Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana) is a 2013 animated series from the studio Zexcs based on a manga by Shuzo Oshimi with a screenplay by Aki Itami. Though Arlys and I are big anime fans, this is not the kind of show we usually watch. It features middle school students with no powers or special abilities and I feared it would be another dull “slice of life” show. Arlys talked me into it, having read several positive reviews. I’m glad I gave it a chance.
Though it takes place in contemporary Japan, Flowers of Evil is not about average kids; it’s a psychological thriller about troubled teens. Its name comes from Les Fleurs du Mal, a classic work by the French poet Baudelaire. Though it would be considered tame nowadays, it was controversial at the time of its publication in 1857 and even being banned for a while. Takao Kasuga, the show’s protagonist, is a lonely, nerdy boy who loves classic literature and identifies with the book’s theme of alienation and degeneracy.
Two girls dominate Kasuga’s life: his crush Nanako Saeki and his nemesis Sawa Nakamura. The latter girl catches him stealing Saeki’s gym clothes, brands him a “pervert,” and uses this knowledge to blackmail him into doing her bidding. Though Kasuga chastises himself ceaselessly for this, we see that he’s not a bad kid; his act was the impulse of a boy with the raging hormones of early adolescence.
There was one thing we both disliked about the anime: it was done in rotoscope, which converts video to animation. It’s very jarring at first; you wonder, why didn’t they just do it live action? There are a number of fantasy sequences, however that works better in this medium.
At first, I didn’t like the show much. Kasuga is a pathetic, self-loathing wimp and Nakamura is an emotional sadist. She forces Kasuga to do things which humiliate him, threatening to expose him as a “pervert” who stole the gym clothes for sexual gratification. Saeki, Kasuga’s ideal, seems at first to be the stereotype of a pretty girl – popular but shallow. Yet the characters surprise us, in particular, Saeki, who is quite tolerant of Kasuga’s quirks. The relationship between Kasuga and Nakamura is complicated as well. It often seems like their mutual loathing is a bizarre form of love. Arlys and I found ourselves speculating on the characters’ motivation and binge-watched the last 5 episodes, something we rarely ever do.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot, because the series’ appeal depends to a great degree on surprise. At times it was excruciating in its slow pacing, but these were at times when it ramped up the psychological tension. Besides the animation style, our biggest complaint was that the story didn’t have a very satisfying resolution. According to Wikipedia, the manga takes the story much further. Oshimi completed the story in 2014 after the anime had aired. There really ought to be a second season.
It’s not easy for me to rate this series. It was alternately compelling and aggravating and I found the inconclusive ending quite frustrating. I wouldn’t recommend it for the casual anime fan, but those who enjoy psychological drama will like it. Yet I really enjoyed the development of the characters and the subtle interactions between them. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.