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First Impressions: Flowers of Evil

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It's been a while since I saw such a perfect...rotoscope

The Flowers of Evil (aka Aku no Hana) always called to me from the shelves of Barnes and Noble. I couldn't bring myself to leave one more time without it, so one day I purchased the first volume. And for the most part, I was pleased with my decision, beyond the fact that it wasn't exactly the kind of story I had expected. I didn't immediately fall in love with the tale of a boy hurtling into the clutches of depravity, but subsequent volumes reeled me in. It felt wonderfully grimy, dangerous, and strange.

How curious it was, that the anime adaptation channels the same feelings -- but in a completely different way.

The Flowers of Evil's anime iteration is one of the most polarizing releases I've ever come across. The uproar across the internet regarding its bizarre rotoscoping of live-action actors, content, and tone has been sweeping anime forums, image boards, and blogs like wildfire. Before sitting down to watch, however, I had no idea what I was in for. Granted, my tastes often gravitate toward the disturbing, surreal, and grotesque. The Flowers of Evil manages to cover all these bases in many ways, and it's an uncomfortable (and sometimes very slow) watch. With that said, I think that's why I ended up being drawn to it, even though upon initial viewing I thoroughly despised what it had done with the manga series. I can't say it's objectively a fantastic series, but it's an oddity that managed to entrance me, even if it were just for a moment while the spine-tingling ED began to play.

Takao Kasuga is a very atypical student who's enamored with reading, Charles Baudelaire, and classmate Nanako Saeki, who he admires in a borderline obsessive capacity. He walks around in a daze, or at least it seems to most of the time, almost as if he's detached from the real world, quoting literature and fiercely defending his crush should classmates make any lewd remarks toward her. Takao often totes around a battered old copy of Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal, his favorite book (and namesake of the series) which finds him often ridiculed and looked down on by his classmates, whose concerns stretch little beyond girls, movies, and video games. Typical high schooler problems.

Kasuga is understandably feeling ostracized and as though no one his age is in tune at all with his hopes and desires. It seems the only shining light in his life is Saeki, and it's painfully obvious from the first episode that this is clearly a youth at risk of heading down a decidedly reckless and violent path. And by the end of the episode, in which Kasuga happens upon the gym uniform left by Saeki in the middle of class, we have a pretty good idea of how things will end up playing out.

With that said, there actually isn't much to the first episode. Unlike the manga, it moves at a very slow, deliberate pace. It's plodding, obtuse, and at times quite boring, wheras in stark contrast the manga series seemed to move at an almost breakneck pace, where there was more time to learn and understand the machinations of Kasuga's personality and his intentions, which I felt were intentionally obscured in the anime, perhaps on purpose.

The only real feeling of thrill or excitement stemmed from a pivotal moment where eventually antagonist and resident weirdo Sawa Nakamura butts heads with her teacher in front of an astonished class as he admonishes her for having the lowest test score. Her rebuttal is a colorful bit of profanity, which lands her a meeting in the faculty office after school. It's in stark contrast to the almost surreal yet peaceful tone of the rest of the episode, and you wonder why Nakamura, when it's apparent she has few friends, attempts to further alienate others through these actions -- especially considering the events that will eventually transpire.

But I haven't even mentioned the art style yet. If one went solely by the description above and manga art, they might get a Mysterious Girlfriend X or even simplistic shounen vibe as far as aesthetic style. No one could have predicted what was actually used: rotoscoping. It's a technique where the animators draw over and animate on top of live-action footage. And while it's a distinctive style that allows for interesting effects, it also adds a creep factor that's disturbing (and ugly) on many levels. The characters look nothing like their manga counterparts. Most of the time in wide shots there are faceless people walking around. And the not-quite realism reaches "uncanny valley" scariness. As a connoisseur of the creepy I could appreciate how this enhanced and even created tension of its own, especially the dreamlike, hazy bits where Kasuga related bits of literature, as though he were floating away to another world.

It's almost like a trippy, drug-laden retelling of the manga as a horror story, albeit completely unintentional. Zexcs made an interesting call here -- it will alienate viewers and scare off those who decide to try it. If the nearly static OP animation isn't enough to bore or frighten in the first few moments, then the disconcerting ED will: distorted childlike speech patterns and simple repetition. It's nightmare fuel on its own, and comes in at an especially jarring moment. The lyrics themselves, as the flower itself opens throughout the episode, tell a chilling story:

"Hana ga saita yo (The flower bloomed.)

Hana ga hana ga saita yo (The flower, the flower bloomed.)

Hidoku kaze ni obieta (It was terribly afraid of the wind.)

Daremo mita koto nai hana ga saiteita yo (Nobody had ever seen it before, and it bloomed.)"


Kasuga's flower began to bloom that day. And I'm ready to see it tremble in the wind of change about to blow through the series. I'm on board and ready for the next episode. Are you?

[Flowers of Evil simulcasts on Crunchyroll and Animax]


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Brittany Vincent
Brittany VincentContributor   gamer profile

3 I'm Brittany, and I'm the resident creeper, er, community manager over here at I'm here to make your experience more + disclosures


 



Also on Japanator: Flowers of Evil   (2)   From our database:

  • Aku no Hana's Hiroshi Nagahama talks Flowers, Evil - Jeff Chuang
  • Licensing GET: Sentai plucks the Flowers of Evil - Salvador G Rodiles
  • First Impressions: Flowers of Evil - Brittany Vincent
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    Filed under... #anime #feature #First Impressions #Japanator Original #top stories

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