I am feeling depressed today, as my image of Japanese schools has been irreparably tarnished. Like many weeaboos I have often fantasised about attending one of Japan’s educational institutes and who could blame me? If anime is to be believed, Japanese schools are colourful places frequented by friendly professors and cute girls who wear risqué uniforms. Sure beats the bully infested dilapidated comprehensive I studied at. Sadly, Flowers of Evil has exposed how the rising sun’s academies are all too similar to western ones. The realistic rotoscope visuals show that Japanese school buildings mirror their European counterparts when it comes to mundane architecture. To make matters worse it appears that the pupils who learn there are more disturbed than any local delinquents I have ever encountered.
Kasuga Takao is a middle school bibliophile who whiles away his days consuming copious amounts of literature. His favourite paperback is the titular Flowers of Evil – a collection of dark poetry, which he absently forgets in class one day. Unable to survive without Charles Baudelaire’s poems Kasuga decides to return to his seemingly vacant school building in order to reclaim the book. Once there he stumbles upon a bag containing class sweetheart Nanako Saeki’s PE gear. Puberty being what it is, Kasuga is unable to resist rummaging through the bag… until a loud noise interrupts him. In a moment of pure panic Kasuga flees from the scene carrying Saeki’s gym clothes in tow.
The following day Saeki reports that her gym gear has been nabbed, sparking rumours that a deviant thief is on the prowl. Unfortunately for Kasuga his misdemeanour did not go undetected. Class troublemaker Sawa Nakamura witnessed the theft and uses this knowledge to intimidate Kasuga into entering a contract of subservience. Nakamura, an outcast who has a reputation for swearing at teachers and flunking exams, wishes for Kasuga to awaken his inner pervert. Under duress she forces the protagonist to commit acts of vandalism and makes him confess his feelings of love to Saeki (under the stipulation that he wear Saeki’s bloomers whilst asking her out.) Amazingly Saeki agrees to date Kasuga, so perhaps every cloud has a silver lining? Time will tell if the fledgling romance can withstand Nakamura’s assaults on Kasuga’s fragile psyche.
My rating for Flowers of Evil is four stars. The anime is an artistic adaptation of Shūzō Oshimi’s twisted coming of age manga. It’s not a pleasant experience, but captivating to watch nonetheless. Kasuga’s self destruction is much like an impending car accident – you know it’s not going to be pretty but a primal instinct prevents you from averting your eyes. The series is tough to recommend for casual audiences however. The slow paced narrative, which is content to spend half an episode showing the title character amble along quietly, will test the patience of some viewers. Likewise the polarising decision to rotoscope visuals (accomplished by drawing over live action footage) may irk lovers of traditional anime artwork. It didn’t bother me too much, although I was left wondering why character facial features kept vanishing and why the studio didn’t just decide to make a live action adaptation instead.
Whether you love or loathe Flowers of Evil is dependent on your threshold for deeply flawed characters. Shinji… um I mean Kasuga is weak willed, whiney and prone to overreaction. Nakamura is a mentally disturbed individual who just wants to see the world drown in faecal matter. She isn’t relatable at all, although I can sort of comprehend her distain for others given how fickle her classmates are. On the flip side Saeki is too sweet and forgiving. Despite being humiliated on multiple occasions she keeps returning to Kasuga for more punishment, much like a battered housewife.
Needless to say, Flowers of Evil is one of those animes you have to be in the right mood to watch. Regrettably overcoming all those barriers to entry will not reward you with a satisfying finale, as it all culminates in a cliffhanger teasing a second season that is unlikely to ever air. You’ll have to read the source material to see how the remainder of the story pans out. On the plus side the manga should be free of director Hiroshi Nagahama’s pretentious quirks, which I suspect were a factor in the show’s poor sales figures.