ANIME & MANGA - Review
11:00 - 30th January 2016, by Andrew Osmond

Flowers of Evil

Broadcast in 2013, Flowers of Evil divided anime fans both for its style and subject. In some ways, it’s familiar territory; it’s about high-schoolers, and what happens when a boy meets a really strange girl. But it’s also about bullying, blackmail and victimisation. The girl is brutal and inscrutable, a self-proclaimed weirdo at the back of class. Her victim thinks he’s sensitive and deep; and before long, he’ll prove it is possible to be a more pathetic wuss than Shinji in Evangelion.

Still interested? Good, because this is a gripping teen drama, with dollops of black comedy, moments of painful lyricism, and a real human sympathy under the cruelty. Our ‘hero,’ Takao Kasuga, is a gawky geek with a passion for foreign poetry, and especially for the book Flowers of Evil, by 19th century French poet Charles Baudelaire. Its heavy words seem to express Takao’s secret love for a girl in his class, the beautiful Saeki. Takao thinks his feelings are deeply pure and spiritual. That’s until he has the chance to steal Saeki’s sports clothes from the classroom – and he does.

Of course Takao is horrified by his crime. Surely he can take the clothes back, put things right? But (heh heh) it’s too late. Weird girl Nakamura knows what Takao did, and wants him to face up to being a dirty little pervert. Before long, Nakamura is stripping Takao naked in the library, though that’s nothing compared to the psychological stripping she’ll give him. At times Nakamura is as clinical in her tortures as Hannibal Lecter; then she’ll bay like a banshee and overwhelm Takao like a monstrous rapist. It’s as if Britain’s gormless Adrian Mole ran into Ellen Page’s castrating avenger from Hard Candy.

Flowers of Evil is presented very differently from your usual anime. It’s rotoscoped, which means that it was actually filmed with real actors, then traced over in animation. The result is a strange quasi-realism, highlighting people’s small artless shifts and movements, like Takao scratching his bum in the first episode. It gives the story a woozily detached patina, though it’s far less trippy than, say, Richard Linklater’s film Waking Life. Some people find the look repulsive, and a betrayal of animation; but then Flowers of Evil was directed by Hiroshi Nagahama, who’s worked for decades in more conventional anime, including the Mushi-shi series.

Beyond the rotoscoping, Flowers’ arty motifs may rub people the wrong way. Disembodied voices intone the poems of Baudelaire. There are furry, bristly black flowers with alien eyes; these first appear as drawings on Takao’s book, before popping up in dreams and surreal cutaways. Of course they illustrate Takao’s growing pains, his burgeoning, corrupt teen libido that Nakamura smells on him. Less defensibly, there are some really slow parts; even if you relish moody, reflective drama, Flowers could still have benefited from shedding a couple of episodes.

The last instalment has a payoff that’s kind of satisfying, but then rather spoils it by flashing up a montage of scenes from the next part of the story, which you can only read in manga form. (The strip, by Shuzo Oshimi, is in English from Vertical.) We know anime often cuts the source manga short, but rubbing it in like that feels downright rude.

It’s great if you can tolerate the wuss protagonist and a very ‘alternative’ presentation.
SCORE: 4/5
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