Flowers of Evil

Flowers of Evil


Watched via Crunchyroll



PLOT: Flowers of Evil is based on the manga series by the same name, which centers around Takao Kasuga as he comes to terms with his inner feelings and perceptions of the world. Kasuga is your typical introverted bookworm. He reads deep and dark literature, and has romantic and sophisticated beliefs about himself and the world, without really experiencing it. That is until he impulsively decides to steal his crush’s gym uniform, and gets caught by his classmate, Nakamura.

Sawa Nakamura is a class outcast, known for her sudden and loud outbursts and profanity. She uses the uniform to blackmail and bully Kasuga into doing perverted things, such as making him wear it. Despite her bullying, Nakamura helps Kasuga gain enough confidence to ask his crush, Saeki, out. However, she forces Kasuga into situations to pervert his otherwise innocent dates. He becomes trapped between his desires to conform to society’s standards, and embracing the inner demons inside of himself.

Kasuga begins to realize how meaningful his friendship with Nakamura is, and how their unique perversion sets them apart from the world. He believes that only he can understand her. Meanwhile Saeki is trying hard to understand the romantic ideals written about within Baudelaire’s book of poetry.

I’ll just leave it there. Watching the plot unravel is deliciously tender and troubling. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, which I suppose is the point of the pacing being so slow. For a 13 episode series, the plot hardly covers anything. It is rather frustrating to watch the action slowly crawl forward, but it also helps amp up the anxiety of each episode.

Having read further along in the manga, I was anxiously awaiting the plot to delve further than what it did. I can’t deny, I was rather disappointed at the stopping point, especially considering how much time was wasted in the first several episodes. However, I think the studio did a great job of wrapping the series up and giving a brief tribute to future events.

First of all, Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil isn’t a book full of romantic ideals, and I’d love to see how having read it affects my understanding of the series at a later date. Secondly, I really liked the series’ glimpse of future events at the end. It makes me more excited to read the manga one day.

When I say romantic, I don’t mean romance or courtly love, I mean highly idealized, like the image of the suffering artist. It’s a romantic ideal, but sucks in real life. Kasuga thinks his heart is more lovely and fine because he is abnormal. It’s a romantic ideal of being the misunderstood outsider. It’s a vanity.

PLOT: Takao Kasuga’s an introverted middle schooler who thinks he’s better than everyone else because he’s read classic literature, including Charles Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil. Flowers of Evil apparently deals with society’s decadence and eroticism, which Kasuga seems to identify with, as the book is his favorite. One day, Kasuga’s the last person in the classroom and sees the gym uniform of his crush left on the ground. Inspired by Baudelaire, Kasuga takes the uniform.

Unfortunately for Kasuga, he was seen stealing the gym uniform by Nakamura, a girl who’s estranged from everyone else in the school and who’s on the lookout for perverts. She blackmails Kasuga into agreeing to a verbal contract with her, which she uses to force him to do perverted things, like wearing the gym uniform while on a date with Saeki. Kasuga, meanwhile, is torn between giving into his perverted desires with Nakamura or pretending to be a model citizen for his crush Saeki. Eventually, he begins to see the reality behind both girls, which causes significant upheaval in his world.

This show is all about how weird and messed up teenagers are, and it excels at showing the dark, gross sides of its characters. As you’d expect, Kasuga and Nakamura are pretty messed up, though Kasuga’s more conflicted about breaking with society’s conventions. However, even Saeki’s shown to have her issues, and the show doesn’t shy away from any of the characters’ problems. The show languishes in Kasuga’s conflicted emotions, showing his thoughts and insinuating a kind of nauseous feeling through the occasional background music.

Flowers of Evil’s biggest challenge comes from its pacing, which is excruciatingly slow. The majority of the show feels like a drawn-out indie movie, but to an extreme that is almost alienating. Half of an episode is devoted to watching characters walk home without any conversation. When something happens quickly, it’s a huge shock, and the event’s reverberations are felt beyond the episode because of the huge change of pace. This show could’ve easily gone by twice as quickly without damaging the tone too much, and it might’ve been less likely to drive off so much of the audience. Overall, the series does an excellent job of conveying the slightly-queasy tone it strives for, but not many people will be able to stand the pace in order to experience the entirety of the show. Do not marathon this show or watch it while tired—doing so had me checking the time every couple of minutes, even when I was engrossed in the characters and plot.

SETTING: Because the art studio used real locations and rotoscoping to create the backgrounds, we are given a more realistic look into the ordinary Japanese town where Kasuga lives. Over and over again we see the same path that he travels to get to school, or to his hang-out location where he meets up with Nakamura. The repetition in footage creates a monotony to the daily events of his life. The faceless people he walks amongst highlight how dull and mundane the world he inhabits is. This could also be said for his family interactions in the dining room.

Kasuga sees himself as separate from all of these “shit-faces”, to use Nakamura’s term. He and Nakamura stand apart from the people and world they inhabit and try to break free from within it. Often this happens through juvenile destructive acts, such as vandalizing school property.

Flowers of Evil is about liberating oneself from the cages of society, physically and mentally. This is metaphorically shown time and again with the focus on running away. The manga takes this idea a step further. Unfortunately the anime never goes far enough for us to really explore these ideals of liberation.

SETTING: Kasuga lives in an ordinary Japanese town, which is exactly what’s so awful about his life. He’s surrounded by idiots who buy into society and don’t think any deeper thoughts, so he feels alone except for his beloved Baudelaire. The setting illustrates this perfectly through a deliberate focus on backgrounds, particularly the run-down aspects of everyday life.

Flowers of Evil shows everything quotidian and mundane about life. Rust and dirty cover buildings, while road signs are bent and neglected. Nothing about the setting is beautiful except for the detail, which highlights how much ennui Kasuga feels regarding his town. If you only notice the shitty parts of town, it’s natural to hate it, and so the setting allows viewers to see exactly how Kasuga feels about his town. In this regard, Flowers of Evil uses setting in a masterful way that few anime do, as the portrayal of the setting is just as integral to the narrative’s success as the characters or plot. If you want to use setting well in an anime, this is how to do it.

CHARACTERS: I love how Flowers of Evil deals with adolescence. In particular I am strongly drawn to the exploration of gender roles and expectations. Kasuga is an inexperienced youth who fancies himself as a romantic, deep, and dark individual. However, he’s never put his deep thoughts to the test, and is shown time and again running away from these dark thoughts once presented with the opportunity to act upon them. He both idealizes corruption and purity, which puts him in quite the predicament when Nakamura tries to become the catalyst to bring his inner demons out. Kasuga is initially reluctant to bring out these feelings and tries to hold onto his pure sense of identity. In the end he finally realizes that he is neither of these extremes, he is just as plain as the people he once despised all along.

Nakamura is an anomaly. We never figure out just what it is that makes her tick and pushes her to act so vile. She only receives pleasure in bullying others. The enjoyment she gets from being friends with Kasuga stems from her selfish perception of him. She wants him to be like her, and so she pushes him to become a match for her, to suffer along side of her. While her actions are horrid, she makes a great character study. Her behaviors act to emasculate Kasuga. Typically in anime, women are desexualized and disempowered. In Flowers of Evil, it is the women who hold all the cards. Nakamura has total control of Kasuga’s fate, even up until the last moment when she hovers above him with their entangled lives flashing before them in foreshadowing.

Saeki is another wonderful exploration on women in anime. She stands as the perfect “waifu” or moe character. Unlike Nakamura, she is popular, smart, and radiates purity and innocence. She is everything Kasuga could dream of in a courtly love type relationship. However, he is not prepared for the reality behind his dreams and rejects her before he can get to know what is behind the facade.

Having read further in the manga than the anime depicts, I was very disappointed at how quickly the story was wrapped up. In the manga, Saeki undergoes some very interesting character development, which breaks the gender roles and expectations anime typically have for women. I found it splendid that part of the anxiety Kasuga undergoes is in realizing that women are not as ideal as they are stereotyped to be. This is really brought home by the studio opting to use rotoscoping for the animation. The visuals and story really show just how scary “real life” can be to the mind of an idealistic dreamer.

It’s good to know that the manga continues to undermine fanboys’ notions of how women should be, just as the anime undermines Kasuga’s dreams of being a special snowflake. I love the tack this series takes with revealing the truth behind fanboys’ daydreams.

CHARACTERS: Nobody is likable in Flowers of Evil. Each of the main characters embodies some repulsive aspect of adolescence, from Kasuga’s waffling perversions to Saeki’s desperation for affection. Early on, I had to give up on identifying with any of the characters and hoping for the best, since clearly that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I decided to root for Nakamura and her plan to reveal Kasuga’s real perverted nature, since that would at least let the truth out while being just as uncomfortable as any other outcome.

Kasuga is obnoxious in exactly the way you should expect—he’s a middle schooler who’s reading Baudelaire, which means he probably doesn’t get it and thinks he’s hot shit because he’s read something no one else has. Kasuga embodies a lot of what’s so annoying about adolescents, especially once Nakamura begins pushing him. Instead of embracing his perversions and arrogance, Kasuga retreats back to Saeki and begs to be treated like a normal person. Kasuga’s too chicken to show his real self to the world, instead hiding behind layers of masks to be accepted by those around him. However, because of these flaws, Kasuga’s a great depiction of adolescent angst and how ridiculous it can be. If anything, he makes the show worth watching as a case study of self-involved adolescent behavior.

Nakamura, on the other hand, fully embraces her revulsion for society and acts out every chance she gets. She hasn’t faced much punishment for it yet, probably because she’s only in middle school, but I imagine it’s a matter of time before the school cracks down on her. As I said above, I ended up siding with her, since her path for Kasuga seemed to have the best potential outcome. Eventually Flowers of Evil develops her character beyond just being a pervert-obsessed, angry girl, which I appreciated. I’d have liked to see more, but she’s still a fascinating character to watch.

Finally, Saeki is your typical popular girl who’s full of insecurities and will do anything to be liked. Surprisingly, Kasuga’s the first boy to ask her out, so she clings to him and develops unhealthy thought patterns as a result. She’s also an interesting study of the problems popular girls like her have, though I could see people saying real girls wouldn’t have those same thoughts. I loved that the show brought in Saeki’s problems alongside Kasuga’s and Nakamura’s, but they come up so late that there’s barely enough time to explore them. I hope the manga does more with her character.

:O! The manga does not disappoint when it comes to Saeki. She completely unravels to Kasuga’s dismay. While he thinks he’s all deep and angsty, Kasuga is all talk and no action. You hit the nail right on the head when you called him out as a wanna-be. Flowers of Evil demonstrates the futility in ever being a special snowflake.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: I can’t imagine a better series to use rotoscoping on. All of the actions are acted out by real actors, then traced and colored to be animated. While I liked the later drawing style of the manga, I completely fell in love with the effect of the rotoscoping. Knowing that the series has a real life foundation brings to life the perverseness of all the actions and behaviors of the characters. Not only is the animation different, but the use of camera angles and backgrounds is atypical for an anime. This actually helps heighten the experience by emphasizing moments that otherwise would have seemed dull and lifeless if animated in a more conservative manner. The rotoscoping really is a perfect marriage of both worlds, as the footage is altered to depict the influence of anxiety and illusion on character perceptions.

Flowers of Evil

Really the actors, backgrounds, pacing, and animation all work harmoniously to create the perfect visuals to accompany the plot. I only wish that the series had gone on longer, so that I could see just how the studio would have handled the more dicey moments.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Flowers of Evil is rotoscoped, which caused a shitstorm in the anime fandom. Personally, I love the effect of it. The characters look realistic but flat, bringing them into the uncanny valley and escalating the queasy feeling brought about by the pacing, sound design, and character development. The rotoscoping highlights the characters’ awkwardness by showing every shift of posture or pause in conversation, and it forces the show to feel closer to reality. Furthermore, the rotoscoping allows the animation to be creepier through what is selected to be colored in or outlined. Early on, there are some shots of characters walking towards the camera, and as they get closer, you slowly begin to see their mouths and eyes. It’s horrifying in the same repulsive, engrossing way as a car accident, and it’s impossible to look away, just like the rest of the show.

As I said above, the backgrounds are gorgeous, with significant attention to the details of real life. Flowers of Evil’s world is a run-down, dirty one, and the background art conveys every speck of grime flawlessly. Many anime have pretty backgrounds that reflect real locations, but I can’t remember the last time I saw backgrounds that were detailed in this way. The location scouters might have purposefully looked for the rustiest signs in town, but the background artists did a great job carrying over every bit of rust. Just like the animation style, the backgrounds carry over the show’s gross, oily feeling, creating a solid front to make the viewer uncomfortable.

One of the aspects I enjoyed most about the animation was its ability to remain objective because of the focus of the film shots. Many of the actions are shot from far away so a context is given to all of the actions. It helps emphasize the difference between the calm outer world, and chaotic turmoil that is inside Kasuga’s mind.

OVERALL: All too often anime is used an a means of escaping the real world through fantasy and ideals. Flowers of Evil instead sets about shattering all of the youthful naiveté of both the cast and audience. The rotoscoping of real live footage only kicks it up a notch by incorporating real people and actions into the story. These metafictional elements create an evocative physical response in the viewer that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

Flowers of Evil is a critique on self identity and adolescence. It is a slow-paced, thought-provoking series. I found it to be quite revolutionary in the realms of gender roles, power, and in the style of animation. This is the must watch of the year for anime fans. Casual anime fans and first time watchers may be appalled and thrown off by the style, pace, and plot of Flowers of Evil. However, I’d recommend just going with the flow and giving this series a shot. You may not “like it”, but it will definitely change your perceptions of what anime is and can be.

OVERALL: Flowers of Evil isn’t fun to watch by any means. It’s a slow, ugly look at adolescence, and every aspect of the show does an excellent job of contributing to the show’s overall meaning. Some people will balk at how different this anime is, but that’s part of what makes it so great in my eyes. The show’s creators saw a way to convey the characters’ perversions, and they went after it wholeheartedly with a perfect combination of art, animation, and sound design to complement the story and characters. The people behind Flowers of Evil took chances, and they largely paid off in making an unusual, unforgettable look at the ugliness of adolescent angst. I do think the show’s pacing could have been sped up, but in the end that’s part of what makes Flowers of Evil the grueling experience it is. This show isn’t quite perfect, but it stands out for being bold enough to deviate from the norm with the goal of telling a standard story in an alienating manner. Even if I don’t feel up to rewatching this for years, it’s imprinted itself upon my psyche for being so damn unnerving and willing to show the ugliness of youth.


One thought on “Flowers of Evil

  1. I really appreciate the analysis provided in these reviews on what is no doubt a super controversial series! Thanks for providing this perspective!

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