Once in a while comes an anime series that completely negates the norms and dares to experiment with styles and themes that other shows have not touched before. The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana) is such a show.
Aku no Hana follows the story of a Japanese high school boy named Kasuga who is (quite typically) in love with his classmate Saeki. During a moment of weakness, he steals her sports uniform. That is how the class’s outsider and problem child Nakamura, who witnessed him doing it, finds an opportunity to bully him, supposedly to bring out his true colors, those of a dark soul and complete degenerate.
Plot & Story
The story develops in slow, heavy segments. Aku no Hana takes its time to set up a mood using long shots of inanimate scenes and barely moving characters. Even though numerous viewers complained, I found it to be essential to the pacing of ‘the story. By slowing down the rhythm, the viewer is allowed time to process the characters’ feelings and empathize with them. Besides, the very purpose of the show is not to wow fans with extraordinary, flashy animation; quite the contrary. By making the characters ordinary, plain, and to some extent ‘unattractive’ by anime standards, it amplifies the message it wishes to demonstrate: the dark side that lies in every single one of us. Focusing in no more than three main characters also contributes to this goal: the viewer gets to experience them up close, yet without learning too much about their personal histories. There are no emotional flashbacks to Nakamura’s childhood to justify her problematic behavior; there is only a ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ type of relationship with her, very much like in real human relationships. I believe that was one of the reasons why Aku no Hana got mixed critiques and so much hate: it did not adhere to digestible storylines that flood the viewer with insights to appeal to their pity and understanding towards what is going on. The characters are unlikable, and to some extent stupid, but this is the whole point – they are people like us, flawed and overwhelmed with uncontrollable emotions.
Art & Music
Another aspect of Aku no Hana people seemed to find problematic was, obviously, the art. I couldn’t disagree more with that. I believe it is not only commendable but also necessary for Japanese animators to experiment with an abundance of animation styles and techniques, and in this particular case they did a great job. The level to which rotoscoping is used in terms of detail and dynamics gives out an eerie feeling (which somehow reminded me of Serial Experiments Lain) that even though undetailed and minimalist, the models of humans are obviously traced on real bodies and faces. This borderline unrecognizable style that cannot be clearly categorized as realistic or stylized creates an uncanny ambiance throughout the whole show. As for the backgrounds, it doesn’t take an expert to see how impeccably drawn they are, juxtaposing the human figures and making them seem even more simplistic and inane.
Sound-wise, even though the opening track is not overly exciting, the rest of the show makes up for it. Haunting heartbeats and peaceful winds are omnipresent giving a constant sense of mobility to even the most silent moment. Last but not least, I cannot possibly imagine how anyone could fail to appreciate the masterpiece that is the ending song, ‘〜花〜 A Last Flower’ by Asa-Chang & Junray, especially in the first episode, where out of Kasuga’s peace of mind a radical change to darkness and fear occurs.
Themes & Trivia
The title of the show as well as the very essence of the story is inspired by the French poet Charles Baudelaire and his work Les Fleurs du Mal which, by the way, I happened to be examined at back in the day, when I was taking some pretty hardcore French. It is a collection of masterpieces of poetry, with Baudelaire’s talent being recognized by real literature scholars of his time such as Victor Hugo, despite the controversial nature of his content. Baudelaire, a dandy, keen opium smoker and depressive revolutionary, spoke very much about the darkness of the human soul in his poetry, whether it was by looking at Paris through a critical eye to its modernist transformations, or examining the vices of its inhabitants.
Aku no Hana’s relation to Baudelaire’s poetry is of course mostly vice-oriented. It derives from the concept that there is a very dark side to every human soul just waiting to surface. Kasuga, at least according to Nakamura’s theory, is secretly craving to express his perverse personality, Nakamura is completely taken over by her feelings of destruction, and Saeki, despite her being the innocent pure girl of the bunch, actually enjoys Kasuga’s perversion towards her, to the point where she develops feelings for him and cannot let go. One theme that is not very thoroughly examined however, is how in a more sexually liberated society, maybe their sentiments would have not surfaced so violently, but could have found a healthier outlet.
Aku no Hana might not have changed my life, but it was a respectable effort to challenge numerous things that in anime are being taken as given. Even though surprised and disappointed at its reception from a large portion of its viewers, I believe it achieved what most successful artworks achieve: controversy. Whether people enjoyed it or not, they felt compelled to argue and analyse why, and I’m always happy to witness such experiences. I do however wish it was being looked at with a more open mind in terms of its use of aesthetics.
Between Good and Evil
- Experimental art
- Dark, unsettling story
- Nakamura being my personal favourite villain in all anime
- Interesting references to poetry and art
- Controversial themes and reception
- Slightly repetitive
- Some of the choices the characters make seem a bit off
- Crappy ending
- Season two is taking too long
We would love to hear your opinion on Aku no Hana, since it did divide the masses! Did you love or hate it? Would you like to see more anime like this one? Let us know in the comments section below, and see you soon for more anime reviews on MANGA.TOKYO!
The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana)
Official Site: http://akunohana-anime.jp/