David: In those first hours when this anime premiered, I hated it based on the first image of Nakamura’s potato head caught mid-blink. Without watching a single episode, I wrote the show off as the biggest blunder of the season and opted to pretend this thing didn’t exist. At least that was the idea, but people wouldn’t stop screeching about how awful it was. Everyone was so desperate to let their opinion be known about this show that I couldn’t help but to feel like I wanted to have some opinions of my own.
The Flowers of Evil is a psychological drama about a book nerd named Kasuga who’s afflicted with a sense of self-importance. In this episode, nothing happens until the end, and that seems to be exactly the point. Yes, the animation and art style, if you could call tracing over video a style, is wonky, unsettling, and admittedly not very well made, but all of it feels deliberate. Flowers is making a conscious effort to repulse and trample on everyone’s idea of how the adaptation should be handled. While the manga is breezy material that can be read up to the latest chapter in an afternoon, the TV series knocks the pace down to a crawl, eroding away the comic veneer of the source that softens the impression left by otherwise unlikeable people caught in a sequence of increasingly bizarre scenarios. In a way, the TV series seems to evoke a sense of dread and discomfort that the manga only suggested it was aiming for.
The pivotal character has yet to even be fully introduced aside from her famous confrontation with her teacher (the only correct translation is “Shitbug” by the way) so I struggle to declare The Flowers of Evil brilliant or the worst thing I’ve ever watched at this point. But I am interested to keep watching, even with a thorough knowledge of how things play out in the manga.
Ink: If poetry is proof that one picture is worth one thousand words, than the anime adaptation of Aku no Hana proves that one manga panel is worth several frames per second (and then some). The obvious question, however, is “why rotoscoping?” I think David is 100% right in calling out its deliberate feel, and I’ll go one step further and call it brilliant because of how the technique visually reflects the implied themes in the manga that have, because of the pacing of this first episode, yet to reveal themselves. Like David, I couldn’t help but be inundated by tweets from people complaining about this series. And likewise, I was eager to see what drew such ire. After I watched this episode, the reason became clear: truly experiencing this episode requires patience — a trait generally not pandered to by anime but very much required for poetry (the identification with which is the root of the protagonist’s excuse for his feelings of social isolation).
If you follow along with the manga, this episode covers the first eighteen pages (or first half of the first chapter). Aside from making viewers focus on slowly panning and still shots of suburban scenery (often with some sense of disfigurement: a sign with bent metal corner, a ripped flyer) to evoke a warped atmosphere, the anime also takes some much appreciated liberties by featuring Kasuga internalizing the poetry of his kindred soul, the French poet Baudelaire. Like the restrained pacing, this poetic pontification is completely different from the manga and draws a commendable air of eeriness that helps distinguish character, tone, and tension. Also, I have to mention that it’s good to see Aku no Hana not just name dropping but actually using translated passages from Baudelaire’s work. Aside from that which I and David have mentioned, I also love the fact that teens sound like teens and not hyper five-year-olds and that, because of the rotoscoping, movement seems an odd balance between real and surreal. And although I despise the OP for all its upbeat brightness with white background, black text, and green, vine-like accents, I love the ED for its black background with white text, red accents, and “the flower” and think the OP/ED pairing a deliberate exploitation of the forgettable emptiness of euphonious pop in order to contrast and consequently emphasize the disturbingly haunting nature of the bizarre.
Aku no Hana is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.com