Flowers of Evil Part 1 Review (Anime)on December 8, 2015 by Cuppa
School life is rough. Not only do you have to deal with way too much homework, but you also have to make room for awkward friendships, your voice breaking, getting hit in the face, getting blackmailed, having water dunked on you, being forcibly stripped naked, being called the sickest… Wait, what? …Oh, I guess it’s time for a Flowers of Evil review!
Flowers of Evil is an anime released in 2013 by director Hiroshi Nagahama. Originally a manga, the story was written by Shūzō Oshimi in 2009. Both the manga and anime have now received English publications, with Kodansha having picked up the manga in 2012, and MVM Entertainment having picked up the anime this November!
The story follows a middle school student called Takao Kasuga. He loves classical literature, and feels like he just doesn’t fit in with the rest of his classmates. One day his adolescent hormones get the better of him, and he ends up stealing the gym kit belonging to his crush, Nanako Saeki. Unluckily for him, the oddball of the class, Sawa Nakamura, spots the theft and happily uses it to blackmail him.
Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘this sounds like the typical setup for an ecchi anime’. Well, in one sense you’re correct. The writer Oshimi was particularly interested in the topic of perversion, a subject which he believed to be misunderstood, and a quality of which he also believed everyone had hidden within them. That being said, if you think this means the anime is full of panty shots and cleavage, you’re in for a big shock. Nakamura aggressively puts Kasuga into situations that make him admit to his perversions. She humiliates him, shoving him to the floor, stripping him naked and forcing him to wear the gym kit that he stole. This fourteen year old is traumatised to tears on numerous occasions, to which Nakamura responds with ‘shut up, shitface’.
This happens constantly. Nakamura insists that she has a ‘contract’ with him that allows her to do these things, meaning she has been written as a metaphorical devil. These actions come as less of a shock when we make note of the anime’s title: Flowers of Evil. Its name is a reference to a book authored by Charles Baudelaire, a 19th Century French poet. He rejected the fundamental goodness of man as typically espoused by the romantics at the time, and instead favoured sensual and aesthetic pleasures, decay and moral complexity. He was also an alleged advocacy of Satanism. The anime was thus inspired by Baudelaire’s ideology, and indeed Kasuga has a framed photograph of the man in his bedroom. Although I do have to question how much of the anime is a comment on philosophical ideology, and how much of it is actually an analysis of sadism and masochism, perhaps even Stockholm syndrome.
Indeed Kasuga’s prized picture of Baudelaire is eventually smashed, his treasured copy of Les Fleurs du mal ripped to pieces by the end of episode 13. The unpleasant journey of Part 1 ends with Kasuga rejecting societal norm, which is represented through his long-time crush, Saeki, and instead has him reaching out for ‘the other side’, which is a need represented through Nakamura. Baudelaire was the starting point, a theory of which Kasuga and Nakamura could expand upon and which they have now symbolically moved on from. The brief flash of Part 2 suggests that Kasuga and Nakumara are going to do the very things the ‘devil’ has been dreaming of since the beginning. ‘Maggots’ are going to die, the ‘pervert’ is going to ‘burn the whole place down’, and the town is going to sink into the ‘dipshit ocean’.
One way or another, Nakamura and Kasuga are going to get to the ‘other side’.
Takao Kasuga is a middle school student with a love for classical literature. His favourite book is a collection of poems called Les Fleurs du mal (Flowers of Evil) by Charles Baudelaire, a title which he says changed his life. He has a crush on Nanako Saeki, a fellow classmate which he dubs as his ‘Maria’, his ‘muse’, his ‘angel’ and ‘feme fatal’. I think it is important to point out that such titles in fact contradict each other. Kasuga makes a point of underlining how pure Saeki is. She couldn’t possibly have sexual urges! I can’t imagine what he thought a feme fatal might be… When Saeki does try to express her sexuality, Kasuga immediately shuns her for not being the
conflicting image he had of her in his head. The intelligence Kasuga thinks he has and the intelligence he actually has are on two different levels. Kasuga later admits that he knows nothing, that he though himself as smart for being able to read literature, but in actuality he never understood it. He just wanted to be special. He wanted to be different like Nakamura.
Nanako Saeki is a popular, hardworking student in Kasuga’s class. She accepts Kasuga’s ‘perversions’, despite eventually being shunned by him, and makes a real effort to understand him. She is a ‘pebble that Kasuga turned into a jewel’. She becomes quite taken with Kasuga after he comes to Nakumura’s defence when she is accused of stealing Saeki’s gym clothes. I genuinely find the ‘competition’ between Saeki and Nakamura disappointing. So far there have only been two choices: to be ‘special’ or to be ‘normal’. There is no third option. Kasuga’s deciding factor for choosing Nakamura is that she will be lonely without him, whereas Saeki supposedly won’t need him to one day be happy. Not only is this a huge copout that’s unfair to both girls, his reasoning also dismisses the whole ‘perversion’ philosophy that this anime is supposedly centred on! I imagine the consequence for such feeble decision making will bear quite badly on Saeki’s mental wellbeing later on.
Sawa Nakamura is a complicated young girl with a lot of rage in her heart. She purposely isolates herself from her classmates, swears at her teachers and refuses to do any school work. She has a unique view of the world, a view that she though only she could see, until she witnessed Kasuga stealing a girl’s gym kit. Finally, she’s found an even bigger pervert than herself! She delights in forcing Kasuga to come to terms with his perverted nature, making him wear the clothing he stole and berating him with uncomfortable questions. She keeps Kasuga’s theft a secret with the condition that he enters a ‘contract’ with her. In Nakamura’s head, this ‘contract’ means she can make Kasuga do whatever she wants. She wants nothing more than to leave the town and see what’s on the other side of the mountains that surround the area, even if there’s only an inky mess of nothing awaiting her.
The art style makes it clear to see that Flowers of Evil isn’t your average anime. Hiroshi Nagahama initially declined the offer to direct the anime as he felt it would be best presented as live-action. The solution was rotoscoping, a process that involves filming actors, tracing their still images and producing a coloured product. Nagahama then added his own touches, such as the waving animation of a character’s hair, to imitate flash animation. It was a very time consuming process, taking twice as long to create as any regular anime.
The choice of rotoscoping has both its positives and negatives. On the one hand, I believe the use of this unique animation technique has matched the overall eerie atmosphere of the anime’s plot. Flowers of Evil covers some very difficult and disturbing topics, and indeed rotoscoping manages to enhance the severity of these themes. On the other hand, there are some scenes that just don’t sit right unless they are placed within a traditional anime. This colourful scene of Nakamura happily running from building to building looks extremely odd outside of traditional anime artwork. Its messages of both humour and creepiness are a bit too conflicting in this situation. Likewise facial expressions are very stiff, and sometimes hard to read.
The closing song, A Last Flower, is a warped, hauntingly beautiful melody sung by Asa-Chang and Junray. It isn’t your usual upbeat, fast paced anime song, but rather a tune that flows erratically, sometimes overlapping with itself and other times struggling to get its lyrics out. It is chilling, and it will get stuck in your head without you realising it. The opening song, Aku no Hana by Mariya Ise, plays like a song that originated from a mad circus. It doesn’t quite have the same impact as A Last Flower, but it certainly has its own charms.
Flowers of Evil may not be my cup of tea, but I can see why some people hold it in such high regard. The themes are dark and difficult, and although I don’t believe all of the Flowers of Evil messages have been expressed in the most convincing of manners, the connotations of the messages are still there nonetheless. This is a dark, psychological anime with a philosophical twist that is not for the faint of heart! I imagine how these characters develop in Part 2 will continue to shock the Flowers of Evil audience, and that some people will get more out of it than others. As it stands, my favourite aspect of the anime is the music. Take that whichever way you will.