Tag Archives: Charles Baudelaire

Aku no Hana Episode 5: Well do you, do ya do ya wanna? Be my platonic girlfriend?

8 May

By: Stephanie Weirich

So, episode 5 guys?

I love this picture so much, I wish I could base my entire life around it.

I love this picture so much, I wish I could base my entire life around it.

Let’s just get down to it since I’ve been away for a spell. Quick recap of what went down: Kasuga and Saeki had their date while Nakamura ran behind them making delightfully childish noises. Kasuga was still wearing Saeki’s gym clothes and feeling rather awkward and sweaty the entire time. He takes Saeki to his favorite bookstore, talks her ear off about books she’s never heard of and then buys Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil for her as a present. Nakamura then corners him, and tells him that his first wall will be torn down today, and that wall is in the form of him kissing Saeki before his date is over (obviously while still wearing her gym clothes). He doesn’t do this and instead confesses to Saeki and they enter into a “purely platonic” dating relationship (more on that later). This leads an agitated Nakamura to run up behind him and dump a bucket of water all over him, in the hopes of revealing to Saeki what he’s wearing underneath his clothes. When Kasuga confronts Nakamura about it, she tells him rather menacingly that she’ll take extra care to make sure that his relationship with Saeki works. End scene, cue (still) horrifying ending theme.

I really enjoyed this episode to be perfectly honest. There were so many things it did immensely well and I think that this episode is the one where the rotoscoping showed its worth, i.e. it’s much more serviceable for the story than traditional animation would have been.

The sweaty realism.  I LOVE IT.

The sweaty realism. I LOVE IT.

Namely, this episode highlighted the extreme awkwardness of Japanese teenagers and the strangeness of the dating scene in Japan. I’m sure if you’ve watched enough anime, you’ve seen the “shy, awkward boy goes on date with shy awkward girl and they talk about nothing because instead they’re too busy blushing themselves into a near coma and being terrified of making any physical contact with each other” trope. It’s ubiquitous. Sometimes you get the cool playboy or fearless girl thrown in there, but that’s usually limited to reverse harem and plain old harem, and they do not occur as often as the awkwardness. I’m also sure that if you’ve watched enough anime to notice it, you have also seen it enough times to be driven crazy by it. There have probably been many shouted “Come the fuck on and act like a normal person!” diatribes that you have hurled at the screen out of frustration. This is completely understandable, as it is a frustrating thing to behold and as awkward as most of us are in our adolescence, it doesn’t seem as completely clueless and puritanical as it does in anime or even J-Dramas.

So, if that’s been your reaction to love, anime style, then you are in luck with Aku no Hana, because it looked all of that business in the eye and said “fuck right off with that noise, imma tell it like it is.” And then it does. And it makes me so happy.

Nakamura is happy too.

Nakamura is happy too.

See, dating in Japan is a very strange thing. There is very little socialization that occurs in that respect and much of that lack of socialization comes back to how the school system is set up. I know, that sounds strange, but bear with me here. Once students enter Junior High their homeroom teachers do home visits, meaning they go to the homes of each of their students, introduce themselves, bring gifts and ask the parents to entrust their child to them. The parents, for their part, accept the presents, serve tea and snacks and say “yoroshiku” for the year which roughly translates to in this context to: “Please, take care of my child as though you are their parent”. Because in all actuality, that teacher will spend more time with their kid then they will as that kid’s parent. Teachers are expected to teach their students things that we would typically think parents should teach them, including morality (those classes are a doozy, let me tell you). However, while they have sexual education classes in high schools, that does not necessarily cover dating advice and the popular magazines that do give dating advice are not to be trusted (much like how you shouldn’t trust Cosmo when they tell you to give a blowjob with your teeth). What I’m trying to say here is that teachers are ill equipped to teach their students about dating protocol and thus students are relying upon friends, books, manga, anime, J-Dramas, etc and those have very little idea of what to teach about dating either or they are limited in what they can show (for instance, you never see “real” kisses in J-Drama because it’s considered too risqué).

Tie this all into the very archaic gender roles that Japan is still mired in—it’s very much like Mad Men over there in terms of how women are treated—and you get a hot mess of awkwardness. You can see this in how Kasuga treats Saeki, versus how he treats Nakamura. Saeki as a girl is, for Kasuga, not a real person. She has no personality, no desires of her own, and no free will. She is an idealized angel meant only for him for whatever desires and purposes he may have. One gets the impression that should Saeki reveal herself to be just as perverted as he is, he would cease to have any interest in her because then she would actually be a real person. Nakamura is completely outside of this paradigm. She doesn’t care one way or the other about what’s expected of her as a girl, and because Kasuga has no romantic interest in her, he doesn’t treat her like one. She’s exempt. This is also why it’s so fascinating to see her as the person in power as she consistently emasculates Kasuga in every way possible. Whether or not this is, in and of itself, a derogatory statement on women of a certain kind and their ability to essentially castrate men remains to be seen (I’m reserving my judgment until the series is over).

Now, back to the awkwardness. Just look at this:

You skinny little puppy you.

You skinny little puppy you.

That’s beautiful. That’s so realistic, it breaks my heart. That’s the true face of adolescent Japanese boys when faced with uncomfortable interactions, specifically when faced with romantic interactions. Kasuga, and most boys in general, have no idea how to approach the girls that they like, they have no idea what to do with them on dates, they don’t know what to talk about (it should go without saying that this is a natural byproduct of any society that imparts upon its youth that the two genders are fundamentally different and therefore have no common ground. It tends to lead to a lack of understanding about each other). Dating in Japan is not a fun thing. It’s a high stress dance of confusion and embarrassment. It’s walking silently next to one another, it’s girls saying “Please, let me learn more about you so that we can have common ground” without the boys ever wanting to do the same, it’s a comedy of errors. It’s why Kasuga asks Saeki to be his platonic girlfriend.

What every girl is longing to hear.

What every girl is longing to hear.

They can date, and it can be completely chaste, and that way, he can still be in love with her, and yet not spoil her by being intimate, and thus, she can remain less than a person to him. The reality of the situation, of Saeki and what she might want out of any relationship, never has to occur to Kasuga, as it doesn’t have to occur to any adolescent boy in Japan (and possibly the world at large). I would argue that this one episode reflects the strange reality of dating in Japan better than any other anime series or J-Drama I have ever seen.

While the date between Kasuga and Saeki reflects dating amongst the youth of Japan in general, Nakamura once again brings some perspective to how ridiculous all of the stress is by saying “Save your confessions for when you’re older”. This should be a time when Kasuga and Saeki are enjoying themselves, when they’re two people who like each other enjoying each other’s company, when they’re two sexually curious kids who aren’t freaking out about a kiss (seriously Kasuga, calm down. It’s just a kiss, she’s not asking you to rape Saeki). Instead, Kasuga is confessing his platonic love and Saeki is crying from how touched she is all the while, neither one of them is actually getting to know the other or truly enjoying the situation they’ve found themselves in. And Nakamura has no time for that shit, and she doesn’t think Kasuga should either. God bless her.

No. Fucks. Are. Given.

No. Fucks. Are. Given.

I could easily write at least 10 pages about everything that’s going on in this episode, but I’ll leave it here for now (also, there are some ideas here that I want to expand into standalone pieces for you guys, so I wouldn’t want to spoil that all here in this one). Also, I apologize if this is scattered, the cold medicine is inside of my head, bringing the cloudiness.

Anywho, let me know your take on this episode in the comments!

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

23 Apr

sawahappy

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.

Knockdown

She is definitely not going to wait for you buddy.

She is definitely not going to wait for you buddy.

pantsu

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.

flushed face

chokingscreaming

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.

kasugadefends

bullykasuga

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!