Flowers Of Evil (Cert 12)
3 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 340 minutes approx.
Bookworm Takao Kasuga inadvertently leaves his favourite tome, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers Of Evil) by Charles Baudelaire, at school one day. Upon returning to retrieve it, he accidentally discovers the gym bag of fellow classmate Nanako Saeki, the girl he secretly crushes on. Shocked by his own impulse, Kasuga takes the gym bag home with him but, wracked with guilt, plans on returning it the next day.
Unfortunately Saeki has already reported it stolen while rumours of a pervert breaking into the school quickly spread. Already struggling with his own disgust, Kasuga is blackmailed by the class misfit Sawa Nakamura, who knows he stole the gym bag and forces him into entering into a “contract” with her. The first act is to set Saeki and Kasuga up on a date but when a relationship blossoms, Nakamura decides to manipulate their downfall.
It seems that if there is a paucity of ideas in anime then go for high school shenanigans – cute girls in school uniforms are a sure fire hit. Plus we have a potential love triangle between the tsundere girl, the nerdy, pervy boy and the sweet class angel. But a show can win you over no matter how hackneyed the plot may be – the secret is in the presentation. And this is where Flowers Of Evil comes into its own and then some.
Shūzō Oshimi’s manga was a popular hit due to its adult approach and subversions of the themes outlined above, proffering a story completely unlike every other high school drama or fan service harem comedy. But this anime adaptation from director Hiroshi Nagahama left fans of manga aghast due to the use of the rotoscoping animation technique.
At first it is a shock – the faces often lifeless, sketchy details and the immaculate body movements make for an eerie experience, but one becomes acclimatised very quickly. Coupled with the nature of the story and the highly emotional content, it soon becomes apparent that Nagahama is absolutely vindicated for his choice to use rotoscoping.
Oshimi’s manga featured traditional character designs but the nuances rotoscoping brings to the personalities and emotional reactions of the cast could not have been replicated with standard “cartoon” figures – nor would the story carry any palpable resonance or gravitas that this near-as-authentic animation technique provides. This is echoed in the stunning vocal performances of Shin’ichirō Ueda, Mariya Ise and Yōko Hikasa.
Aside from the controversial animation, the story itself is a taut, spiralling psychological drama that makes every other high school set anime drama seem like a CBeebies show. This is dark, relentlessly dark and unforgiving, making no apologies for its portrayal of hormonal teens trying to find their place in the world, making the BBFC’s 12 rating a surprise due to the nature of the material and the frequent use of bad language.
At the risk of sounding pretentious this could loosely be labelled an “arthouse” anime, with some scenes being complete dead air, while the first five minutes of one episode is literally Kasuga and Nakamura silently walking home.
The deceptive title may suggest a horror story but actually refers to the aforementioned book, although the symbolism is that every action taken by Kasuga, each development in his relationship with Saeki and each stage of Nakamura’s destructive plan is a new flower blooming in the fertile grounds of the field of life’s disappointments.
Kasuga and Saeki may appear central to the whole story but Nakamura is its fulcrum, her presence setting off a chain reaction of misery and suffering as per her own wanton designs of self-hatred and disillusionment. Yet the irony is that Kasuga and Saeki would never have got together had Nakamura not united them but her intention is not to play matchmaker by any stretch of the imagination.
Despite being a nice guy Kasuga is very weak willed, evident in how easily Nakamura mentally and physically overwhelms him. At the start of their “contract” Nakamura forcibly strips Kasuga of his clothes and dresses him in Saeki’s gym outfit so he can “feel” Saeki on his skin, all the while accusing HIM of being a pervert! Nakamura then forces Kasuga to wear the gym outfit under his clothes for his date with Saeki, only to deliberately spoil it at the end.
This is just a sample of the lengths Nakamura goes to wreck the relationship yet each time it appears to backfire, forcing her to up the ante. But being weak, Kasuga finds himself becoming oddly liberated by Nakamura and after she encourages him to let out his feelings in a violent and destructive confession, Kasuga finds himself torn between the two girls.
Amidst this turmoil Saeki is annoyingly passive, accepting Kasuga’s odd behaviour as a gesture of his interest in her because “that’s how boys are.” Is Saeki a product of a traditional family where the woman is naturally submissive or is she also damaged in her perception of what love should be? And what is driving Nakamura to be so destructive?
Unfortunately no answers are forthcoming as the series ends on an Evangelion style descent into madness, split between a recap of the previous episodes and a tantalising preview of what is to come, but with no second series in sight, we appear to be left hanging where we are.
This is unquestionably infuriating, regardless of one’s feelings about the animation but everything up until this point is simply a marvel to behold and very immersive. Ignore the conventional set-up, this is unequivocally the breath of fresh air anime has been screaming for over the past few years, both in terms of story and presentation, and engages the audience on an emotional level hitherto reached.
If it wasn’t for the haphazard last episode, I would happily declare this “Anime of the Year”, but as it stands, Flowers Of Evil is a ground breaking and deeply affecting anime experience, rich with intelligent scripting, enthralling storytelling and yes, astounding animation.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 1 Only:
Rating – **** ½
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