Aku no Hana: The Breakdown

21 Apr

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By: Stephanie Weirich

So. Guys. Aku no Hana, yes? Yes.

You’ve either watched this show, or you haven’t, and chances are, if you haven’t but you’re at all active in the otaku community, you’ve heard talk of it. Mostly angry talk. Furious, FUCK EVERYTHING IN LIFE talk. That’s right, this show is the absolute most reviled show of the season.

If you’re a reasonable individual who has managed to escape all rumblings surrounding Aku no Hana, you might be asking yourself why. The why is really quite simple. And it’s because it looks like this:

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And this:

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Did you just instinctively recoil at the hideousness of these characters? Did you maybe utter a sound that denotes grotesquery? I hope you did. Because I think you’re supposed to.

The basic plot of Aku no Hana is this: a boy named Kasuga who’s living in a dying Japanese town is really, super, incredibly into the works of the French poet Baudelaire. Specifically his definitive work, Les Fleur De Mal, a.k.a Aku no Hana, a.k.a The Flowers of Evil. He spends his days in a high schooler’s typical malaise, hanging out with his strange and not very bright friends while secretly reading The Flowers of Evil. He’s also secretly in love with the class beauty Saeki.

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As he reads his book, and allows himself to be taken away by Baudelaire’s meditations on sexual evil, a hairy black flower is shown growing within him. This flower fully bursts into terrifying bloom when he finds himself in his homeroom classroom after hours and he just happens to end up stealing Saeki’s gym clothes. He makes this face while doing it:

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Unfortunately for him, he’s caught by a scrappy, angry lass by the name of Nakamura.

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She actually hates everything. She calls their teacher a shithead in the middle of class. She glares at him like she would gladly turn his face skin into a tortilla and use it to eat the rest of him as tacos. She’s the last person anyone would want to be in debt to. And poor Kasuga has found himself in that terrible position.

But is it really poor Kasuga? Afterall, he did steal the gym clothes of his crush after fondling them in a clearly sexual manner. He has no real remorse about doing it. He only has remorse about being outed and having everyone in his class despise him for being a pervert. He could give Saeki back her clothes, he could apologize, he could take responsibility, but instead, he makes a contract with the angriest girl in the world to avoid being found out. All in all, Kasuga is kind of a piece of shit. The sexual evil of puberty that lies at his very core is in full bloom.
This is why I think you’re supposed to find the animation horrible—disgusting even. Because these kids are terrible. They’re going through puberty, which is also terrible. And they’re doing it within a culture that has some serious issues with sexuality.

Side note here. I realize that Japan can give the impression of being a pervert’s wonderland. And to some extent, that’s true, but not in the way you might think. Much of this is deeply entrenched in the concept of tatemae and honne: your public and private face. These concepts deeply inform much of Japanese cultural and social norms. You have the face and opinion that you present to the public—the façade you are obligated to show—and then you have your true desires. Very often, these are entirely counter to one another. So while your tatemae might be the respectable head of a company, your honne might be to dress as a baby and have a woman feed you with a bottle. But one is never supposed to interfere with the other. Specifically, your honne is never supposed to taint your tatemae. Trying to wholly separate these two is taxing, unbelievably so, and it leads to a LOT of weirdness. This makes the implications of sex and what it means within Japanese culture difficult to pin down. While the country is littered with host and hostess clubs and love hotels and porn vending machines, they have extremely strict censorship laws. You will never see an entire penis in Japanese pornography (incidentally, this is what gave birth to the beast that we all know and love: tentacle porn). The average age that a Japanese teenager experiences their first kiss is 19. They have one of the lowest birth rates in the 1st world. Sex is something that’s always lurking in the background, but rarely confronted. All in all, it’s intensely problematic, particularly for teenagers. I can tell you that that doesn’t stop them from being obsessed with it, just like teenagers from any other country. I cannot tell you how many times I had Junior High students ask me if I liked to play the sex. True story.

What I’m getting at here is that Aku no Hana is saying something important about puberty and the sexual messiness that it inspires and how problematic that can be when you’re a stupid kid who is nothing but a wet pile of hormones and misguided impulses. It’s truly a shame that that wealth of subtext is being overlooked so that otaku can scream about how hideous the art is.

Which, while I’m at it, the art isn’t terrible. At least not the background art. It’s actually stunningly beautiful and completely true to life. I mean, look at it:

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It’s fucking gorgeous! The detail knocks the wind out of me and brings back fond memories of living in a town that looked quite similar to this one. That illustrated realism, in combination with the rotoscoped realism lends itself entirely to the oppressive tone of the whole show.

Because yeah, this show—where in admittedly a lot hasn’t happened—is ominous. One could even say creepy. I haven’t read the manga, so I could not tell you why that is or what’s going to become of it all, but I can tell you that this show succeeds at mood and atmosphere.

The director of this show, Hiroshi Nagahama, when approached to adapt the manga into an anime, originally said no. He didn’t see the point in creating an animated version of the manga. He thought it was a creative waste and unnecessary since the manga already existed (this is a guy after my own heart). Eventually, he acquiesced, but only in order to do something experimental that reflected the awfulness of the characters and the situations that they find themselves in. Hence the rotoscoping technique. The manga creator, Shūzō Oshimi, was totally into this shit. Bless his heart.

This creative experiment is part of why I love this show so much, only 2 episodes in. The larger part of it is because it harkens back to the spirit of what brought me to anime in the first place: the sense that I had never seen anything like this before. Anime was an art form that filled me with a delight that only truly new things bring. The style, the stories, the distinct difference of it all was something I couldn’t tear myself from. Aku no Hana has that same feeling. It’s a sign of a potential sea change.

So to the haters, I want to ask, why you so mad bro? If you want to watch traditional anime that plays it safe and delivers characters with hair that defy all laws of gravity and color theory who stare at you with huge dewy eyes, well there are huge amounts of that out there. You could literally watch any other show airing this season and get that fix. And Aku no Hana doesn’t give a fuck about what you want from it, because it’s going to be what it is, which is something completely new.

Which also plays into my biggest issue with the complaints about this series: the Western entitlement of it all. Here’s the thing you always need to remember—the Japanese do not care about you. They do not care about selling their products to you, particularly as it pertains to their entertainment. They create art for themselves, period. And for them, this is a medium that’s been around for generations and Aku no Hana is something that’s genuinely revolutionary within the context of anime. They have every right to want to push anime, as a medium, forward leaps and bounds by creating a show like this. And they don’t care whether you like it or not. It would be like the Japanese complaining about Ulysses because it’s not like light novels or any other book out there. It’s all about context guys.

And I for one, am going to ride this through to the end.

Which, speaking of ends, that ending theme guys. HOLY SHIT. I can’t even. I’mma find it and post it. That’s a threat.

If you disagree, agree, or feel something in between those feelings, let me know in my inbox!

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4 Responses to “Aku no Hana: The Breakdown”

  1. Artemis April 22, 2013 at 12:11 am #

    That final paragraph regarding Western entitlement: YES. Thank you.
    So far I’m also actually quite liking the artwork, both on its own merits and because it’s adding something different to the mix and daring to be experimental. I think the pacing could be improved, but there’s still time for that yet, and I think we can all agree we’ve seen far worse.

    • entropypieplate April 23, 2013 at 4:13 am #

      Thank you! It’s been really difficult watching the hate unfold online purely because of how entitled and out of touch it all is. There’s a massive misreading taking place by a lot of otaku/weeaboo’s (I really hate that term) in regards to what anime’s function is in the Western world. There are far too many people who seem to think that some part of it, if not all of it, is made for them and that is simply not true. I also think that the people who hate the animation hate it because it’s no longer as titillating when the aggressor doesn’t look all kinds of kawaii moe, and instead is vaguely terrifying. Either way, it’s fascinating.

  2. Slugkid July 6, 2013 at 12:38 am #

    I’ve been watching up to episode 8, and though I do agree that the art is great, and it IS nice to see a wholly different anime, it is really making me angry, inside. Kawamura is making me seriously angry. Each time the main character is alone, being depressive (and depressing), and lacking character as usual, I’m like “Oh, no… Oh, no, here she comes…” And, bam. Kawamura shows up and makes me feel like murdering her. It really is putting me in a bad mood, but I can’t seem to stop watching, I just want to know what happens next… I’ll probably keep watching it, but I don’t think I’m enjoying it, and I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone. This is a kind of sadism that seriously ticks me off.

    Unless I’m not getting the point of it all, which very well may be the case.

    • entropypieplate July 9, 2013 at 9:17 pm #

      Thanks for the comment! Honestly, Aku no Hana is not a show that’s easily enjoyable. It’s not an easy viewing experience, and it’s not easy on its audience. It very much wants you to empathize with the characters and their discontent by forcing you to live with them in their unremarkable daily lives. It makes for an awkward and at times infuriating experience. For me, personally, it was worth it in the end. Especially because in the last several episodes you get to see more of what makes Nakamura tick. You start to understand that she’s a terribly troubled girl who is intensely frustrated by the world she lives in and the people around her and her experience in the world. For me, Nakamura went from insane super bitch to vulnerable human being in those last couple of episodes. So I would say keep with it, unless it’s really making you feel that angry. At which point, I would say take a break for a while, re-evaluate and go from there. Either way, if you finish the show, come back and let me know what you thought about it in the end!

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