FEATURE: Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog: "Flowers of Evil"
A small sin blossoms into a huge problem in this 2013 TV anime about a twisted teenage love triangle
What's Cruising the “Crunchy-Catalog”?
Selecting a new anime to watch may not be as difficult as interpreting the work of 19th century French Symbolist poets, but a little guidance certainly couldn't hurt. Consider “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog” to be your friendly literature tutor. Each week we provide additional information and cultural context to help anime fans decide whether or not they'd like to take an unknown series for a test drive.
What's Flowers of Evil?
Flowers of Evil is a 2013 TV anime with direction by Hiroshi Nagahama and animation by Zexcs. The series is based on the Aku no Hana manga by Shūzō Oshimi, which was serialized in Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine from 2009 – 2014. The series takes its title from Les Fleurs du mal, a collection of poetry by Charles Baudelaire. Crunchyroll describes Flowers of Evil as follows:
"FLOWERS OF EVIL revolves around Takao Kasuga, who is caught stealing Nanako Saeki's gym clothes by Sawa Nakamura whose cold attitude makes her generally disliked by everyone. In exchange for her silence, he makes a ‘contract’ with her, in which he must abide by all of her unreasonable demands. Initially torturous, Kasuga wants out until one day when things start to change between them..."
Essentially, Flowers of Evil is a dark drama with elements of adolescent romance and psychological suspense. The series is a slow-burn, digging deep into the psyches of a trio of troubled youths whose complicated emotional and psychological growth belies the prosaic setting of their sleepy mountain town.
The Art of Rotoscoping.
The most striking visual element of Flowers of Evil is the extensive use of rotoscoping, a technique that isn't terribly common in Japanese television animation. Rotoscoping involves animators tracing over live action footage frame-by-frame, a labor-intensive process that is greatly aided by modern computers.
The rotoscoping in Flowers of Evil was a bold directorial choice, one to which many fans of the original manga (which has a more traditional visual aesthetic) objected. However, the rotoscoping not only allows Flowers of Evil to maintain a high level of verisimilitude – especially with regards to the subtle nuances of facial expressions – but it also allows the animators to make heavy use of the environment as a metaphor for the minds of the characters.
When Kasuga is happy, his imagination paints the world around him as a bright place filled with blue skies and sunshine. When he sinks into the depths of despair, the world transforms into an inky hellscape with a blood-shot horizon, overrun with prickly thistles sporting accusatory eyes, the titular "flowers of evil".
The Audio Landscape.
The music and sound design of Flowers of Evil are also especially strong. As Kasuga descends deeper and deeper into his internal crisis, his stress is represented by the slithering, scuttling sound of the flowers of evil growing within his heart. The ending theme in particular (“Hana – a last flower” by ASA-CHANG and Junray) is great at conveying a sense of psychological disquiet and creeping unease.
The Ordinary and the Perverse.
There's a Japanese proverb that translates as follows: “The protruding nail gets hammered down.” In Japan, enormous social pressure is brought to bear on young people, encouraging them to conserve and conform, to not stick out, to not make waves. Individual expression takes a backseat to familial duty, and maintaining a sterling reputation in the eyes of one's peers and neighbors is paramount.
Flowers of Evil is so effective as a drama because it shows both sides of this equation, grounding the story in the ordinary so that the perverse feels increasingly extreme by comparison. For every shot of Kasuga freaking out, there's a reaction shot of some ordinary person simply going about their everyday life, unaffected by the weighty emotional concerns of the protagonists.
Because of this juxtaposition, all of the conflicts at the heart of Flowers of Evil – Kasuga's “perversion”, Saeki's practice of concealing her pain and confusion behind an impregnable smile, and Nakamura's desperate desire to flee to “the other side” – become magnified in their significance.
The Tale Continues.
Crunchyroll currently streams Flowers of Evil in 77 territories worldwide. The series is available in the original Japanese with subtitles in English, Latin American Spanish, and Portuguese. Flowers of Evil is also released on DVD and Bluray in North America by Sentai Filmworks, and all 11 volumes of the original Flowers of Evil manga are available in an English language edition from Vertical, Inc..
If you're in the mood for a drama with deliberate pacing, unique visuals, strong performances, an acidic sense of humor, and an appreciation for the absurdities of teenage angst, consider giving Flowers of Evil a try. Be warned, though. It's an emotionally draining experience, especially if you see some part of yourself in the characters, in the postures that they assume in public, and in the masks that they wear to hide their true selves from the rest of the world.
Is there a series in Crunchyroll's catalog that you think needs some more love and attention? Please send in your suggestions via e-mail to [email protected] or post a Tweet to @gooberzilla. Your pick could inspire the next installment of “Cruising the Crunchy-Catalog”!
Paul Chapman is the host of The Greatest Movie EVER! Podcast and GME! Anime Fun Time.