First, imagine an alternate version of FLCL, where Naoto hooks up with the loose-canon Mamimi and revels in her pyromania, falling ever deeper into her psychosis, burning away their boring world together. This is The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana,) a manga series (and soon to be anime) that begins like any of the other thousands of stories written about teenagers. Bored, disillusioned and harbouring a secret crush, our main character is the whimpering Kasuga, the archetypal, spineless harem lead without a shred of pride. When he steals his crush’s gym clothes, a vortex opens through which the trouble-making Nakamura steps. She spied him stealing the clothes and blackmails him into becoming her slave.

Nakamura isn’t a normal girl. She’s a potential psychopath with a short temper and even shorter tongue. Kasuga’s hardly normal, either. He’s obsessed with Charles Baudelaire’s cheery book of poems, Les Fleurs du mal, and seems teetering on the brink of a cliff, waiting for a girl like her to come along and push him over the edge. Somehow, he fixes up a date with Saeki (his crush,) but when Nakamura finds out, she forces him to wear Saeki’s gym clothes under his own during the date.

So, it’s twisted, right?

In her own words, Nakamura’s hell-bent on peeling away Kasuga’s skin, to reveal his true, perverted self. She’s already an outcast, staring pessimistically into the vast, dark expanse of her future, and now she’s found a companion in him, a true pervert, to wander the void with her.

At first, their relationship is one-sided. Nakamura’s blackmailing Kasuga, after all. He seems to want a “normal,” rose-coloured life with Saeki like any other “normal” boy would, but as his guilt over her gym clothes weighs heavy on his heart, he realises that he needs Nakamura in his life: his tormentor, but the one person who truly sees him for what he is.

Guilt-stricken, it reaches a head when he tells her to turn him in. In the dead of night, they meet at school, enter their classroom and write his confession on the blackboard. Then trash the place. Desks are smashed, books are ripped and paint smeared everywhere. When it’s over, they lay in the middle of the room, laughing, holding hands. It’s the first cry in the scream that becomes The Flowers of Evil from here on out, as it transitions from black comedy to something else entirely.

Nakamura’s an anarchist, loving every moment of the damage she’s inflicting upon everyone and everything around her, the empty Kasuga’s drawn to her like a moth to a flame, and Saeki’s drawn to him, even despite discovering the truth about the gym clothes and all. She was supposed to be the normal girl, but even she, it seems, shares a huge, gaping hole where her heart should beat.

There’s a sinking sense of disillusionment to The Flowers of Evil that’s hard to shake. The end is yet to be published, but it’s hardly bound to end well. It’s already too far gone. These people aren’t happy, they are destined to be lonely, desperate and sad, but rarely does a story commit to delve so deeply into such difficult ideas without offering an easy way out.

There’s nothing beautiful or nostalgic to be found here, it’s just a relentless, bitter critique of modern life that will make you feel about as small and insignificant as a grain of sand. Even now, that’s a feeling clawing at my throat, but good or bad, it’s important to note when something like this hits me so hard. At one point, I looked up when reading and realised it was dark in my room. The sun had gone down and I hadn’t noticed. Read if you dare.