Before you decide to watch Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana,) please ask yourself these questions: do I purely want bishounen, or bishoujo, characters in my anime? Am I always looking for attractive characters? Should anime always look the same? If you’ve answered in the affirmative to any of these questions, forget about Flowers of Evil and watch something else. The sheer amount of invective aimed at its first episode is evidence enough that many aren’t able to see this series as anything other than ugly. I didn’t realise there was an objective example of ugliness, but apparently, Flowers of Evil is it. Thanks, anime fans.
I wrote about the manga last year, and since then, it’s become one of my favourites. To say Flowers of Evil is full of antipathy would be an understatement. This is a story that takes the idea of a Haruhi-like dynamic between a boy and a girl and twists it beyond all recognition. What if Haruhi were a psychopath? Well, now you get to find out. This is why Flowers of Evil seemed so exciting to me at first. Putting aside the visuals for a moment, I knew it would scare away a lot of anime fans anyway because it attacks the very things they hold dear.
Kasuga idolises Saeki. She is the unattainable, perfect goddess. He fantasizes about her, but stops short of any attempt to communicate because that would ruin the fantasy. I mean, what if Saeki isn’t as perfect as she seems? Like your favourite character is to you, she’s just an image to him. This isn’t any way to see or treat a real person, though, and it’s a lesson that Kasuga’s set to learn the hard way. He’s broken, and the manga’s drawn in a way to hide that fact, like we’re reading some typical harem romcom, but it’s all just surface, a slow acting poison. There was never anything pretty about Flowers of Evil in the first place.
This is where the anime changes things. Director Hiroshi Nagahama’s weapon of choice isn’t poison, but an axe. By rotoscoping characters, he’s completely destroyed the layer of superficiality that the manga labours under and delves straight into the dark soul of Flowers of Evil. For many, this is unforgivable, but for me, it’s more just revealing of the seemingly widespread disdain anime fans have for facing anything that removes their blanket of unreality, where certain times and places like the rose-coloured high-school setting are magically protected within a bubble of nostalgia and innocence. Quite frankly, fuck that shit.
From the haunting music design to the stark feeling of loneliness as Kasuga retreats into his world of books, Nagahama absolutely nails this anime to the wall. Rotoscoping was a brave choice and develops a surreal aesthetic that exists somewhere in the intersection between documentary and anime. It’s definitely weird, and like nothing I’ve seen before. The way the episode ends is particularly stunning, with its quick-cuts between the flower of evil’s opening eye, Kasuga’s desperate facial expression and the bleeding in of the ending theme, a song as weird and compelling and interesting as the rest of the episode proves to be.
And so it begins. The moment the flower bloomed, thousands of words began spewing back and forth, and for what it’s worth, I haven’t been this excited by an anime series in a long time.