Tag Archives: Akunohana

Aku no Hana Episode 3: Now With More Sexual Assault!

23 Apr

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By: Stephanie Weirich

WARNING! Spoilers lie within! Read at your own peril!

Guys. Guys. GUYS….. guys. We need to talk about the third episode of Aku no Hana, like RIGHT NOW. This show does so many things that no other anime series is currently even considering, let alone doing. Boundaries are being pushed, our level of desensitization to depravity tested, gasps are being uttered. It’s just all so good. To those who are still stubbornly stuck on the animation quality, I just want to shake you so hard while shouting this:

Seriously, are you not?

Seriously, are you not?

Because seriously, are you not!? Because I surely am. Maybe it’s because through teaching English over there, I am well acquainted with this age group and the disgusting, hormonal wave they’re all riding, and thus this all feels so very real to me. The moral ambiguity feels completely authentic.

So what happened in this episode? Well, Kasuga tried to discard his shame by looking for a place to dispose of Saeki’s gym clothes, though not after clutching her pantsu and screaming, his voice raw with frustration and fear, into the night. While searching for a place to finally depart with the emblem of his dirty secret, he seemingly runs into absolutely everybody who lives in his town.

They're just there.  Lurking.  Waiting.  Sweeping.

They’re just there. Lurking. Waiting. Sweeping.

He also runs into Nakamura, the bane of his existence, and she tells him to meet her after school at the library. When this meeting happens, she demands to read the essay she wanted him to write about how he felt when she pushed his face into Saeki’s breasts. He, because he isn’t a full on sexual deviant in his mind, did not write this essay. Kasuga instead attempts to give Nakamura a copy of Baudelaire’s Les Fleur du Maul, claiming that it fully represents who he is to his core.

Memyself

As you might imagine, Nakamura is having absolutely none of this shit.

Your shit.  She wants none of it.

Your shit. She wants none of it.

And this is when we have one of the more viscerally violent and sickly gut wrenching scenes I’ve encountered in an anime. After Kasuga denies that he’s been rubbing Saeki’s gym clothes against his skin in a continual fit of perversion, Nakamura proceeds to attack him, knocking him to the ground while stripping him nude and forcing Saeki’s gym clothes, pantsu and all, onto him.

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She is definitely not going to wait for you buddy.

She is definitely not going to wait for you buddy.

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She then, with her face flushed red and dotted with sweat, tells him that she feels an agonized rottenness at her very core that she wishes could infect all those around her.

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infect

Kasuga cries silently like a wounded animal beneath her.

I am uncomfortable.

I am uncomfortable.

This is dark. Darker than any other slice of life, school days nostalgia anime is ever going to be. And one of the best parts about it is that at no point do they flinch or shy away from the very risky ground they’re covering. Because trust me, this is very subversive for Japanese teenagers. It, much like Battle Royale though in a less dystopian way obviously, is sending the very distinct message that puberty and adolescence in Japan is an absolutely fucking terrible time, and something that maybe, kind of, sort of should scare everyone who has to bear witness to it. Aku no Hana, unlike the vast majority of shows about Junior High and High School life, is not here to blow smoke up your ass by presenting the time spent in school through Natsukashii tinted glasses. There is no meditation on the bonds of friendship, no fun school trips to the beach, no horsing around with homeroom teachers at sport’s festivals, no haunted house building for the cultural festival. It’s just raw, unpolluted teenage angst and unformed, wholly childish ethics combined with the poor decision making only teenagers are capable of.

Aku no Hana wants to show you their version of what it’s like to be a teenager in Japan, and it is wholly divorced from what you usually see. When I said the word natsukashii earlier, I was referring to the Japanese concept of nostalgia. This is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and it is pervasive in all of their creative output. It’s the act of remembering a feeling long past, an ideal more than a reality. Anything can inspire it: tastes, smells, places, colors. It is one of the more oft said words you hear in Japan, and it is a feeling that informs much of the school life anime series that we’re used to. There is a desire to remember that time as one of innocence, before life became difficult, before you were tied to your job or your family. It’s a time where there was so much possibility and you spent so much time just having fun with your friends while you incubated within the walls of your most treasured school. But like I said, this is more an ideal now than a reality. School life in Japan is hard, particularly for Junior high kids. They go from just having a grand time in Elementary school, where they get to actually be kids, to all of a sudden being expected to shed much of that childishness and start accepting more adult responsibility. They move into the world of test cramming, of fomenting social ties within their homeroom class, of long hours at school and club activities, long hours of studying. It is an intense transition. Junior High students are essentially small adults, and in the schools I taught at they had the patches of gray hair and the slumped shoulders brought on by exhaustion to prove it.

This is the world that Aku no Hana is trading in. It’s going after the brutal reality of being a youth in a rural town where there’s nothing but dead ends and lost dreams. It’s revealing the ambiguity of being caught between childhood and adulthood and all of the strange sexual impulses that are blooming within during this time. It’s not afraid to show the violence, the bullying, the way everyone clings to their façade for the sake of saving face to ensure that they aren’t the next targets for ridicule. You see it at the end of the episode as well, when everyone in their class turns on Nakamura and Kasuga—Nakamura for being the one kid who’s outside of the group, and Kasuga for defending her against the onslaught.

You're really trying to bully the absolute wrong person here.

You’re really trying to bully the absolute wrong person here.

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This is how life is—not the gentle sunsets that accompany blissful walks home with friends, or helping your classmates when the curriculum is too difficult. Ijime, the Japanese word for bullying, is a very real issue in Japan at the moment, and much of it is fed by the way schools and homeroom classes function in Japan. It is expected that all classes build their own ties and their own relationships, without much interference from the teachers. This is thought to breed more stable relationships. However, what this also means is that if there’s a kid who happens to be different from his classmates, say he has ADD or is socially awkward, or maybe just too loud, the teachers will turn a blind eye while the classmates bully that kid into falling in line with the rest of the class. This is also one of the factors that has been shown to breed the peculiar problem of Hikikomori: Japan’s version of shut-ins.

It is such a rarity to be shown this side of life in Japanese society, particularly in an anime series as they typically trade in nostalgia and warm fuzzy feelings of camaraderie. It is also particularly interesting that they show Nakamura, a girl, as the aggressor. She has the agency that Kasuga doesn’t, she’s accepted her struggle with adolescence and is determined to give zero fucks about what any of her classmates might think of her. She’s full to the brim with hatred for all that’s around her and the effect that it has on her life that she wants to scream forever and ruin it all. She wants to destroy all that’s around her that could be pure, just to watch it burn for her sake. This is incredibly shocking when you’re used to the typical female anime archetype of meek, demure girl who is all gentleness and sweetness that’s just dying to make you a bento and clean your ears out while you rest your head in her lap. Nakamura wants your perversion to keep up with hers. She wants your abject disgust and hatred. She wants to take your innocence.

No doubt.

No doubt.

And again, I think the animation works especially well in portraying how downright disturbing that is. By having such a grotesquely rendered character sexually assault a boy she has forced into a pseudo sexual contract thus giving him no choice in the matter, it takes away all titillation that could be had from this scenario. If she was moe, the sexual tension would be mutual, Kasuga would seem more complicit it in. But with how she’s animated in the series, it makes it suitably nightmarish. It feels like a violation, as well it should. This extends to the audience as well. If you found yourself aroused by the manga, this is certainly not going to garner the same reaction. And I think that’s an excellent approach to take with the subject matter. It should be disturbing. It should make you wildly uncomfortable. It should feel as though you have been violated just as much as Kasuga has. So it would seem that on that front, Aku no Hana has succeeded in spades.

So there you have it, my take on this, the third episode of Aku no Hana. Just remember, you may be having a bad day, but it’s not as bad as the day Kasuga is having.

If you have a different take or want to discuss anything you’ve read here, feel free to shoot me a message or comment here!

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:

aku_no_hana_background6thpic

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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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