they aren’t important to the overall plot but just their appearance on the screen made me want to punch their stupid faces in. The facts that these idiotic wastes of oxygen take up so much of the show annoys me to no end.
So, is Aku no Hana worth the watch? I would say yes. Despite a very choppy first half, lack of a varied cast and animation that’s a rather acquired taste, I would definitely say it’s worth watching just to make up your mind about it. It’s strange but there’s definitely something there. I definitely don’t think you’ll love it as I don’t really think it’s that kind of show, but hopefully you’ll find something in its more promising second half that’ll interest you. All I can say is, I’m fairly conflicted but I’m glad I saw it and, when season two comes out, I’ll certainly check it out. Take my words for what they're worth and give it a shot.
What I Liked: The artistic direction, the soundtrack, the inclusion of some of Baudelaire's poems from Les Fleurs du Mal. The ED was the right amount of freakish and cool. Kasuga was even more infuriating in this than in the manga. The classroom vandalizing scene. The dream sequence. The mountain scene. The way they depicted the ending not only was a good prelude to Part 2, but also left the viewer knowing that the worst was yet to come.
What I Didn't: The first three OPs. The animation meant that expressions were sometimes too subtle for the situation. The use of static shots far too often. The way they depicted the ending seemed like a cop-out. For some, the slow and almost pedestrian pacing may be too much.
Final Verdict: Unapologetically dark and twisted, Aku no Hana speaks volumes about adolescent sexuality and life in small town Japan. Despite using an unconventional animation method, it pays off for this series and it wouldn't have had the same impact any other way.
This show is a fine example of what is wrong with the anime industry. It just uses reverse psychology and makes most to react in the exact opposite way than they usually do but still shares the same problem most shows do when it comes to evaluation. As it usually goes, most judge if a show is good solely on how it looks or feels instead of how good its material is or if its themes are presented properly. This is why we get embarrassing situations such as most anime fans yelling how shows like Code Geass are the most amazing things ever made and completely disregard how terrible their plots and presentation were. Aku no Hana is sharing the same problem but from the opposite side of the same coin.
IT IS UGLY!
Really, that is what 99% of everybody speaks of when they refer to it. Screw context, just look at the exterior. As far as this issue goes you can easily divide said impressions into two major groups.
- There are those who call it lazily made, low budget, completely different to the manga artwork, or simply not good fap material.
- Then there is the other side which calls it unorthodox, experimental, different, and fitting to its disturbed themes.
From where I am standing, I say they are both right.
The animation is done with the old technique of rotorscoping; that is to first film live actors doing the motions and then drawing over them to produce the final animation. This method was used for several decades since it was making the motions of the characters to feel very natural. Disney’s Snow White is the oldest good example of that. Eventually, this method was dropped by most after computers came along to do most of the work. Plus, it was a very complicating and time consuming process, so many didn’t bother to use it after awhile and preferred to have cartoony characters that didn’t require realistic motions.
From what I wrote someone would assume that since the show is made with rotorscoping it must have very detailed and fluent motions. Yet here is the nasty part; it doesn’t. You see, the technique requires a high amount of frames per second, as well as detailed consistency between them; without that it looks weird. Aku no Hana has very jerky motions and the characters lack very basic details, such as having no faces or lightening when they are a few meters away from the camera. This makes them look bizarre, especially next to the backgrounds which retain a detailed and full of textures look. I wouldn’t say that makes them unappealing to the eye but it sure makes them un-anime-like. It is hard for most fans to like a different style and even harder if they were accustomed to the pretty typical style of the manga version.
At the same time it is true what others say about it; it stands out. If you are fed up with all those overused anime-style characters and their copy-pasted into infinity school grounds, then chances are you are going to embrace this artwork as a breath of fresh air. I sure didn’t mind it much since not only I am fed up with Kyoani and Shonen Jump styles, but also because I grew up watching animations from various countries. I am much more tolerant to bizarre styles and most of the times I even like them just for being bizarre. But that doesn’t mean I liked Aku no Hana much either.
Doesn’t the fact that the girls don’t look like overused fap material like in the manga but rather something bizarre or ugly make them more memorable? Well... it would if the show wasn’t a low budget Zexcs production. It feels ugly to the aesthetic part of your brain and not so much because the animation is weird. And it doesn’t have anything past the one-trick pony of deviance in it, such as giant robots ala Neon Genesis or weird VR worlds like Ressentiment. Do you know how easy it is to be bored of it because of that? Especially if it’s meant to be depressing and not some escapism BS.
The problems of low frame rate and minimalism make it indeed hard to get into even for me. And for Pete’s sakes; it still is yet another school-themed show, a typical artwork fits it just fine. This is not some bizarre setting like in the cases of Kaiba where it would be excused. I still like how the director is using camera angles and cinematics, with the highlights being episodes 7 and 8. But that is all; visual effects aside it is indeed low budget and not very appealing. Which is sort of like the trademark of all studio Zexcs works; those guys never made an above average show in their whole lives.
Then we have the music score which just like the artwork is meant to stand out. Not by being good to re-listen fifty times in a row; it is almost the opposite of that. It was made to be disturbing, with lyrics that have to do with anger and depression. Effective? Yes. Memorable? Mostly not; aside from putting you into the proper mindset they are pretty forgettable.
And finally there is the voice acting, which despite not escaping the rather silly trademarks of teen shows is at least honest with how normal teenagers are suppose to think... and in the case of crazy teenagers, how they are supposed not to sound like they make any sense at all.
SCRIPT & CAST
Ok, enough with the production values; let’s try to say a few things about the stuff almost nobody wants to talk about. You know, the plot? And perhaps the characters? Because there are more things in a show besides how pretty or ugly it is. You didn’t know that; did you? Try to stop bandwagoning for a few minutes and think a bit about the following.
As far as plot and characters goes, the anime belongs to after-Bakemonogatari era of ecchiness. Meaning, it is about deviant fetishes and very little about anything else. Ok, they try to make it seem more than that by having the character reading books and using poems but in practice that offers absolutely nothing in terms of depth. It is about a bunch of teenagers with problems doing deviant stuff out of sexual frustration; the end. There is literally nothing else to talk about them; they are pretty bland and the show craves on them remaining deviant and not on trying to slowly mature or at least make them normal. Meaning, this is no Onani Master Kurosawa or Welcome to the NHK. It is beneath them but still a step above a mediocre ecchi comedy. And just like almost all of them has no real ending since it is an incomplete adaptation.
Despite the characters SEEMINGLY acting far more realistic and plausible than your average school harem, they are still pretty simple and hard to take seriously. Especially the teen idol girl which is supposed to be the pure hearted one yet just falls in love and forgives without a second thought that asshole of a man that is the main character. In fact all three main characters are, despite their presentation, still following the formula all school based anime do. The plot also uses the age-old trick of resetting any progress there seems to be by making everyone acting like blind or too stupid to figure out what they should be doing all along or at least figuring out who is truly responsible.
Do I find it to be a bad show? No, I admit it tries to be different and more mature than your run of the mill school comedy. The small fanbase the show has try to elevate the anime into the highest levels of hipsterism and I must say that is as dumb as the butthurt moeblob/manga fans.
The show tries to be some sort of psychological thriller at points by having the main characters losing themselves to some bizarre hallucinations that are sex-related and are fuelled by the poems this show is named after. They are also full of hatred regarding who they are and how boring their society is. They do a lot of crazy stuff out of frustration and hormones. Doesn’t that make this show far better than a typical ecchi school comedy or something? Yes, it does indeed. That still doesn’t solve the inherit problem of the setting though. It is fairly one-note in everything. There isn’t much plot or characterization and everything is running on you being trapped in a feeling of disgust and reject. In this regard Aku no Hana is not that different to many other school anime that “seem” to be better by having an interesting main conflict. They are otherwise fairly forgettable past that very specific nice idea. Recent examples include Kokoro Connect, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, and The Severing Crime Edge. You will encounter the exact same issue in them as well; the main idea is very good but the way it unfolds has nothing worth talking about and eventually everybody forgets them after a week.
Of course Aku no Hana will not be forgotten as easily. It managed to be remembered as an infamous anime of the likes of School Days because IT IS UGLY! A thing that would definitely had happened if it was made with the overused style of the manga. In a way this is a feat, even if it was accomplished for all the wrong reasons. It definitely beats a throw into oblivion and moving to the next hip thing. I would love it if it had a faster plot, no plot resets, no stupid characters, or the atmosphere was like episodes 7 and 8 all the time. Yet, it isn’t and thus I am not annoyed with the way your typical otaku reacts when he looks at this show.
IT IS UGLY!
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 7/10
General Artwork 2/2 (stands out)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic)
Backgrounds 2/2 (fitting with the feeling of the series)
Animation 0/2 (unexcused choppiness)
Visual Effects 2/2 (creepy)
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Voice Acting 2/3 (corny but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 2/3 (ok I guess)
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (slow)
Complexity 1/2 (not much)
Plausibility 0/2 (none)
Conclusion 0/2 (open ended)
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Presence 2/2 (these guys are insane)
Personality 2/2 (rather simple but well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 0/2 (none)
Catharsis 0/2 (none)
VALUE SECTION: 6/10
Historical Value 1/3 (it will be sort of remembered for its bad fame)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too little plot)
Memorability 4/4 (the very special artwork makes it unforgettable)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Art 1/1 (stands out)
Sound 1/2 (sounds ok)
Story 1/3 (feels generic)
Characters 2/4 (they are ok; nothing special)
Review based on watching 8/13 episodes... will likely update.
As Baudelaire says in his Introduction to the Reader "In repugnant things we discover charms". Aku no Hana does the same thing, it shows urban decay, the boredom of everyday life, the sexual pre-occupation of teenagers, and challenges us to find beauty in something ugly.
For anyone out there who is a little bored with the standard anime fare and looking for something to challenge their intellect, I would recommend watching The Flowers of Evil. The artwork is unique, very detailed backgrounds combined with an animation style that almost feels like watching live action. How often in daily life are the faces and features of the people we pass mearly a blurr? The sequence at the end of episode 7 is very beautiful, and the modified version of the ending theme that plays matches well and I like it very much.
The story centers around Kasuga Takao, who is a quiet second year high school student who is always reading from "The Flowers of Evil" a collection of poems from a French poet Charles Baudelaire. Kasuga has a crush on one of the girls from class, Saeki Nanako and sees her as his "muse & feme fatale". One afternoon he leaves his book in the classroom and when he returns to retrieve it he finds Saeki's gym clothes in a bag on the floor. Against his better judgment he takes the clothes home in a panic. One person witnessed his irrational action, the class deviant and loner Nakamura.
From there Nakamura and Kasuga for a sort of tentative friendship, one that often leads to embarasshing conversations, sexual tension, and general discomfort as Nakamura continues to push Kasuga further and further along in order to "break down" the walls that he has created around himself.
The full work of the original "Flowers of Evil" can be found on-line http://fleursdumal.org/poem/099 and for those interested in the series I can only anticipate that the poetry would help understanding the story as it unfolds as well as providing interest in its own right. The work seems to deal heavily with the nature of sin and the human condition.
The ending theme is a little difficult to listen to, and I'm sure people will say it almost dosen't qualify as music. With that being said I actually *like* the ed theme, and I think it fits well with the story. It says right in the song lyrics that it's "harsh" to listen to... and I think that this really mirrors the theme of the show. It might be harsh to listen to, but as Baudelaire says in his Introduction to the Reader "In repugnant things we discover charms".
After some thought I decided to do a short review of Aku no Hana because I really do not want people to dismiss this anime!
It's a great and twisted psychological anime. The realism and the tension that is constantly in the atmosphere of this anime is brilliant. The painful awkwardness of the character Kasuga and the weird behaviour of Nakamura I really liked. Their very different behaviours were a good combination along with the other main character Saeki who gives off what is seemingly a normal and innocent vibe.
Yes, there are scenes that are a few minutes long which could be cut down and reduced to only a few seconds long but they would just not have the same effect if they were not real time. It would ruin the strange and tense atmosphere of the anime. It is an anime set in every day run down, miserable looking town with a very eerie feeling about it. The slowness is a really important part of the setting. However, I admit the slow pacing can be frustrating at times.
The rotoscope animation is actually perfect and aids the psychological element of the anime. Without the rotoscope the anime wouldn't be the same. Those who refuse to watch it because of the 'ugly' animation are childish. You are really missing out on a unique and intriguing anime by rejecting Aku no Hana due to its appearance. The music is really quirky and odd and like everything else, it adds to the overall odd feeling the anime gives off.
I don't want to spoil anything but I must warn you that this anime can be a little disturbing. It is a psychological anime though. If you are sick of the normal slice of life school romance then check out the great but twisted Aku no Hana.
However, if you watch this anime then prepare for an ending that does not resolve anything. The final episode just gives us a glimpse of what is to come to persuade you to go and read the manga. I myself have started to read the manga because this anime has left me intrigued. I think it is a real shame that it will most likely never get a second season due to its lack of popularity though.
Story: 7/10 Animation: 7/10 Sound: 8/10 Character: 8/10 Enjoyment: 8/10 Overall: 7.6/10 (8/10) I would recommend Aku no Hana to those who fancy something a little bit different!
I admit I originally laughed at the screenshots (Nakamura’s derp face and the manly looking girl!) like many others but a week after episode 1 aired I started watching. I expected to hate it but I didn’t! I admit it took several episodes to get into but after that I really looked forward to watching it every week. It’s definitely one of those anime you should at least check out an episode or two at some point. It taught me not to judge an anime by its animation style immediately. Sometimes it takes a while to warm to something new!