Aku no Hana Final Wrap Up: Japanese Personhood and the Broken Educational System

28 Jul

By: Stephanie Weirich

aku-no-hana flower1stpic

What is concealed is the flower,
What is not concealed cannot be the flower.
-Ze-ami, 14th Century Noh Master

Greetings ladies and gents! So good to see you again. It’s great to be back here, talking about our favorite sex pervert show, Aku no Hana, isn’t it? And what exactly do I have for you today? Well, I figured it was about time to really get into this show and what it all meant, now that it’s over (maybe? I hope in my heart of hearts that there’s a second season, because if there isn’t, I WILL RUIN SOMEONE) and we can step back and look at the bigger picture. Is that agreeable to y’all? Well fucking ahoy then!

Oh, and for those of you joining us for the first time, this is going to be a very spoilery analysis of the series Aku no Hana. It’s a classic boy meets girl(s), steals some gym clothes from his crush, makes a contract with the human equivalent of a Honey Badger who catches him stealing said gym clothes and through her guidance he learns to stop worrying and love his perversion type story. Look here to find recaps of each episode if you’re so inclined. Also, this is all my personal opinion and I believe any piece of art can have multiple readings and interpretations, so your mileage with my analysis may vary. I am not saying that I am definitively right about anything I say herein. I am merely offering my interpretation. With that out of the way, let’s get all up in it!

Nakamura is ready

Nakamura is ready

You may have noticed I opened this up with a fancy quote from a super dead dude. Well, it’s because that super dead dude is speaking some invaluable truth about what it means to be nihonjin, or Japanese. I also think it very nicely gets at one of Aku no Hana’s core themes. That core theme being: how do we reconcile our inner self with the outside world when that outside world rejects all that we are? What do we conceal and why? What do we choose to show and why? It’s also a classic meditation on the concept of the individual vs. the group that has featured prominently in Japanese thought and writings for quite literally hundreds of years. Aku no Hana just happens to be the first modern series I have seen that tackles that divisive ideology right at the beginning, when the inner conflict between self and group begins: Junior High School.

It is important to realize why this aspect alone elevates Aku no Hana to the level of importance that it has. And for that importance to be conveyed, we need some background on the Japanese school system. I think that we here in the West, and in America in particular, have an idea that Japan’s school system is vastly superior to ours. We’ve been shown statistics about literacy and retention rates, test scores that trumpet their vastly more accomplished math and science understanding, and we’ve been shown images—especially in anime—of happy students, living idyllic school lives, all getting along as one big homogenous group. While there might be a sliver of truth to all of these representations, there is much more to it that’s being hidden behind the highly organized façade.

What do I mean, exactly? Yes, Japan has one of the highest literacy rates in the 1st world and education through Junior High is compulsory and the vast majority of students will continue onward to high school. However, that doesn’t mean that they all want to, it’s just a matter of meeting the rigid expectations of the society they live in and the parents that raised them. And yes, they do trump us in math and science, but much of that is owed to the Japanese educational style, which pushes rote memorization over actual learning. Math, and to a certain degree science, can very comfortably be mastered through rote memorization; however, when you look at scores in things like English, you find that this method of education has severe shortcomings. And yes, while there are happy students who get along, ijime, or bullying, is a facet of everyday school life that is carried out by both students and teachers who might feel as though a particular student is failing to fall in line with the needs of the group.

Pictured: Normal students

Pictured: Normal students

The Japanese educational system has a very traditional goal in mind that is best summed up through this handy quote from Arinori Mori: “Education in Japan is not intended to create people accomplished in the techniques of the arts and sciences, but rather to manufacture the persons required by the state.”. Who is Arinori Mori and why should this quote matter? Well, he was Japan’s first education minister who set the stage for what schools in Japan would be, and while on the surface, that ethos has changed over time from when he first said this all the way back in 1885, the truth of the matter is that the educational system hasn’t changed all that much in terms of the desired outcome for the students that it produces.

The basics of school socialization are thus: elementary schools teach children to be individuals. They are given a sort of attenuated freedom wherein they learn through play and dictate how and what they will focus on. They are the masters of their domain. There is very little pressure put upon them during this stage of their lives and they are mostly just allowed to be children. This is important, because it is the only time in their adolescence where they will freely be allowed to just act like kids. But why do I say attenuated freedom then? It’s because this is a freedom that is meted out by the adults in their lives, and thus it teaches them for the very first time to be dependent upon those acting in the state’s best interest. They both give that freedom, and then take it away.

Personal anecdote time! While living in Japan, I taught both elementary and junior high students. Most notably, I would teach at schools that fed into each other i.e. the elementary schools I taught at fed into the junior highs that I taught at. So I got to see these students grow from care-free children into completely shell shocked mini adults. This was owed solely to how completely different the elementary school experience was from the junior high experience. I one day was talking to one of my junior high co-teachers about how different the two were. She asked me what I meant and I said that in elementary school, the kids seemed to be having so much fun, that they seemed allowed to just enjoy themselves, whereas in junior high it was much more disciplined with many more rules. She agreed with this and said that children were allowed to have fun in elementary school because afterwards, they would be adults and their lives would be troublesome. When I asked her why that was the case, she sighed, shrugged and said shikataganai, or it can’t be helped. Junior high, she explained was when the kids were taught what it meant to be Japanese and that that was very important so that they could get along in society when they were no longer taken care of by schools and their parents. This was one of the more illuminating and sobering conversations I had while there. It also goes a long way towards explaining why junior high is a pivotal moment in the lives of Japanese kids and hence why it’s so important that Aku no Hana is examining this time period in such a provocative manner.

But what does it mean when we say it teaches them to be Japanese? That all goes back into the quote from Arinori Mori. Junior high is the first time they are socialized to be a cog in the social machine, as opposed to an individual who stands outside of it. They are taught that individuality, personal feelings and deep emotions are something that are important, but that it is equally important that all of that be kept inside. Individuality is meant to be relegated to your honne while your obligation to the group, and to a much larger extent the country that birthed you, is your tatemae. Your individuality is only worthy if it serves a larger goal, which means it only matters if it serves Japan. It is, if you want to be cynical about it, a way of subsuming personality with communal obligation. A way of replacing what individuality actually is with everything that it is not.

This is what I’m driving at with the quote I began this piece with. That true individuality, the true person that is to remain concealed is the flower. That which is not concealed—i.e. the personality shown to all others—cannot be the flower.

Which all brings us back to Aku no Hana (which, hey, all that evil blooming flower imagery really makes a lot more sense now doesn’t it?) and the struggles of both Kasuga and Nakamura. We’re dropped into the series at a pivotal time in Kasuga’s life, when he’s in the depths of his Nihonjin education. He should be dropping the artifice of childhood individuality and becoming what is expected of him. He should not be internalizing the esoteric rhetoric of French authors and pining for the Platonic Ideal that is Saeki. He should not be imagining himself to be special because of his reading habits and his perceived superiority to the group he belongs to. From the very first episode, while it doesn’t seem obvious, everything about Kasuga and his internal thoughts and behavior, his desires and picture of himself, are off. They deviate from the very set course that has been laid before him.

Subverting the dominant paradigm has never been so moist

Subverting the dominant paradigm has never been so moist

That flower that he conceals begins to bloom when he steals Saeki’s gym clothes. The flower becomes ever closer to bursting beyond the confines of Kasuga and subverting his reality and that of his entire town over the course of the series. Much of that is due to Nakamura and her I give zero fucks attitude and her unmitigated need to fall well outside of the expectations that are being thrust upon her at school. Nakamura, and to a slightly lesser extent Kasuga, want the flower that they conceal to be seen by all. They reject the idea that individuality should be hidden in favor of group, or state, allegiance.

As I touched on before in my recaps, Kasuga, Nakamura and Saeki are their own well defined characters, and at the same time, they are representatives of larger themes. Out of the three of them, Saeki is the Japanese ideal. She’s the good student, popular with her peers and teachers. She will make childish transgressions, as she does through her interest in Kasuga, but overall, she’ll grow up, get married and eventually die as she is expected to. She will be the ideal shakaijin, or social being. Nakamura on the other hand, represents the path of the outsider. She rejects the path that was determined for her—the path that was laid out for her before she ever came to exist. She doesn’t fit in with her peer group or amongst adults. She has no friends. She has no interest in being a part of any group—not her family, not her school, not her town, and certainly not Japan as a whole. She has no place in this world that she finds herself in. She is what you get if you’re Japanese and yet reject what it means to be Japanese—which is to say that she is not useful to the state because she declines to be a part of it.

By being made of magic and profanity

By being made of magic and profanity

Which brings us to Kasuga. Kasuga is caught between these two possibilities. He is, when the series opens, on the right path from what anyone can tell. He goes to school, he enjoys time with his parents, and he has friends and a girl he likes. Internally though, his thoughts align with Nakamura. He reads French literature that no one else in town reads or understands. He considers himself smarter than his peers, his parents, and the other townspeople. In Kasuga’s mind, he’s an individual. But this is all fine, because his honne and his tatemae are kept separate, as they should be. He can still climb the ladder to Japanese personhood. Once he steals Saeki’s gym clothes and is caught by Nakamura, that possibility gets further from his reach. When Nakamura becomes a fixture in his life that moves increasingly towards the center of it, he deviates further and further from that predetermined path that Saeki represents towards the path less traveled that Nakamura embodies.

This is what truly makes Kasuga and Nakamura “deviants”. It’s not the sexual overtones of the story, though that is a form of deviancy. It’s the deviation from expected societal and cultural norms that truly categorizes them as deviants. Nakamura believes that Kasuga is the kind of deviant that can be so bad, he can actually destroy the town that they live in. She expects him to upend the social order to such an extreme degree that it can never recover. This goes a long ways towards showing exactly how dangerous deviancy is considered in Japan. Plainly put, if there were more Nakamura’ in Japanese society, said society would cease to function as it does. The paradigm would shift, and a new society would be born. There would be a trial by fire if Nakamura had her way (because that lady wants to burn EVERYTHING).

One of the main reasons that Kasuga is so important and why it is that we’re following this story through his perspective is because of the path that he ultimately comes to represent. This is especially true if we consider the finale to be the series finale and not a season finale (because again, there has been no second season announcement made yet). In those final moments, wherein Kasuga sees all that could be for Nakamura and himself if they continue down her path, he rejects it and proposes something different. He represents the ability to normalize deviancy within the context of Japanese society. Rather than burning everything to the ground, he proposes that they drag themselves out of the shithole that is their town by their own means. He decides that they must set their own destiny—one that is neither the expected path that Saeki represents or the path of utter destruction that Nakamura represents. Kasuga embodies a sense of deviancy that reshapes the society that bred them, I would go so far as to say that what Kasuga represents is a necessary inevitability in regards to Japanese personhood.

Pictured: Self Actualization

Pictured: Self Actualization

Before we can get into exactly why Kasuga is so important, there’s something that needs to be addressed. One thing that Aku no Hana goes to great pains to show is how dilapidated Kasuga, Nakamura and Saeki’s town is. Every scene features run down and rusted out buildings, weeds overtaking asphalt, signs falling to ruins. Everything is dying. This is a very specific visual metaphor meant to represent the state of Japan as a whole. If Nakamura and Kasuga had made it outside of their town the night they tried to get to “the beyond”, Nakamura would have most likely flown into a delightfully foulmouthed rage when she was greeted by a town that was almost exactly like the one she had just left. Contrary to what we might think about Japan based upon pictures of Tokyo, the majority of Japan’s small towns and cities look like the town shown in Aku no Hana. It’s easy to forget that Japan is largely comprised of farming and fishing villages and that things are completely different outside of the large showcase cities like Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto. And just as those cities are seductive for us, they are infinitely more so to much of Japan’s youth. The kids that can’t fit in within these towns eventually leave and head to bigger cities, thus contributing to the perpetual decline of their hometowns. The students I taught in the small farming town I lived in that had any talent or who were event slightly different from their peers very emphatically talked about moving to Tokyo as soon as they were able to. They felt that if there was any place for them to belong in Japan, it would have to be a larger, less conservative city. So while I didn’t live in the town that is depicted in Aku no Hana, I lived in a town that was eerily similar to it. It was a town that was equally difficult on its children and having students that couldn’t cope with the huge amounts of pressure put upon them by their families and the school system was an everyday occurrence.

This is why I say that Kasuga represents a necessary inevitability in Japanese personhood. As pessimistic as it may sound, there are certain societal conventions and cultural traditions that are holding the Japanese back. The very rigid pressure put upon children is chief among them. While the school system is very adept at churning out soldiers of Japanese industry—cogs in a well ordered machine—It is not adept at creating individuals with critical thinking skills and the ability to assess much needed change in a broken system. The Japanese educational system creates followers, not leaders, and while this has worked for generations, Japan is currently reaching a point where they desperately need leaders to change the course that they are on. They need people like Kasuga. They need people who will reject the current social order and work to devise a solution that best serves the country. They need citizens that will reject the standard idea of servitude towards the country that has been at the forefront all of this time, and learn to ACTUALLY serve the country in a dynamic and truly useful capacity. By creating cogs all of these years, the educational system has done a great disservice to the country as a whole. And it is necessary to change that path—to end the all-encompassing decay creeping across the country—RIGHT NOW.

This is a risky proposition though, as the concept of true, outward facing individuality is one that Japan has had a long and contentious history with. We see how risky it is through the way Kasuga, Nakamura and Saeki’s parents relate to them. Saeki’s parents are shown briefly, but in the glimpses we catch it’s obvious that they approve of their daughter because she is the ideal child. Nakamura’s father is outright confused as to why his daughter is the way she is. Nakamura is so different, so aggressive, that it leads to a sort of caring confusion. Kasuga’s parents on the other hand, completely reject him once they know what he’s been up to with Nakamura. They blame themselves, they believe that they raised him wrong; they eventually fall silent and cease to interact with him thinking him a lost cause. This is because Kasuga represents the riskiest path of all: the path of new beginnings. He is on a path that completely changes his life’s predetermined course and travels through unknown territory. And as we all know, change, true change, can be an utterly terrifying prospect purely because of the element of the unknown that it represents.

This is what it might look like

This is what it might look like

Kasuga’s true purpose within the scope of Aku no Hana, is to show everyone that the flower he has been concealing is one of personal individuality and his existence is one that declares that this is a type of flower that should not be concealed. It should be what is open and accessible to all. Each person should allow their flower to bloom beyond the confines of themselves. Each person has an individual within them that should—and needs to be—let out. For the good of all. Kasuga shows us that we’re all a little bit deviant and it’s time that we all knew it. Because that deviancy has the power to change the world as we know it.

So there it is folks! My final wrap up of Aku no Hana. I guess the tl;dr summation is that this show is totes a masterpiece of the trials and tribulations of youth denied its pursuit of potential and freedom. But why say that when I can spend 4,000 words getting DEEP INSIDE THIS THING. I hope that this has shed some light on the more important themes of Aku no Hana as I see them, or at the very least, I hope you enjoyed this and the series.

If you did enjoy this and want to know more about anything I have talked about here in regards to the educational system and Japanese societal constructs, have no fear! The next piece I have planned for you guys is a recommended reading list to get you started on your own path towards integrated knowledge about Japan. So watch this space next weekend for that!

And as always, if you disagree with anything I’ve written (or agree for that matter) please let me know in the comments! Until next week, matta ne!

I know Kasuga, I miss you too

I know Kasuga, I miss you too

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!

24 Jul

By: Stephanie Weirich

Keep this in mind while reading this post

Keep this in mind while reading this post

Hey guys!  How are you?  Me?  I’m GREAT!  Why?  Well, that’s part of what I’m going to talk to you about RIGHT NOW.

As you may have noticed, I have not posted anything this week as I promised.  I apologize for this delay; however, I have a really excellent reason for that.  I was waiting to see how something was going to pan out because it would directly effect Anime Tantrums.  Now that thing has happened and I am so excited to finally tell you about it.

For the foreseeable future, I will be writing anime reviews and list articles for the up and coming entertainment website Sofa King News! You can head over there right now and read the first piece I’ve written for them (also, stick around and check out the other stuff that’s been written as it’s totally worth it)!  I am so happy to be a part of this site.  It’s run by some very talented and passionate people and I am thrilled to add my voice to the mix.

So what, you might be asking, does this mean for Anime Tantrums?  Let me assure you that this site will remain here and will continue to be updated.  I have no intention of stopping what I do here.  But going forward, all episode reviews for currently running shows will be exclusive to Sofa King News.  When a new one goes up, I’ll post the link here so that you know shit is GOING DOWN.  I will also do this for any list articles I write for them.

This means that I am free to do with Anime Tantrums what I have wanted to do all along: write high quality, in depth analysis of past series and other Japanese pop culture phenomena.  My ultimate goal for this site is to get to the point where if you’re looking for pieces that deeply and critically think about anime and what it means to the Japanese, as well as taking a very academic look at culture and society as it relates to anime that’s written in an engaging and conversational manner then this is where you go.

I am hoping to be able to give you guys a tasty treat every week, ideally on Fridays, but definitely at some point over the weekend.  Depending on the complexity of the piece I’m working on and the research involved, it may end up being every other week.  But if that’s the case, I’ll pop in and let you know there’s a delay.

This means that this weekend I PROMISE you will be seeing the final wrap up of Aku no Hana (I am totally, completely, deadly serious this time).

That’s it for now.  Thank you, as always, for reading.  Thank you for sticking with me, and I hope you’ll check out Sofa King News and keep coming back here for the longer pieces I’m going to write.  I’ve got some really great stuff lined up that I’m excited for you all to read!

Until then, matta ne!

Updates and Such!

17 Jul

Hello my dears!  I just wanted to drop a quick update as I’ve been semi-MIA lately.  I happened to be on vacation last week (best friend=lots of day drinking and general laziness) and thus I am a bit behind on everything.  I’m still picking out a show, though I think I have it narrowed down to 2 choices and I’m still working up on my final piece about Aku no Hana as a whole. 

This season is tricky for me.  So far, my reactions to most of the new shows have been relatively subdued, making picking one to analyze on a weekly basis difficult.  Also, see aforementioned summertime laziness.  But I’m hoping to be up and running by the end of this week or the beginning of next week, so fear not.

In the meantime, while you’re waiting, I encourage you all to run out and watch the shit out of Pacific Rim.  Seriously.  I wish I was watching it again RIGHT NOW.  If you love anime/manga and/or Japanese pop culture than this movie is right up your most esteemed alley.  I mean, it’s got Kaijus and mechs.  Fighting each other.  For 2 hours.  And the mech tech is pure anime wish fulfillment.  So if you want to keep seeing big, fun action movies that don’t insult your intelligence and that provide you with a highly rewarding experience then please spend your money on seeing this movie.  Send the message that you want more of this.  It’s important.  Or at least I think so.

Now that I’ve properly proselytized to you about Pacific Rim’s benefits AND updated you on the general goings on with Anime Tantrums, I’m off to…do stuff!  Awesome stuff!  You go do awesome stuff too!  I’ll talk to you very soon!

Summer Anime 2013 Season Update: Or, Decisions.

9 Jul

By: Stephanie Weirich

Howdy y’all!

As you have probably noticed already, the new anime season has started (OMGYAYAYAYAYAY!!!11!!) and you may have thought “Hey, I liked reading those Anime Tantrum posts about that sex pervert show last season.  I wonder if she’ll do that again this season?”.  Well, you bet your ass I am going to do that again!  The question is what am I going to write about?  For that, I don’t yet have an answer, but the season is still young and there are still shows yet to air.  I can tell you what I have watched so far though, so let’s damn do that!

Blood Lad

He's a lad?  With the blood and stuff?

He’s a lad? With the blood and stuff?

This was the first show of the new season that I watched.  Again, I haven’t read the manga for this one but I’m a sucker for shows with a supernatural bent so vampires and demon worlds is right up my alley.  The basic story is that the Blood Lad in question is Staz, a vampire boss in a demon world who has his own territory and gang but who happens to be a big ol’ sloppy Otaku.  He’s obsessed with Japanese culture and the Japanese in general (duh) and dreams of going to the human world to collect more toys and Otaku ephemera.  Then a Japanese girl happens to stumble into the demon world, dies, and then resurrects as a ghost.  Now Staz has to find a way to bring her back to life.  Hijinks ensue.

First question: Did I like it?  I did.  It has some moments where I actually guffawed (Staz’s brief rant about the Final Fantasy series brought the lolz) and for me, it’s always interesting to see what happens when the Japanese comment upon one of their biggest and yet most misunderstood subcultures, i.e. Otakudom.

Second Question: What is the likelihood I will end up writing about it?  Not very high as of now.  It’s an enjoyable show for sure, and I will probably end up watching it casually, but as of yet it’s not one that I feel like I can dig into fully.

Dog & Scissors

I don't know if I can convey more about this series than this picture already has

I don’t know if I can convey more about this series than this picture already has

This was the second show I watched, just to keep up the general silliness feeling that Blood Lad had going for it.  And while the general premise for this show is rather silly, one of the more impressive parts is that it doesn’t play it as a full on farce.  This show is about a boy, Kazuhito, who loves books.  He loves books like WHOA.  Books are the sole reason he has stayed in Tokyo (moving to the country with his family would delay his access to new books, duh).  His favorite author is Akiyama Shinobu and he has, rather misguidedly, that he cannot die until he reads Shinobu’s most anticipated book which is a conclusion to a much beloved series.  I say he’s misguided in this effort because once that’s been said, you know he’s not long for this world.  And what do you know!  He ends up getting shot in the face with a shotgun in a cafe while protecting an insane woman who will not stop writing in her journal during a robbery.  He is then reincarnated as a dog, who is then purchased by the woman who he was protecting.  And she can read his thoughts.  And also, she’s Akiyama Shinobu.  DUN DUN DUN.  Oh, and she loves to chase him with scissors and tie him up.  O_O

First Question: Did I like it?  I….I don’t even know.  The premise is strange, and I’m sure ripe for hijinks and comedic moments, but the pacing is odd as is the tone at certain moments.  I mean, the scene where Kazuhito is killed is played really straight.  Like, shit gets real dark real fast.  And while I appreciate that it’s not going full blown farcical, I don’t know if the show can successfully NOT be entirely farcical with that kind of premise.  All in all, it’s rather uneven and I found myself making this face through much of it: O___O

Second Question: What is the likelihood I will end up writing about it? Slim to none, I’d say.  I’m going to give it another episode or two, but as it is now, I don’t really know how I feel about it and whether or not I would enjoy spending some seriously in depth time with it each week.  But we’ll see what happens.

Uchouten Kazoku

Quick!  Find the huge Tanuki balls!

Quick! Find the huge Tanuki balls!

Uchouten Kazoku, or The Eccentric Family as it’s being called stateside, is based on a light novel series by Tomihiko Morimi who also wrote the novel that Tatami Galaxy was based on.  It is about Tanuki and Tengu co-existing with humanity in modern day Kyoto.  The Tanuki can shapeshift into human form and Yasaburo, our protagonist, loves going about his day as a human school girl.  He has also vowed to live an interesting life, and thus every move he makes is in service to that ideal.  In this first episode, A LOT happens.  We get to meet quite a few characters and we see that they have highly complex and well worn relationships with each other.  There’s also a certain level of mythology and world building that’s taking place as well, which, you might not know this about me, but I LOVE DAT SHIT.

First Question: Did I like it? I sure did!  I am a very big fan of Japanese mythology and I have a deep and abiding love for Tanuki’s, so I was pretty biased towards this show from the get go.  The world also feels real and lived in.  No time was wasted on getting us into these characters and their lives, even if we don’t know all of the specifics of what we’re seeing and hearing about.  I like that.  It feels like the people behind the show have an innate respect for their viewer’s intelligence, which is a rarer and rarer phenomenon these days.  I plan to keep up with this one.

Second Question: What is the likelihood I will end up writing about it?  Pretty high.  Currently it’s the front runner.  My only concern is that there is SO much happening that really trying to break it down will take quite effort and intellectual prowess.  But I might be up for the challenge.

That’s what I’ve got so far.  The next shows that I’m going to check out are Monogatari Series Second Season (Which is quite the alliterative mouthful), WATAMOTE! and Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C3-bu.  I am all of the excited about these three, so I may end up with another front runner by the end of it.

What are you guys watching?  What are you most excited for and what has disappointed you the most so far?  TELL ME.

Also, if there’s something you’d like to recommend to me, let me know!

Aku no Hana Episode 13: The Fallout

2 Jul

By: Stephanie Weirich

Well, it’s all over guys. OR IS IT? /dun dun dun!

Wait...What?

Wait…What?

But seriously, unless there ends up being a second season (which thus far has not been announced) Aku no Hana—that rousing story of a honey badger and her fellow deviant—has come to an end. And what about that ending, eh? Did you hate it? It’s ok if you hated it. Many, many, many people feel that same way. There are elements of it that are definitely hateable. As for me personally, I still don’t know exactly how I feel about it, but man, I give Hiroshi Nagahama and his whole crew credit for having the biggest, most pendulous and low hanging balls to ever gently brush the face of this earth (can you hear them gently whispering against the hot Tokyo pavement with each step, even now? I hear it in my very dreams).

Yeah, it's a bit like that.

Yeah, it’s a bit like that.

Seriously, regardless of whatever you might think about how the ending to this show went, it takes some sort of moxie to give your audience 12 episodes of a show that they think is building towards some sort of conclusion, only to reach the 13th and final episode only to reveal that all of that which they saw, all of that which they were invested in emotionally, yeah, well guess what? That was just set up. Set up for a season that may or may not already exist (has it been filmed? I have to believe it has been. They wouldn’t just shoot snippets would they? They’d shoot whole scenes and then make a montage right?) that has yet to be announced. Because that’s what actually happened, and if that pissed you off, you have every right to feel that way. But allow me to temper that hatred with an alternative viewpoint.

I know, I wanted to see it too you guys.

I know, I wanted to see it too you guys.

You may have noticed that I’m doing this a tad differently, and this is because I feel that this episode deserves to be handled differently. I usually have a recap of what happened in the episode, but I sort of feel like that’s a moot point when this entire episode can be summed up relatively easily. The summation is thus: boy sees girl’s room, boy reaches full understanding of the fragile state of girl’s emotions and psychology, boy has emotional catharsis and becomes a fully realized human being and gains purpose in his life, his purpose being to save the girl from herself. Girl then freaks the fuck out on boy. Uber cray cray montage happens and boy proposes new contract with girl. BOOM /drops mic. Now that we’ve got that, let’s get into a play by play dissection of the important bits, shall we?

Nakamura, you'll always be THE BEST

Nakamura, you’ll always be THE BEST

For me, the most interesting thing to ask when looking at that summation is: what about the girl? What is her role in the self-actualization of our main character? We have, after all, gotten all of our information about other characters through our following of Kasuga’s story. Our interpretation of both Nakamura and Saeki comes about due to how Kasuga perceives them and their actions/reactions to him and their surroundings. The previous episode and this one particularly are the only times where we get to see Nakamura as her own independent person, in her own words and surroundings. The picture we’re beginning to get is much sadder than one would expect. Nakamura is characterized by all that she isn’t, as opposed to what she is and this is conveyed through her room. A teenager’s bedroom is their one safe space and the one place they can feel comfortable truly expressing themselves. It is their psyche made manifest. What did we find in Nakamura’s room? Nothing. So very much nothing.

Well...This wasn't at all what I was expecting.

Well…This wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

Not even a bed. Instead, she just sleeps under a sheet on the floor, surrounded by nothing but bare furniture and a few items of clothing. There’s nothing on her walls but holes she’s punched in them.

Though to be fair, closet doors in Japan are actually made out of structurally unsound paper.

Though to be fair, closet doors in Japan are actually made out of structurally unsound paper.

Her only outlet is a journal Kasuga finds in a desk drawer where we see for the first time exactly how happy Kasuga’s potential deviancy made Nakamura. Throughout the show we’ve seen Nakamura’s attitude and behavior towards Kasuga as menacing, forceful and uncompromising but very rarely have we felt that she was experiencing actual joy. Through her own written words we see a girl who hated everything and everyone and was utterly alone whose world suddenly brightened at the prospect of finding someone like herself for the first time in her life. Her experiences with Kasuga, the time spent with him truly made her happy.

We totally know.

We totally know.

This is why his behavior on the mountain, his rejection of both her and Saeki, brought her so low. It was a betrayal of her only bright spot of happiness, a betrayal of her very being that she thought was shared with Kasuga. His discovery of her final entry about not being able to go the other side of the mountain finally leads to Kasuga’s full understanding of both the situation he caused and of Nakamura herself.

The feels.  I HAVE THEM.

The feels. I HAVE THEM.

That is why he cries. He finally understands and it’s painful. Nakamura’s experience of the world and his now fully known betrayal of her breaks his heart, as well it should.

So does Kasuga.

So does Kasuga.

This is also why she reacts the way she does. She comes home to find the one person who mattered and who utterly sold her out reading her most personal thoughts and feelings and crying over it. He’s an interloper at this point and it’s a violation of her privacy and of the world she’s built around herself for protection. Of course she’s furious.

GAH!

GAH!

Her interpretation is that Kasuga thinks he can reappear in her life whenever he sees fit. It would seem as though he’s fucking with her and her wellbeing. She is absolutely justified in her anger at him in light of everything we have learned about her in this episode. How is she to know that Kasuga is serious this time? How is she to know that he fully understands her and her outlook, finally?

That is the face of abject heartbreak Kasuga.  LOOK AT IT.

That is the face of abject heartbreak Kasuga. LOOK AT IT.

I think it’s important to realize that Nakamura has her own walls, her own burdens to loose herself from and potentially, her tearing down of Kasuga’s walls was a way for her to tear down her own as well. Once Kasuga rejected her, the progress she made was rendered void.

I am not equipped to deal with this sort of anarchy.

I am not equipped to deal with this sort of anarchy.

Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s get back to Kasuga and what we see during his final confrontation with Nakamura. We start out with a pretty innocuous flashback of everything that’s happened between them, Hell, we even go all the way back to Kasuga’s childhood when Nakamura accuses him of living an empty life.

One thing this show didn't prepare me for: The appearance of fat babies.

One thing this show didn’t prepare me for: The appearance of fat babies.

Where this gets interesting, and where I think much of the hatred for this ending comes from lies within Kasuga’s “flash forward”. For those who have read the manga, this has to especially feel like a cheat as everything that is contained in that montage comes directly from the manga and is most likely material that they thought this series was going to cover in full. I know I did. I honestly thought they were going to get to one very specific event that was teased in that montage, but that was not the case. I don’t want to spoil anything for those that haven’t read the manga, but trust me when I say that things were going to get cray.

However, instead of getting to that craziness, we got 13 episodes of set up for it. You could say that this was due to poor pacing, but I don’t think so. I think Aku no Hana has, from the get go, been deliberately paced in the way it has and I think they took this approach to make it feel very much like French cinema. This would make sense, seeing as how the genesis of this series was Kasuga’s love of French philosophers. But why do I say it feels French? If you’ve ever watched a French film, one thing you may have noticed is the very slow and deliberate pacing and the way character is revealed through observed behavior as opposed to exposition. Many scenes in French films might seem extraneous at first and yet, as the film continues, we come to realize that those scenes where nothing seemed to be happening were actually showing us everything we needed to know about the characters and their motivations. Aku no Hana is very much in the same vein. So much of our understanding of these characters has come through what we’ve been shown, not what we’ve been told. So much of the focus has been placed on behavior and actions as opposed to dialogue. This ending is no different.

This conveys more than dialogue could.

This conveys more than dialogue could.

So how are we to interpret that montage then? Especially when it culminates in Kasuga turning the tables and asking Nakamura to make a contract with him? It could go one of a couple of ways. First is that it was all a preview for a forthcoming season and nothing more. The second, and the one that I think is vastly more interesting, is contingent on there NOT being another season. It’s entirely predicated on these 13 episodes being completely self-contained. What if that montage was Kasuga’s interpretation of where his and Nakamura’s relationship could go, now that he fully understands her and her experience? And what if by asking her to make a contract with him wherein she crawls out of the shithole that is their town and their experience of it with him is his rejection of that possibility? What if now, in a move that would distinctly separate the anime from the manga entirely, Kasuga is choosing a different future for himself and Nakamura, one where they save themselves by their own means as opposed to heading further down the path of “deviancy”? For me, personally, if the ending is viewed in that light, it changes things significantly as far as my perception of it is concerned. That’s an ending I can get behind. Whether that’s how it was meant to be interpreted remains to be seen, but a girl can dream.

I'm going to miss you crazy kids you.

I’m going to miss you crazy kids you.

Anyway, that’s about it for this, our potentially final recap of Aku no Hana. I have to apologize a bit, as I know during these last few write-ups my cultural analysis has waned somewhat. I think this is due to the direction it took at the end and the fact that I honestly did not know how it was going to end and what it was all going to be building towards in regards to the message it wanted to send. But have no fear, now that it has concluded, I’ve got a much fuller picture and I am working on a longer piece about the series as a whole and what it’s all been about specifically regarding what it’s saying about being Japanese, so look forward to that in the very near future. And as always, let me know your thoughts on the ending and on the series as a whole! Toodle loo for now guys, but have no fear, we’ll talk soon!

Paging: visual metaphor.

Paging: visual metaphor.