Your Hair Swayed; Flowers of Evil Episode 3

Aku_no_Hana_-_03

“Aren’t you an honest-to-god deviant, Kasuga-kun? I’m a deviant too.”

deviant (noun); a person or thing that deviates or departs markedly from the accepted norm.

illegenes: What do we think about when we hear the word above? Sin? Marked? Disgusting? Pervert? Crazy? Or perhaps normal, sane, complex? In a world where we’re constantly defined by how society perceive us, we hinge ourselves on so many assumptions toward people, based on their attire, attitude and behavior in general. And if Flowers of Evil is meant to ‘unhinge’ general assumptions, where better to begin than the idea of being a deviant in a closet-minded society?

Takao for starters, is a boy who falsely deceives himself into thinking that he is as pure and noble-minded as his crush. He continually tells himself that he’s not repulsive or ‘dirty’ and that his impulse was just a mistake. He cries when his face lands into Saeki’s pair of breasts. He runs away from Nakamura, and even stays silent in the company of his friends, who often tease and make dirty jokes about girls. Takao tries so hard to repress his hideous self to the point where interestingly enough, those moments leak out. The dam of being socially accepted is fragile within him, and Nakamura is hell-bent on breaking it and shattering his life into pieces. Nakamura on the other hand, simply doesn’t give a fuck about the society and world she sees around her. A complete foil to Takao, she’s very active and free, allowing herself to say what she wants. It’s because she naturally acts on what she wants to do that she’s portrayed as a total creep (which she totally is, mind you). But ironically, it is Nakamura – the antagonist of this series – who is the most honest and truthful. Nothing that comes out of her lips is a lie. Takao, on the other hand, lies about everything, even to his own self. We see his actions as those of cowardice.

Unlike most shows then, which usually try to soothe us into such a serious and disturbing subject, Flowers of Evil does not lure us into this dark place with demulcent tones; it doesn’t need to. What we’re seeing here is something much more open and raw than just another examination into the uncomfortable. Nakamura and Takao’s relationship is founded on a shared ugliness. Takao rejects his self – a distorted image that ironically, is truer form than any of the facades that he struggles to hold up, but it is Nakamura who relishes and acts upon her desires. Does it make her ‘crazy’? Disgusting? Sinful? Perhaps. The question however, is this: which image is the one we should accept? At this point, I feel like the option of either boxing yourself in society’s expectations and living a relatively ‘normal’ life, or accepting and embracing your flaws, no matter how weak or misguided or passionate they may be, and becoming a monster, is a bit of an extreme. And there’s no doubt that Takao and Nakamura are both exaggerations of these perceptions, on the opposite sides of the spectrum. But I think Flowers of Evil presents itself as both a character study as well as an insight into the parts we lock away and bringing them up to the surface. Maybe the answer isn’t found within Nakamura and Takao themselves, but rather the relationship and what it’s founded on. This bond is shared by a contract, and yet, it’s not just founded on just emotional blackmail. There is a certain amount of deceit and alienation that the two share; a secret ugliness that only they understand. They are both deviants – frowned upon by society, culminating self-loathing and disgust, but in befriending each other, they’re able to release that compulsion together. It’s through this relationship that they choose to exist on the outskirts of the general norm (though Takao is blackmailed into it) and it’s because of this relationship that Nakamura and Takao understand each other better than anyone else.

Perhaps then, Flowers of Evil‘s message is this: Deviants might be twisted, fucked up, in denial – the list goes on. But they are just as flawed and human as we are; the only thing that separates them from the norm is that active choice of wanting to break the norm. It’s a freedom, but it’s also a curse. There is nothing special about being a deviant, because we all in one way or the other, are potential deviants. There is something ugly in all of us, but what makes us ‘normal’ is our cowardice. Learning to live and understand ourselves is an ongoing and difficult process, especially during teen years, but Flowers of Evil seems to be pointing a finger – even mocking – at the rest of us who gloss over this continuous phase, as if to say, “Stay in your cage.” Perhaps it is us, the people who desperately try to conform to what society wants, that are the crazy ones, and the deviant ones that are sane. Sanity comes a price however, and the one Nakamura has sacrificed – and is asking for Takao to sacrifice – seems almost too steep, too costly.

Like Penguindrum, which sought to honor the foolish and the naive who always stood in the dark, Flowers of Evil may just be honoring the weak and the daring, while making sure never to glorify their actions. It’s a tough line to walk, but so far, the show’s been doing an incredible job of making sure that we’re twisting uncomfortably in our seats while being glued to the screen and drawn in by these character’s behavior. We’re only three episodes in, I couldn’t be more happier with the direction this show is choosing to take. Unleash your worst, Flowers of Evil. I’m definitely ready for the answer you give, no matter how stressful it may be.

wendeego: “AaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAa!?!?!?!?!?!?!?”

I’ll confess: the first time I heard Takao scream, I laughed out loud. I’m pretty sure you all remember that scene from the second episode: Nakamura sidles right up to Takao on his bike, whispers to him “I know you did it,” and Takao runs screaming into the sunset, leaving his bike behind. Important: Takao doesn’t go “AH!” He doesn’t go “AHHHHH!!!!” or “aaahhhHHHHHHH!!!!” Instead he keens like a broken fire hydrant, more pathetic than outwardly horrifying. In a show that walks the fine balance between reality and artifice, it’s a moment that comes very close to irrevocably crossing the line. For a moment, Flowers of Evil is no longer a psychological thriller about middle school students being the little bastards they are, but something unexpected: a black comedy. Just look at Takao’s arms as he runs! They swing around and around like windmills. The editing chops his movement up into flailing little pieces. It’s hilarious.

From what I’ve picked up on anime forums, fans of the original manga hated this moment. When asked what scenes in the adaptation broke their suspense of disbelief, which scenes proved once and for all that ZEXCS’s take on the series was fundamentally misguided, they’d point to this one. “No person would scream this way!” they might say. “No person would move this way. It’s bad acting and bad directing, plain and simple.” I don’t agree, but I can see where these people are coming from. For those who see Flowers of Evil as already skirting the so-called “uncanny valley effect,” close enough but not close enough to realism to become patently false, that scene with Takao and Nakamura might have been the last straw.Either that, or final, irrefutable evidence that they were right and that Flowers of Evil’s few staunch defenders were simply enjoying the show for being “different” rather than legitimately “good.”

Well, as this episode proved, Takao’s scream is here to stay. The first thing we hear when this episode opens is “AaAaAaAaAaAaA!?!?!?” What’s important in this moment is that unlike the previous episode, Takao does not make this sound because he is terrified out of his mind. Rather, he screams because he is desperate. He wails because he’s boxed in, cornered, and no matter what he does he sees no way out. Honestly, I think that “understanding” this moment of Flowers of Evil requires a realignment of perception. Takao may be sympathetic, and he may remind you of yourself. But he is young, and pretentious, and pathetic. He is so convinced that he understands the world better than everyone else, that Baudelaire has lifted him above his classmates, that when Nakamura appears and throws him off his axis he is totally devastated. As such, the staff are not above having fun at his expense. Takao is not a saint; in many ways he is totally responsible for the terrible things that are happening to him. He deserves just deserts, at least for a moment. That said, the staff make it clear at other times when they are not playing around. Nakamura’s re-clothing of Takao in this episode (which is played like a sexual assault) is fast, brutal and not at all played for laughs. It’s a scene that is likely only the beginning of coming depravity.

As I’ve said before, Flowers of Evil is a balancing act. It walks the line between reality and hallucination, eroticism and stark terror, melodrama and metaphor. Faces appear and disappear. Sound hangs overhead, oppressive. The cast follows suit: Takao elicits both the viewer’s identification and hatred, Nakamura is a monster who may be the only other person Takao knows capable of appreciating Baudelaire. They are surrounded by people who appear  normal, but are just as bound by rules and petty human behavior as everyone else, just as capable of brutality. Takao’s hometown is almost painfully mundane, the same signs and streets and images reoccurring over and over. But as Takao points out in this episode, it rusts. It is a cage from which he and Nakamura must escape, by any means necessary – and while they might be (as Natasha pointed out) deviants, might be positively sick, they may be the only people capable of escape. What this escape entails, of course, is debatable. Many writers of anime have romanticized breaking free from the system, escaping the confines of reality and becoming an adult, but Flowers of Evil is more conflicted. Perhaps Takao and Nakamura may escape the ordinary and become special. But at what cost – burning their school down to the ground? Their town? Takao has a family – must he sacrifice them to achieve true freedom? Nakamura sees potential in Takao, but for what – a child to bully as she sees fit, or a boy who is capable of committing atrocities she cannot? Who filches the gym clothes of his beloved when the best she can do is call the teacher a piece of shit to his face?

So if I were asked what side Flowers of Evil is taking, whether it is comfortable making Takao the butt of a joke or whether this is all part of a greater dramatic scheme, a prelude to the horrors to come, I would have to say both. Or neither. Budgetary problems aside, there is obviously a method behind the madness, a flower that has yet to unfurl and reveal its single terrifying eye. All that’s certain is that things will almost certainly become worse before they become better. There is no dawn. The system of the world is oppressive, but the only way to break through to the outside may be through fire. You may have been turned off by the rotoscoping, the occasionally slow pace, but know this: I’ll be following this one to the end. This is a series that you should be keeping an eye on.

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8 responses to “Your Hair Swayed; Flowers of Evil Episode 3

  1. Aku no Hana is the kind of story where I’m consistently laughing, either out of a genuine reaction to the comedy or out of bewilderment/revulsion at what is happening with the characters. The anime is especially Lynchian in this regard. Its style is just so unique and bizarre and twisted that I’m never not amused by it. It’s wonderful!

    I don’t know if I have exact confirmation regarding the author’s motives, but from the manga notes it seems pretty clear he poured a lot of his younger self into Takao. This is the bit he wrote at the end of Chapter 1: “I read [The Flowers of Evil] for the first time in middle school. I didn’t understand much of it, but the book’s feel, suspicious, indecent, yet nastily noble, made me think ‘I’m so cool for reading it,” which is Takao to a “T.”

  2. Does “hentai” mean exactly the same thing as “deviant” though? Let’s look at the kanji meanings: 変(strange, unusual) and 態(appearance, attitude). Interestingly, 態 suggests that “hentai” depends on looks or behavior. Maybe this means that, for the Japanese, everyone is a deviant, but the label is given only to those who show it(willingly or not). An interesting perspective, given that porn and sexuality is celebrated in the private sphere in Japan, but hidden in public(as opposed to how it is treated in Western culture)

    Now maybe someone will come and correct me on this and call me a dumbass.

    Great article, by the way. I was myself surprised by the seemingly sudden humorous way Takao ran away screaming in episode 2, but thinking about it, there was always a fucked up form of black humor throughout the show. This only made me realize it.

    • An interesting comment! I’ve noticed that fansubbers tend to either label the term as hentai or deviant, and like you said, hentai seems to be focused more on appearances, while deviant seems to be more towards behavior. But as you’ve said, I think in the end, it does come down to appearance. How you see yourself, how you’re seen by others – these are all things that contribute to your ‘image’ and how you see yourself in society.

      Flowers of Evil to me is half comedy and half terror. There are many moments throughout the show where I end up laughing (at Takao, and perhaps a little at myself) but there are also very serious moments which make me quiver in my boots. All the more evidence of how superb the atmosphere in this show is!

      • I just keep being impressed at how the show switches seamlessly between horror and comedy. At one moment it’s painful to watch, and the next I laugh without noticing. Sometimes both!(How do they do that?)

        • Oh definitely! I think it’s really fascinating how Aku no Hana can manage to be a complete comedy and then turn into instant horror. You really have to nail atmosphere and writing to accomplish that. All the more reason why I don’t understand how people dropped this show just for animation reasons…

  3. One perspective many of this show’s detractors (and some of its admirers) get hung up on is the perception that Aku no Hana is a 100% super serious work which must be interpreted as such, when its first couple volumes really do unfold like a black comedy. Takao is a very familiar figure for anyone who is or was a shy, introverted nerd in middle/high school (GOD, is he relatable), but ultimately he’s a loathsome and pathetic person, and even worse he doesn’t realize it (yet). Nakamura may be sadistic, but I have to imagine most of Takao’s misfortunes are deliberately executed by Shuzo Oshimi as admonishment of his younger self. I mean, the kid is forced to run home with a girl’s gym uniform tucked under his shirt, he runs away shrieking from another girl, he tries to throw away the uniform but somehow can’t find a single place to do it, he writes a cheesy poem and ceremoniously lays the poem and uniform to rest in a taped-up box, he’s then forced to wear said uniform under his clothes while going on a date with their original owner, etc. These are funny scenes, and Takao should be laughed at, but I think doing so requires that the reader/watcher is able in some way to laugh at themselves, which is a skill Takao definitely lacks at the moment.

    Of course, Shuzo Oshimi also sympathizes with Takao, so it’s no surprise that he eventually becomes more self-aware and more tragic. This comes later in the manga, though, and since it doesn’t look like the anime will have the time to get through much of that development, it’s been spending more narrative than the manga did in establishing Takao’s longing for transcendence as an admirable and identifiable plight. The entire first episode’s purpose was basically setting this tone, which is why I think some viewers had mood whiplash going into the more manga-faithful second episode. The comedic elements serve a definite purpose, but this is not made obvious until the story becomes much more serious. The saga of Saeki’s gym uniform is merely the inciting incident.

    I went into this episode with the mindset that Nakamura’s assault on Takao would be a second check for the adaptation. The direction of episode 1 convinced me that this show could be fantastic, but if it could successfully pull off this scene, it would convince me that it will be fantastic. And I think it passed with flying colors. It was every bit as uncompromising, disturbing, and tangible as it needed to be.

    • Yeah, I thought that the direction of Nakamura’s assault in episode 3 was brilliant as well. These kinds of scenes can be very difficult to do well (see Psycho Pass and it’s almost pornographic framing of man-on-woman violence) but so I think it’s pretty neat that the trashy, fucked-up series about middle schoolers depicting depravities was able to turn out a scene that was brutal and horrifying while still being effective and to-the-point. Goes to show that strong source material coupled with a good staff counts for a lot!

      Now that you’ve confirmed it, I can definitely see elements of black comedy in the early parts of Flowers of Evil. I’ve heard that Oshimi intended the manga to be a semi-autobiographical account of his past failures, so I assume that we’re supposed to laugh at Takao while simultaneously feeling intense familiarity? It might be easy in any other circumstance for typically conservative, elitist otaku to sympathize with how Takao is clearly “smarter” than the rest of his classmates, but Oishimi (to his great credit) makes it tough. Though I’m sure that hasn’t stopped some -_______-

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