illegenes: Do you remember your first date? Think back. Well, did it involve wearing your crush’s old, sweaty gym clothes? Or forming a contract with the crazy kid in your class to the point where she stalked you and your crush as you went to some of your favorite places? Did you also happen to recommend your crush one of your favorite books or games – a book that happens to talk about how disgusting sex is and things like a lust for womanly flesh? Hmm, I thought not.
There’s a continuous perversion of surreality in Flowers of Evil – the dredging sense of horror and despair we feel that lurks in every corner of the screen as Takao leads Saeki through the alleys of their hometown. Part of that horror is Nakamura, who sasasasas from one corner to the next. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but the girl who acts Nakamura and the girl who is Nakamura’s VA (apparently they are two different people!) are aces. Nakamura’s shift in tone from maniacal glee to deadpan seriousness is something that’s brilliantly captured by this teamwork, and it really does justice to the whole part of sending shivers down the audience’s spine. Nakamura, in blending in (not so well, I might add) with the background, only adds to how creepy and overwhelming it can be. Takao has to constantly avoid Saeki’s gaze, looking out of the corner of his eye just to make sure that he’s safe, when frankly, he isn’t. This is the sort of atmospheric terror Flowers of Evil has done a great job at creating, but with Nakamura in the picture, it makes things even more horrific.
The other part is Takao himself, and the distorted fantasy he lives in – a dream where Saeki is his Gabrielle; that every chance they meet is bestowed by Fate itself, and that he is a lesser being, blessed with fortune and circumstance. Takao takes Saeki to the bookstore, which isn’t a bad decision. But where it starts getting awkward is when Takao almost forgets that Saeki is even there. That there is a different version of Saeki than the one he imagines, or the idea that his Saeki is the one that can only exist. A world where if he were to introduce Flowers of Evil to Saeki, she wouldn’t freak out or be a little creeped out by his taste just like the rest of us (I mean honestly, who tells their crush that such a book is their favorite – it’s like me telling my crush that my favorite game is Manhunt or something!)
It’s this surreality that gives us the shivers, but also really well timed comedy. the irony that any happiness Takao thinks he is getting by interacting – or rather, lack of interacting with Saeki – is actually fake. It is all setup by the Devil, Nakamura herself. Takao is in bliss by the fact that he is sharing a seat with Saeki – a date with her! When that date consists of them sitting on the bench, doing nothing. It’s utterly bizarre, and the audience can’t help but laugh nervously along. These moments of relief are short-lived however, and are punctuated by sudden plot twists: Nakamura, at the end of the stairs when Saeki manages to prevent Takao from falling down, or Nakamura, throwing a bucket of water over Takao’s white shirt out of anger. They are, essentially, as sporadic and unpredictable as Nakamura herself, considering that most of these shocking moments revolve around her. It’s hilarious, but it’s also terrifying. It also happens to be the sort of dark comedy I enjoy the most, so I hope it actually continues!
The big question is: is what Nakamura doing therapy, or is it actually sending Takao down a more twisted spiral as he descends into madness? I’d have to argue that it’s both. Takao, as I see it, is a complete weasel who lives by books and how he sees others, rather than taking a look at the world for what it is. Nakamura’s demented training forces Takao to realign himself with reality. But it also is a very sick way to make Takao realize how pathetic he is. Whereas normal human beings would just confront Takao with his issues and hope for him to progress, Nakamura’s demands are more like slaps to the face – oh, they definitely wake Takao up. But there’s a certain sting with each humiliating action, and I wonder if Takao will actually break before he resurfaces and comes to realize how ridiculous he really is. With our antagonist waving off with another creepy smile, and the clock beginning to tick a little harder, I’ll just say this – Flowers of Evil is definitely my favorite of the season, and character interaction is a large part of that favoritism.
wendeego: Who is Nanako Saeki?
One of the most popular girls in Takao’s class. A traditional Japanese beauty. Demure and pure-hearted, yet totally out of reach. A sacred being in a town in which everything corrodes into rust.
Except as far as we know, none of these things are true. Certainly, Saeki is Takao’s muse, the spark of inspiration that sets him on the path to becoming a deviant. But as these two episodes made very clear, Takao is in no way a reliable narrator. This is a boy who takes Saeki’s confirmation that yes, she will have a platonic relationship with him, as heavenly words straight from the angel’s mouth. This is a boy who (as to be expected from a middle school student) is not entirely sane. So if the narrator of the story cannot be trusted, than who can we trust? Who is Nanako Saeki?
Saeki is popular, and from what we can see she is quite attractive all things considered. But there are hints throughout these two episodes that she isn’t quite the flawless idol that Takao believes her to be. Nor is she a tool of the system in the same way that many of Takao’s classmates appear to be. Upon realizing that Takao associates with Nakamura, his entire class ostracizes him, but rather than follow suit Saeki is the very first to stand up to them. She does so because by standing up for Saeki in the previous episode, she believes he did something “really cool”–despite earlier displays of suspicious behavior on his part, despite his literally falling into her breasts in the second episode. She even agrees, horrors upon horrors, to go out on a date with him. A date in which she is confused and bored, but also at moments unusually interested despite the circumstances.
From what we see in episode 5, Saeki may never have gone out in a date in her life. She might never have had a boyfriend, and never kissed. This sort of thing isn’t too unusual in middle school, where “romance” is still relatively perfunctory, but it throws a spanner into Takao’s complex. On one hand Saeki is too good and pure of an individual to possibly have been defiled by anything. On the other hand, the fact that she responds to him indicates that Takao has a chance, and for her to remain undefiled she must remain forever outside of Takao’s reach. By all accounts Saeki should be out of Takao’s league, but while their date is an embarrassment Saeki never outright rejects him. Takao comes very close to kissing her, and while that could have been a terrible mistake there’s the possibility hanging over all this that Saeki wouldn’t have minded it.
So who is Nanako Saeki? The author taking a tactical nuke to Takao’s fantasies, of course. Saeki may appear to be the most unattainable girl in Takao’s class but she might just be into him. Maybe because the embers of Takao’s deviancy marks him as special in her mind, or maybe because under her apparent perfection hides incredible naivete. She’s anything but an impossibly perfect idol, and despite Takao’s inability to comprehend it, this is completely normal because there are no such thing as perfect idols in this world. If Flowers of Evil is about breaking free from society’s rusty cage through exploration of deepest perversity, it is also about breaking free of restrictions set by the mind: of blind worship and the idolization of vulnerable human beings. Flowers of Evil knows that you, too, once knew a Nanako Saeki. No matter how much you’d hate to admit it. And rather than letting you forget, it will play your worst memories of your worst nightmares recut in a blur of rotoscope and atmospheric sound, as you watch your old illusions be smashed over and over again.