Tag Archives: Middle school

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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