The Flowers of Evil

Alt titles: Aku no Hana

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YeNguyen's avatar By on May 13, 2014

Aku no Hana is a masterpiece in a medium that has difficulty recognizing artistic perfection unless that greatness exists along pre-established lines. You may have already heard of the show as the one with rotoscoped animation – the show that anime fans by and large decried for being ugly, boring, and too different – too unlike anime. After all, anime have always existed as escapist tales of either over-the-top or nearly meaningless consequence, populated by purposely designed caricatures; Aku no Hana is not that. There seems to be little room in public perception for the medium to evolve out from under the prejudices of the average anime viewer. It is a shame, then, that we must discuss Aku no Hana as a work all but completely ignored when it is easily the most important anime of the decade so far and one of the most important of all time – let alone one of the best.

The story of Aku no Hana concerns a teenage love triangle where no one is in love. Our protagonist, Kasuga, is just another average student with nothing that set him apart from his peers, though he fancies himself an intellectual due to his love of French poetry and philosophy. He is neither like Saeki, the popular star student whom he secretly loves and deifies, nor like Nakamura, the foul-mouthed and emotionally unstable girl whom the class collectively hates. His life is average.

One day, he realizes left behind one of his prized books at school and returns in the late afternoon to retrieve it. The book is a translated version of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal, an anthology of poems dealing with moral decadence and perversion as a grotesque yet exciting response to ennui and normalcy. In the moment Kasuga finds his book, a bag containing Saeki’s gym uniform falls off of the classroom shelves and onto the floor. Kasuga gives in to sexual curiosity and removes the uniform from the bag, panics at a noise, and stuffs the clothes under his own, running home in shame. The next day, everyone knows that the uniform has been stolen and Saeki is mortified, but none suspect Kasuga. With her clothes back in his bedroom, Kasuga feels like he has gone past a point of no return, but when Nakamura confronts hims with her knowledge of his secret, Kasuga’s daily life becomes something else entirely.

The plot is an an unassuming one, but it is riveting to watch it play out. Nakamura is unwavering in blackmailing Kasuga, forcing upon him all manner of sadistic demands that result in physical, emotional, and psychological pain. She sees in him a fellow deviant who must be awakened. Saeki, on the other hand, ends up dating Kasuga, with her naiveté about relationships pulling him ever closer while he wrestles with the stabbing guilt he feels over his secret trespass. What’s more, Kasuga’s constant trauma and stress have actually made the choice between Saeki and Nakamura a real one. He desires certain parts of each while they try to redefine the different halves they have seen of him as his whole. It is a love triangle without love, but rather of dependence, desire, selfishness, unfair expectations, and pain.

The subject matter is twisted and the events melodramatic, but possibly the most important reason why the production works lies in how the characters are still undeniably relatable, believable, and human under these extreme circumstances. Nakamura has no easy psychological answer to why she acts the way she does. She is damaged and emotionally hard, but she is also lonely. She is ecstatic about her connection with Kasuga and when not forcing demands upon him, she requests after-school meetings with him, only to talk. Saeki is not simply desperate for a relationship. She is happy that Kasuga likes her, but her confusion about his erratic behavior and his visibly close relationship to Nakamura translates into insecurity and self-blame. Her attempts to guide her first ever relationship back to “normal” take their toll.

Kasuga’s role in the story is paramount and he is neither a pure innocent being tortured nor a closet deviant realizing his true nature. He is but a teenage boy who made an impulsive mistake: the consequences of which led to two intense emotional relationships of a sort he has never experienced, and he loses himself in both. His genuine desire to understand the greatness of Baudelaire is matched with a Holden Caulfield-esque pretension that he is already there, too smart and too ambitious for the town in which he lives. But even as events spiral out of control, his analysis of them along the thematic lines of the art he so admires is piecemeal and naive. He is a confused teenager; they are all confused teenagers and that you can see that, believe that, and relate to that so strongly makes Aku no Hana a tragic drama as good as the best of them.

It’s a powerful story and the aesthetics used to communicate it are just as impressive. Anime should not have to be confined to one style of animation and the rotoscoping of Aku no Hana proves that (though it will be some time before that proof is accepted). Director Hiroshi Nagahama’s choice to make the show in this way places the visuals in a space between live-action and animation that is more effective than either medium on its own. Pure live-action would have necessitated a separation between the real world of the characters and the imagined representations of their fantasies and insecurities. Here, those visions belong to the same reality. After all, such things felt so vividly real to us when we were teenagers. Pure animation would have necessitated a streamlining of character design and movement. Here, the characters are captured with a fidelity that a caricature could not match. The way their faces change and their bodies move are captured with lossless, human transitions. It is surprising every time in a way that a character design could not allow.

Of course, the animation is only one aspect of the show’s aesthetic perfection. Nagahama’s direction is indispensable, faithfully adapting Shuzo Oshimi’s manga while liberally adding his own striking compositions. The series is littered with close-ups as character portraits and lingering shots of emotional turmoil and aftermath defined by suspenseful, nervous movement. It all works to bring the brisk pacing of the manga back down to the slow and purposeful build that the story deserves. The voice actors deliver amazingly naturalistic performances filled with raw emotion, with the post-production leaving intact all sorts of genuine cracks, hesitance, and frustration. This is to say nothing of the filmed actors whose studied physicalities were exactly what they needed to be. Further analysis could go into depth about the gorgeous backgrounds, the subtle ambient drone score, the pitch perfect dialogue, or even the show’s ending theme: a haunting and disjointed piece of experimental electronic music that encroaches into the final moments of every episode, oozing dread. Everything works.

Anime is a medium still defined by safety and cliché. I would argue that it has yet to hit its golden age – a period that other popular media have already had – when actual innovations and risks are celebrated instead of snubbed. Without spoiling anything, one of the defining scenes of Aku no Hana is an act of vandalism that comes at a crucial junction between two characters. A choice is made and it is expressed in violent destruction. It is an act so far removed from physical sex, but for these two characters it might as well be that, and everything of that scene is a conscious choice to communicate that complicated idea. I look forward to the day when the medium will allow another such masterpiece to exist and when scenes such as that one come around more often than nearly never. Until that time comes, may we never forget Aku no Hana.

10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
Sayjay1995's avatar By on Jul 15, 2015

I didn't love this anime. To me there just seemed to be no point in the story or for the characters' interactions. I didn't understand why any of the events that happened did. If it had been longer than 13 episodes I would have dropped it.

The music and background noise was good at creating an unsettled, almost creepy atmosphere which was certainly part of the series. Although I don't really think it's fair to vote on the animation style, I wasn't impressed by this one.

Overall I didn't really enjoy it and I wouldn't recommend it if you have another, more pressing series on your list to watch instead.

2/10 story
5/10 animation
10/10 sound
2/10 characters
2/10 overall
haize78's avatar By on Apr 8, 2015

Aku no Hana is certainly not for everyone. It's different, both visually and in content: it's not an anime that makes you feel happy or good about yourself, no escapism at all here. You don't watch it for the fun of it; it took me a good three weeks to finish it, I couldn't watch more than two episodes at a time. It's a psychological anime with a dark atmosphere and bucketfuls of tension. I honestly think it's quite perfect. And not because I particularly liked the story or the characters, and not only because it's different from your standard anime set in a school with clichèd characters, banal dialogues and a storyline we've seen repeated infinite times with little variation. What I really appreciated about it is that it makes clear that anime is an artistic medium to express feelings - very intense feelings, in this case.

The story is about Kasuga, an average middle school student, who likes to think of himself as being different and superior to his peers because he loves reading difficult books like Baudelaire's Le fleurs du Mal. It's quite a common attitude in teenagers, you need something that can differentiate you from others, you need to feel special and different and better. He has a long-standing crush on his classmate Saeki whom he sees as an unattainable muse. One afternoon after school, having forgotten his book, he goes back to the classroom and realises that Saeki forgot her gym clothes. So he can't resist the urge to take them. But Nakamura, another classmate of his, a weird girl in full-swing rebellious phase, foul-mouthed and seeping hatred and anger from every pore, sees him. And so the story is set in motion, with Nakamura blackmailing Kasuga in doing all sorts of perverted things in order to "tear down his walls" and prove that he is a "deviant" just like her. In the mean time, Kasuga manages somehow to confess his feelings to Saeki who, surprisingly, accepts them. The story then starts to escalate, with Nakamura forcing on Kasuga her own beliefs, Kasuga putting up just a pretense of resistance and Saeki trying to sever his tie with Nakamura and draw him to her. It's clear that Nakamura and Saeki symbolise opposite worlds, Nakamura representing all that is forbidden, dark and sexual, the destructive urge and the rebellion to authority, as well as the aspiration to freedom and knowledge; while Saeki is the lumionous, kind, pure-hearted girl who just wants a normal life within the boundaries of what is commonly accepted as good and proper. And Kasuga is in the middle, the object of this power struggle between the two, divided between the two different ways in which he sees himself. It seems a love-triangle, but in reality it's not at all. There's little love involved. They're all using each other to establish their own identity. 

I was also intrigued by the background, this town where everything looks old and rusty, with weeds creeping out from cracks in the pavement, surrounded by hills that seem to isolate it from the rest of the world. Nakamura has the strong desire to see what's beyond the hills, she wants to break the shell, she finds everything and everyone in her home town "boring". Is there really nothing beyond those mountains? Can they really never escape? We don't know, because the story doesn't end. There was probably supposed to be a second series, but it didn't happen.

Being a psychological anime, it's all about the characters. They're not very likeable, eccept maybe for Saeki. She surprised me in showing a resolve I didn't think her character would have. She really did put up a fight for Kasuga and she was willing to accept him and not brand him as a "hentai" as Nakamura was dying to see her do. But Kasuga, in a moment of honesty, admits that he just isn't capable of reconciling the "angel" image of Saeki he had been cultivating in his mind for so long with the real blood and flesh girl who wants to be his girlfriend. As for Kasuga, he's a typical confused teenager. Nakamura turns his world upside down, makes him doubt everything he thought he knew about himself. He feels guilt for stealing Saeki's clothes, he's scared of Nakamura, he does a lot of crying and trembling and sweating and stammering, but he never openly rebels to her, he accepts what she forces on him and goes back to her looking for more. And finally there's Nakamura herself, she's angry, furious sometimes, she hates her family, her town, her classmates, she rejects everything. She thinks of herself as a deviant and when she sees Kasuga stealing Saeki's clothes, she's overjoyed because she thinks she's finally found someone like her. Anyway, to cut a long story short, it's all about the psychological relationship between Nakamura and Kasuga. The focus is on personal identity, how it is defined, how other people's perception affects it in the contest of a teenager's clash against society. More than once Kasuga chickens out and states that he's empty, that there's nothing to him; Saeki desperately tries to understand him; Nakamura decides that he's like her and forces on him her own feelings. In the end, he seems unable to establish his own unique personality and gets himself into a situation where he has to choose one of the girls.   

The animation is different. I have to admit that initially I wasn't fond of it. But it grew on me and I ended up really appreciating it. It's the rotoscope technique, whereby the animators trace over live action film movements on each frame to reproduce realistic images. I think initially I was disturbed because it's so unlike the normal animation style that I am used to. But it's refreshing. The characters look like real Japanese people and towards the end I was thinking that this animation style is actually better at communicating expressions than the completely unrealistic usual one where the characters have huge starry eyes, small lips, inexistant noses and shiny weird coloured hair. The backgrounds are nice and detailed. I loved the silences. There are quite a few long scenes dominated by silence, which is sometimes more expressive than a thousand words.

Voice-acting is really good. As for the soundtrack, I found it fitting and suited to the story. It helps a lot in conveying that creepy, dark feeling of suspense and psychological tension. 

I'm aware that many people think the animation style ugly and the story dull and slow-paced to say the least. But I don't agree. I think it's a very effective, dark and disturbing portrait of teenager struggle for personal identity.

9/10 story
9/10 animation
9/10 sound
9.5/10 characters
9.5/10 overall
J2Review's avatar By on Mar 24, 2015

If you like Welcome to the NHK, Paranoia Agent, or even liked the Catcher and the Rye book. This series could be for you. It's a story of lashing out, adolescences, sexual thoughts, and showing the bad side of not letting people know who you are or what you're really like.

I chose to stick with the 9.8/10 even with the animation, although not the best, doesn't really take away from anything and can even be argued to have helped the tone of the series. As noted by the manga being much different in animation style and almost taking the dark side of this series lightly. As it's not a series relying on good animation I don't believe it even comes close to something negative as it wasn't bad, just different.

      This is easily an example of something with a huge split in the community and how it's being accepted.

      I believe this is one of the best series ever made but only being held back by it's ending or lack there of. It was only somewhat satisfying and left the viewer just wanting so much more.

      I think to really enjoy this series like the majority of people who have reviewed it well, you must relate. If you find nothing to relate to here with the lashing out, awkwardness, the inner hate towards other people, and the attraction to the weird and unknown in life, this series may not be for you.

     I was a little iffy about this series in its start. The initial premise seemed a bit off and kind of uneventful but they certainly made the best out of it. The further you go into this series, the more you find to like about it, and the more demented it gets. Episode 7 is what won me over. The end scene in that episode is one of my favourite scenes in anime and I'll never forget the first time I watched it. And the start of episode 8 with them just holding hands for the first 3 minutes of the episode. The silence was bliss.

     The sound stood out quick a lot especially with that creepy song that kicked in at the end of every episode. I also liked how every 3-4 episodes the intro song changed. Each of them were easy to listen to. I'm not aware if there's a dub or not but the sub was good. The emotion was intense and I actually got sucked into the series because it just felt real. The animation did indeed add to the realism, as it wasn't you're typical bubbly or full of colour anime.

If there was any anime I've ever watched and wanted to go finish reading the manga, this is it. I was addicted to this show and it surprised me in so many ways. If this series had an actual finishing ending I would call this the first masterpiece in anime. But low and behold, nothing ends up being perfect. I have nothing bad to say about this series except, if you're in a good mood, don't watch it. Watch it alone, pay attention, and get lost in it, and know there's still a manga to read if you want more.

You can easily tell this will become a cult classic for years to come and I do believe the more people that know about this the higher rating it will get. This series is one of a kind and one of my new favourites. It's quite the ride and you will want more and more of it when you're done. but if you don't pay attention and really get into it. You won't appreciate the gem that this is.

10/10 story
8/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
9.8/10 overall
laoxiaohai's avatar By on Oct 3, 2014

It's not a typo.  I gave the series an "8" rating across the board but gave it an overall rating of "4".  

I watched this a while ago, it stuck with me enough to encourage me to read the manga.  

Rotoscoping was an daring decision.  It certainly elevated the art work with a greater sense of realism. However, the decision to use rotoscoping was ulimately misguided.  

The characters are middle school students.  They are less emotionally developed.  While the stakes may seem modest to an adult, themes such as individuality, love, acceptance, etc., can occupy a middle school student's entire existence.  The characters/actors in the anime seem older.  Therefore the characters appear to be more mature.  The perception that they're older creates an inconsistency with their actions.  In other words, because they appear older, it was harder for me to suspend by disbelief.  

The other reason the anime didn't work for me was the depiction of Nakamura (the light-haired girl). In the anime, Nakamura was plain and unattractive.  However, in the manga, Nakamura is more attractive.  The difference in how Nakamura is depicted will impact the audience's understanding of Kasuga (the boy).  

   

8/10 story
8/10 animation
8/10 sound
8/10 characters
4/10 overall