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The flower bloomed

Flowers of Evil anime

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.

Flowers of Evil anime

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.

Comments

Celeste says:

What a rad post!

This will make an interesting counterpoint to my upcoming post on K-On! which deals with the breaking of anime ideals in a vastly different way.

There’s been a real polarity in the anime we’ve seen lately. On the one hand, you have things like Trapeze, Aku no Hana, Kaiba, and to a certain extent like Mushishi, which very much challenge the medium and try to push its boundaries. On the other hand, there’s been a growing vein of very stereotypically anime shows – to the point where they become an insular genre within themselves – on the moe-moe end of the scale, such as K-On! or Angel Beats! (or any other series with a ! at the end of it’s name?)

However, both of these extremes are both referential to the middle; the kind of anime which doesn’t seem to appear much today but was the hallmark of the mid and late 90s. The ‘rose-colored’ high school life that seems to be the japanese ideal is addressed in wildly different ways between this and K-On – but both seem to do their own damage to that ideal.

I’ve mentioned this to you in private before, but for posterity’s sake on the blog, this is very much a reflection of what’s described here: http://neojaponisme.com/2011/11/28/the-great-shift-in-japanese-pop-culture-part-one/. Moreover, the fact that so much anime and manga directly references the ideals it creates could be seen as an extension of this – in which Japanese culture in general, since the time of the bubble economy in the early 90s has been referring itself back to, and comparing itself (perhaps unfairly) to it.

Lots of food for thought, here.

bateszi says:

Watching this made me realise how complacent anime has become over the last couple of years, and how complacent we’ve become as fans, too. I love seeing aesthetic clashes like this, seeing people argue about artistic choices is so much more interesting than the silent acceptance of the rote, faceless product one has come to expect from contemporary anime.

There’s so much dirge out there it’s unreal, and even though I love the Aku no Hana manga, I don’t want to see the same thing year in, year out. I’m sick of it, and without Hiroshi Nagahama on this, we’d totally end up with just another visually faithful adaptation that’s underrated, overlooked and, eventually, forgotten. So, I’m glad that Nagahama, at least, isn’t as ready to accept working in that kind of obscurity, when clearly so many fans are.

Celeste says:

It also brings up a sort of eternal argument that I touched upon in my The Future of Anime post – that is, is anime defined purely by its style? Purely by it’s country of origin? Or does it need to have both a specific style and a specific point of origin to fall into that tradition?

For the most part, people seem to treat anime like sonnets – there’s a set structure, a set way it has to look, a set of topics it has to follow. But there’s tons of different styles of poetry which are equally (if not more) valid than sonnets, and even sonnets themselves evolved into what they became by undergoing iterative design and refinement. So it’s unfair to pigeon-hole anime into being something purely defined by style or by country of origin because it doesn’t allow for the evolution of the media, and if the media doesn’t evolve or adapt in some way it won’t survive into the future.

bateszi says:

I don’t mind anime being defined by its country of origin. I mean, anime is just animation, and I’m weirdly fascinated by Japanese animation. It’s not that I don’t like other country’s cartoons, there’s just some inexplicable spark to anime that ignites something deeply rooted within me. The same goes for Japanese music, films and comics. The style should be irrelevant, though. I don’t care if it’s Taiyo Matsumoto, Hayao Miyazaki or Masaaki Yuasa, it’s all about the feeling behind the art.

Brainwright says:

I have to ask, can anything be cutting edge or innovative without a generic and, “dumb,” for comparison?

I say, “Not really.”

Any mass media depends on a larger network of, “low grade,” content to help define what is exemplary. I think the problem now is that pop anime culture is being dragged up to get that idea of consistency before anime culture can move on and produce extraordinary works.

Essentially, the anime culture is teaching itself what anime culture is again, and I can’t fault it for having a lack of material.

El says:

Thank you so much for this review! The negative backlash has been making me furious. I don’t know what the response has been like in Japan but I want to see more anime that experiment with art styles and push boundaries, not less. I took one look at some reviews and I could basically hear the cries of “not our sanitized images!” Apparently a lot of people don’t like having a mirror held up to them. “Fuck that shit” sums up my feelings about all that exactly. Personally, I was blown away by the first episode and I’m very excited for more too.

bateszi says:

From what little I’ve heard, the reaction in Japan has pretty much mirrored what we’ve been seeing here, but in some cases a little more extreme: I’ve read about how certain Japanese otaku have been pre-ordering the Aku no Hana DVD on Amazon to inflate its sales figures, only to cancel their orders at the last minute! Pretty intense reaction to what is a piece of art, right?

Suffice to say, I was burning with anger when writing this. I can always rely on anime fans to completely infuriate me any time a series ever dares to diverge from the tried and tested!

[…] found myself in the fun position of having two of my favourite manga series adapted into anime. We already know how things went with Flowers of Evil, but there’s still the case of Attack on Titan (Shingeki no […]

Sinfjoltismustache says:

I completely agree. The manga is a perverse and awkward read. The anime captured the atmosphere of it perfectly. The first episode was indeed slow, but the manga also started out slowly. The rotoscoping makes the viewer feel as if they are in a very real world, but also very disconnected from it in a surreal, abstract manner; the same way the three antagonists are in the manga.

I am very excited about this anime and happy to see more work stepping outside the dominating land of moe, even if it receives mostly hate from the American fanbase.

bateszi says:

In the end, time will tell. I’m very interested to see if people keep watching Aku no Hana into the second and third episodes. Putting the aesthetic to one side, I suspect people will keep talking about this series because the story is just so crazy!

kuromitsu says:

>Sinfjoltismustache

From what I heard it receives mostly hate from Japanese viewers, too, not that it’s unexpected. 2ch seems to have already decided to troll everyone “responsible” into ruin. I hope the creators were expecting this and know how to handle it.

Cool name, by the way! Sinfjotli is one of my favorite legendary heroes. :D

Martin says:

My only reservation after what you’ve outlined here is the possibility that the characters are so awkward and unlikeable that it would put me off altogether. Oddly, I already view Haruhi Suzumiya as a psychopath! I could never grow to like her as a character, so still haven’t taken to the show like everyone else seems to.

Even so, I’m considering taking Flowers of Evil on, if only because it’s great to see something different. Being merely ‘different’ isn’t enough on its own, but if the unusual choices that this series makes are effective…I’d be a fool to not watch it.

The rotoscoping is the main thing that interests me, because it gives a really cool ‘uncanny valley’ sensation. It’s a rarely-seen technique because of the odd effect it creates, but in certain contexts it’s really effective. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re already familiar with them, but two Richard Linklater films use the technique to great effect – Waking Life is rotoscoped to give it the necessary dreamlike feel, while the visuals of A Scanner Darkly add to the dissociation and drug-fueled paranoia.

bateszi says:

One of the more relevant comparisons I’ve seen for this anime is to All About Lily Chou-Chou, they are both ambient, dark and somewhat sad. Honestly Martin, I’d jump on this one. As soon as I read the manga, I went out of my way to buy it because it’s just that good. This series, from the director of Mushishi and DMC no less, will be fascinating.

I’ll have to check out those Linklater films, too. The only film of his I’ve seen is Dazed and Confused, which I pretty much love!

bateszi says:

Note to all, read this post on AnimeSuki, which has quotes from both the director and mangaka concerning what they were trying to achieve with this anime.

kuromitsu says:

The overreaction about this anime on both sides of the ocean is pathetic and ridiculous. I can understand hardcore manga fans being disappointed (though their outrage is extra ridiculous in light of the mangaka’s message), I can understand people being put off by the visuals, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this over the top hysteria, definitely not recently. “HOW DARE HE MAKE THE GIRLS VAGUELY UNATTRACTIVE! RAGE!!11!1”

People circulating selected screencaps where the characters look the worst possible (due to the video being paused at a naturally awkward-looking moment), trying to find every flaw, any flaw to be able to declare “this show is objectively bad and officially ruined forever!” accusing the director of using a beloved manga to make an anti-moe statement or whatever – I’m not saying there’s no valid criticism hidden deep under the overreactions (even though I personally don’t agree with most of them), but the scope and intensity of the general animosity is past any common sense.

(People keep blaming the rotoscopy, but as I said it elsewhere, the knee-jerk “omg this looks unconventional and vaguely non-pretty! it’s scandalous, I refuse to watch it, or if I do it’s only so I can complain some more!” reactions reminds me of the attitude toward Noein and especially Kemonozume, and those were traditionally animated shows…)

What makes it extra ridiculous to me is exactly what you wrote: it’s like people are offended by the show “ruining” an escapist fantasy. Aku no hana is supposed to be a dark and twisted, realistic story – yet people desperately cling to the idea that the characters (the girls, that is, nobody cares about the boys) should look like stylized fantasy babes while they descend into depravity.

[…] season has its dark horses and this one is no different. I’ve been excited about Flowers of Evil, Attack on Titan and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet since the offset, but I ignored Majestic […]

Aeryn says:

I’m extremely new to anime and manga so I had no preconceived expectations when I decided to give Flowers of Evil a chance. It’s dark and disturbing at times but the story is interesting. The only other anime I’ve actually either started to watch or finished I could list on one hand. (Avenger, Clannad, Koi Kaze, Kite Liberator, Rosario+Vampire) I still have no idea what I really enjoy watching in terms of genre but this anime is so far my favorite. I love the animation style and the characters, I even love the creepy music. Flowers of Evil is the reason I’ll keep watching anime, hoping to find anything else that can compare. I don’t understand how anyone could criticize it or find it lacking. Thanks for this article. I’ve read a few other articles that basically called Flowers of Evil an abomination. I was starting to think that maybe I should steer clear of anime if so many people seemed to despise the one show I truly enjoyed. As for anything I choose to watch in the future, I’ll keep an open mind until I’ve given it a chance.

bateszi says:

I admire this anime so much now that I’ll sometimes feel despair for those unable to appreciate it. If nothing else, I’m glad I’ve been able to reach others like me. You aren’t alone.

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