The flower bloomed. The flower bloomed. It was terribly afraid of the wind.
illegenes: To say that the last six minutes of Flowers of Evil‘s latest episode were powerful and relentless, yet inspiring and terrifying, would be an understatement. And to say that Flowers of Evil has defied every one of my expectations would also be an understatement. But first, let’s go back to Episode 6, which marks a steady turn in events.
Saeki and Kasuga are dating. To think that this would even be possible is unfathomable. Saeki and Kasuga share almost nothing in common, except for the fact that they are molded into these obscure forms by the society they so desperately seek to be a part of. However, whereas Kasuga wants to only blend in, Saeki is tired of blending in. She is tired of being the perfect darling girl everyone flocks to, the perfect student, the A+ daughter, etc. And so, she sees something in Kasuga. Maybe it’s that ‘hentai’ or the fact that Kasuga struggles with everyday normal life, but that’s how she chooses to connect with him. It’s interesting that out of all the things, Saeki – a girl that seems almost too perfect to be true – looks at what Kasuga could be, potentially, and sees the goodness in him. Kasuga sees an extreme version; he pictures Saeki as his Venus and his path to enlightenment and liberation. He refuses to actually see Saeki for what she is.
But Saeki is determined to see the best in everyone, even Nakamura, the girl who forcefully separates herself from the rest of the crowd because she looks down on them and sees them at their worst. The two are perfect foils. Nakamura alienates herself, creating walls and destroying others, while Saeki tries to bring her own walls down but doesn’t bother to actually break any walls that others have created. Instead, she accepts them and tries to go around them. This method would work on anyone but Kasuga and Nakamura, two people who live by their walls and hide behind them. Saeki tries to keep things normal and controlled, but how do you do that when the people you’ve befriended are anything but that? When the people you trust are individuals on a tipping point, between balance and chaos (and one has tipped far into the other direction)? How do you handle these kinds of people?
“It takes one to know one,” they say, and in this case, I’d have to agree. Saeki may see the good in Kasuga, but she certainly doesn’t see the bad. Nakamura sees both, but doesn’t care about the former. She wants to break Kasuga into pieces, until he’s raw and as fucked up as she is. The result is the push and pull dynamic that’s made these two so fascinating to watch, and Episode 7 is that climax when Kasuga is finally faced with the opportunity of peace; of Nakamura walking out of his life forever and him being able to pursue his relationship with Saeki the way he wants. One would think that Kasuga would be happier than anything in the world to just watch Nakamura leave, and yet, he does the exact opposite. He runs after her. Why? We could say that Kasuga gives into his darker and more raw impulses, and we could also argue that Kasuga is still a weak, broken being who can’t stand the idea of disappointing someone – even if that one is abusive and crazy (consider it a sort of demented Stockholm Syndrome). Despite the actual reason, instead of Kasuga skipping back home at night, continuing the false and idealistic relationship he’s always wanted, we see Kasuga be broken as he finally tears those walls he so painstakingly attempted to keep standing up and become the one thing Nakamura has seen in him all along.
But instead of it being destructive and terrifying, it’s liberating. It’s probably the happiest moment we’ve ever seen from Kasuga; the boy who wanted to sit in the corner and live his life through books. As he writes “SHIT” on the tables and flings black paint around the classroom, Nakamura dances triumphantly, not just for Kasuga, but for herself. And it’s up to this very point that we realize that Kasuga and Saeki could never actually fit. They may be dating, they may have tried, but to try to make them work would be like pairing apples with oranges. This isn’t to say that Nakamura is the One True Person for Kasuga – she’s a terrible influence, but to deny that she’s opened Kasuga up and released him from the chains that have bound him would be ridiculous. She’s changed Kasuga more than Saeki ever could have; for better or for worse is up to us to decide. The show remains impassive on this stance.
I can’t really add anything to the last six minutes of Episode 7; they are a triumph for the show, for anime, for adaptations everywhere. Those last minutes are more effective than any manga panel could ever be. The moments are beautiful and horrifying, once you realize that in those few minutes alone, Kasuga and Nakamura are ‘perfect.’ Just as Nina from Black Swan stabs herself and shatters the mirror only to perform her act masterfully, tumbling down and saying “I felt it, I was perfect,” Kasuga and Nakamura here, are tearing their own image apart, performing their own act. An ugly duckling becomes a black swan, rearing its head. The finale? I can’t even begin to dream of what follows.
It may not be the ‘better’ solution, but Flowers of Evil has never really been about people making the best choices for themselves, has it? As Nakamura and Kasuga lie down in the yin/yang position, with knocked over desks and paint scattered everywhere around them and night slowly turns into dawn, we can only wonder as to what will happen next. The egg has hatched, the ghost has awoken. The act is done. Every action has a consequence – and it seems like the consequences of this episode have only just begun.
wendeego: Natasha already talked quite a bit about why these past two episodes have been so great, and I’m hesitant to reiterate her points. That said, let’s talk about art.
People expect different things from their entertainment. Some want to laugh, others cry, and others (this is anime we’re talking about, after all) oogle women and men in various stages of undress. Many want characters they can connect to, or intense action sequences, or even romance. Now there are people out there who believe that television is a formula, that narrative is a formula: that stocking an appealing premise with a good enough budget and popular character archetypes is enough to ensure monetary and critical success. There is some truth to this, of course. Writing has rules, there is a clear difference between a story that is told ineptly and a story that is told well. Some of the best anime ever made has come about by creators working within extremely tight limitations, both budget-wise and otherwise. But as important as rules are, knowing when and how to break them can be just as important.
Flowers of Evil devoted itself from the very beginning to breaking every rule imaginable. It took an already difficult premise, featuring scenes of middle schoolers perpetrating horrific mental and sexual violence on each other, and then decided to do the whole thing in rotoscope. The first episode devoted itself to atmosphere and routine rather than establish the premise immediately. Anime fans across the internet rioted; 4chan cancelled their preorders in bulk, leading to the delay of the oncoming Blurays. Very few people appear to be blogging about or even watching the show. This is a series from a director who’s worked on both Mushishi and Detroit Metal City, two masterpieces of their respective genres, and nobody is talking about it. This is a series that is practically as audacious in concept as something like Madoka Magica or Mawaru Penguindrum, the two best shows of 2011, and with a few notable exceptions it has received relatively little attention. Chances are the series will bomb just as badly as Shinsekai Yori did this year, or worse.
What makes this especially damning is that in contrast to every single person who said that the adaptation of Flowers of Evil was a failure, that the creators had made blasphemy of the original manga, the last six or so minutes of episode 7 entirely justified the series thus far and then some. Just about everything the series had been building towards all came to the surface in a literal dance of destruction that razed everything prior to the ground. In a single episode, Flowers took a hammer to the school life genre and brought it crashing to the ground. It reversed the cliches of young romance for something far more powerful and interesting. It took the rusty cage of the previous episode and leveled it with glee that practically ranged on the Satanic. In short, powerful stuff. A perfect example of an adaptation refining already good material into something transcendent. And nobody is watching Flowers of Evil.
In 2011, Madoka captured the zeitgeist. Flowers of Evil, on the other hand, may have overshot the zeitgeist by miles. The world may not be ready for a show done in rotoscope, it may not be ready for a series about school life that is slow and awkward and horrifying and at times incredibly disturbing. Where old cliches are either torn apart or transformed into something poisonous. But chances are that if this series keeps up, if it continues to improve by leaps and bounds, years later people will stumble upon Flowers of Evil and realize that it was brilliant. That is might have been (could still be) a classic. The series isn’t over yet and it feels premature to forecast a series’s quality before it finishes, but here you go: if Flowers of Evil is yet capable of topping this episode again, and again, for the next few weeks, then we might have something important on our hands. The director and the original mangaka made it clear in proceeding interviews that they care less about commercial success than in making an impact on the audience. At this, they have certainly succeeded. What remains to be seen is the size of that impact: a broken heart, or a meteor crater? An apocalypse?
In his analysis of the surreal Russian adventure game Pathologic, Quentin Smith noted the value of “un-fun”–that for a game to not be enjoyable, to provoke anxiety and confusion, can be just as effective in its own way as the satisfying mechanics found in more conventional video games. Flowers of Evil is animated arsenic, perverting expectations and the good feelings associated with old storytelling tropes into something other. But while it may be unconventional and even unpopular, I think that the existence of Flowers is important. In an increasingly insular industry where innovation is discouraged and quick gratification is prioritized over long-lasting impact, the work of directors like Hiroshi Nagahama and mangaka Shuzo Oshimi matter more than ever. Flowers of Evil isn’t precisely high art, but it leaves a serious bruise.