Tag Archives: Flowers of Evil

Aku no Hana Episode 8: The Longest Hand Holding in History

29 May

By: Stephanie Weirich

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Well, hello there! How are you this fine evening? You’re (I imagine) looking lovely. Oh, what’s that? You’re here for the Aku no Hana recap of episode 8? Well good. BECAUSE I WANT TO GIVE IT TO YOU. ALL NIGHT LONG. Cue my best David Caruso impression (I’m just screaming YEAH! And putting glasses on top of glasses on top of glasses until my face falls off).

This is my theme song.

But seriously, lets hop to it shall we?

Quick recap: Apparently, the makers of Aku no Hana agreed with me so completely about how awesome that last scene was in episode 7 that they decided to show it again. It was still fucking tits. They then proceeded to show Kasuga and Nakamura take the longest walk of shame in the history of the world. It went for so long, when I closed my eyes after watching it, I could still see them walking straight into eternity, hand in hand.

It begins...

It begins…

More...

More…

And more...

And more…

And even more...

And even more…

Just fucking go home already!

Just fucking go home already!

We then got to see the fallout of the Kasuga and Nakamura Classroom Destruction Blowout Super Fun Time, which all in all, was anticlimactic due to the fact that Kasuga managed to completely obscure his name with ink so no one knows that he actually did it. Saeki is crushed initially because her gym clothes have returned and she has to try to come to terms with the surely horrible things that happened to them while she didn’t have them in her possession.

Just...Maybe don't think about it too much?

Just…Maybe don’t think about it too much?

The entire classroom being vandalized thing is blamed on a non-existent pervert (nice job Nakamura) and there’s a school wide assembly announcing this as a safety issue and the whole school is sent home early. Kasuga and Nakamura meet after school, Nakamura is THRILLED at how shocked and disgusted her classmates were while Kasuga is a great deal more uneasy about the whole thing. This is when Saeki shows up, disrupting a rather suggestive moment (as she could interpret it). Kasuga says they should break up, she asks why. Kasuga then tries to run away when Saeki tells him that she knows he’s the one that vandalized the classroom and stole her gym clothes because he was bold enough to incorporate the cover painting from the copy of The Flowers of Evil that he gave Saeki into his sexual awakening/criminal act. DUN DUN DUN.

It sure was, Platonic Ideal!

It sure was, Platonic Ideal!

I honestly don’t have too much to say about this episode, which is probably owed to how terribly paced it was. While I appreciated the fact that they showed a true moment of shared intimacy between Kasuga and Nakamura, they did not need to spend 10 minutes on that shared moment. Especially when we’re at episode 8 of 13. It felt like a way to pad out the episode, and for what reason, I do not know. We’re approaching the end of the series, and I feel like things should be perpetually in motion, not treading water.

But hey, while we’re at it, lets talk about that moment.

Awww, that's sweet!

Awww, that’s sweet!

It’s important to note that this was the very first time Nakamura and Kasuga had physical contact that was truly and completely consensual. There was no power play, no aggression, no act of dominance, it was just a pure—and purely innocent—expression of affection that only comes from having experienced something monumental together. These two shared a moment. A moment that was truer and more honest than any other moment of their lives. They, while in the wanton thoroughs of mutual destruction, showed each other exactly who they both are. There was no pretense and no attempt to hide the rawness of their emotions and expectations. They both simply let go and acted only on their most natural impulses. That’s why that moment, that ending from the last episode, has as much impact as it does. We very rarely get to see how raw teenagers are, how mixed up their emotions and personalities are while they’re being assaulted by mandatory socialization, hormones and peer pressure. We rarely get to see them as human beings, on their own terms. And that scene of the two of them destroying everything that represents their daily lives was their chance to claim ownership of their own narrative. They got to write their own story right then and there, which is not something teenagers typically get to do.

I think this is especially important when it’s related to Japanese teenagers. As I’ve said before, junior high is when the Japanese begin the journey of becoming “Japanese”. It is just as, if not more important, for them to learn the rules and guidelines of their very rigid society as it is for them to learn about science or literature. What this really means is that the cycle of repression begins at this age. This is when they’re encouraged to act like adults, to put aside their individuality and completely conform to the group that is their class, and in doing so represent the larger group dynamic that is their school. There is very little attention paid to how they feel, to how they struggle, to how they might not be able to handle the pressure. Again, this is not something that is typically portrayed in Japanese media. We’re very used to the rose colored school life anime series, where everyone gets along and no one has any problems. It would not be an exaggeration to say that slice of life school days anime is typically pushing an ideal more than a reality. Just like how Glee does not accurately represent high school in the US, shows like Azumanga Daioh do not accurately represent high school in Japan.

Surprisingly, this is not what high school is like in Japan.

Surprisingly, this is not what high school is like in Japan.

Aku no Hana, however, gets much closer to the mark. Discipline issues in schools, as well as truly horrific cases of bullying, are becoming more widespread and more reported in Japan. I can tell you from personal experience that I had more Nakamura’s in my English classes than I had Chiyo-chans.

I foolishly thought all of my students would look just like this.

I foolishly thought all of my students would look just like this.

I experienced kids that would flip their desks, throw books and erasers at their classmates/friends, start shouting in the middle of a lesson, or just flat out get up and leave class without permission. I was completely unprepared for this, as were many of my teachers. There was a sense that this was all new behavior. That when they were kids, nothing like this had ever happened. I highly doubt that’s true, but I do think that as the world opens up through technology such as the internet and internationalization is continually forced upon Japan, these long held problems become more noticeable and are given more context and are thus forced out into the open where they have to be dealt with as opposed to ignored. This is why regardless of the missteps Aku no Hana may make when it comes to pacing or planning, I think it’s an essential show that shines a very bright light on the plight of teenagers in Japan in a way that is necessary RIGHT NOW. It is a way for those kids who can’t fit in, who don’t understand what role they’re supposed to play, who always feel left out of the group, to know that they aren’t alone. They’re just growing up in a society that is a bit clueless as to how that works. But that’s just my take.

Did you get something different out of this episode? Let me know in the comments!

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!