Welp, shit got even more real.
gallifreyians: I’m baaaaaaaaaackk. There were so many interruptions this year in terms of the posting schedule that it’s taken me a while to get back to Aku no Hana. It is the best show of the season though, so I would be remiss if I didn’t back to it! Since I have been missing in action for the last four posts and six episodes, none of y’all really know how I feel about the show.
Let me just start by saying that Nakamura has to be my favorite character, and she really shines in episode ten. Everyone of the cast has to be read carefully because their words rarely line up with their internal reasonings and motivations, but this especially goes for Nakamura.
A lot of the critical analysis about her comes from the conversations she has with Kasuga and so focus on the theme of sexual repression, and while that is a very important theme to the show and to Nakamura’s character, I feel that coming at Nakamura from the perspective of that individual theme mistreats Nakamura as simply a narrative tool and misses out on the complexity of her as an actual character. I highly suggest that anyone who is watching Flowers of Evil this season read this review of episodes one to seven by E Minor of MoeSucks. They are completely spot-on in their analysis of the show, but — like I said before — look at the characters in terms of theme. Here I want to talk about the characters (specifically Nakamura) as characters, in contrast to the approach used by E Minor.
A big part of Kasuga is how he idealizes Saeki to the point of not being able to even see her as a person, and the relationship between Nakamura and Kasuga actually mirrors this. Nakamura, in her own way, idealizes Kasuga to the point of also not being able to conceptualize him as an actual person — until episode ten. In episode ten we have Kasuga’s dramatic admittance to being a normal, boring, empty person; this shattered Nakamura’s idea of Kasuga as a deviant that she could live vicariously through.
At the climax of the episode — when Kasuga was asked to make a choice between Saeki and Nakamura, and chose neither of them — Nakamura’s face as she looked at him really told it all. It had “But I love you.” written all over it. The hurt physically displayed was a conscious decision on the part of Mariya Ise, and so I don’t think that I am out of line with what I’m saying here. Nakamura was just as in love with Kasuga as Kasuga was with Saeki, but (being more of a social outcast than Kasuga [she is ostracized overtly while Kasuga is ostracized subconsciously and of his own accord]) reacted to and displayed this love differently.
I have to guess that Nakamura was draw to Kasuga because she saw him as kindred spirit in deviancy and wanting to escape their small town. Then, when Kasuga consistently told Nakamura that he wasn’t a deviant, her desire for her idea of Kasuga to be a reality took control and Nakamura tried to change him into her ideal. Over and over again Kasuga tried to convince Nakamura that he was normal and just as Kasuga denied all evidence of Saeki being less-than-perfect, Nakamura denied that before her stood an average teenage boy. Why else would Nakamura continually pressure Kasuga into letting his freak flag fly over these past ten episodes if not because she idealized and romanticized him as such? Nakamura’s attempts at getting Kasuga to admit that he is a deviant have been escalating, and I refuse to believe that it is because she is just crazy; there has to be a reason behind why she seems to be more and more desperate with making Kasuga act out, and I think that’s because she is desperate to prove her ideal right in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary.
While Nakamura is all about sexual oppression and smashing the conventions that hold her society back, she is also a teenage girl who fell in love with Kasuga.While Nakamura is a crazy teenage girl who does even crazier things for no fucking reason, she is also someone struggling with her own inner wants and desires. While Nakamura is the vehicle for the themes of the show and for Kasuga’s development as a character, she is also her own character with her own developmental arc. — And I can’t wait for her to be explored this way in a more textual manner as the show heads into it’s final lap.
wendeego: When you think about it, Kasuga’s bizarre relationship with Nakamura is very similar to our own infatuation with Flowers of Evil. It plumbs horrifying emotional depths, makes us laugh and shiver and cry often in one episode, but by god if it isn’t difficult to watch at times. The manga itself couches an explosive plot and characters we empathize with despite ourselves inside of a narrative of unimaginable cruelty, while the anime evokes the manga’s anarchist spirit through rotoscoping and a reliance on live-action film techniques over typical anime standbys. In each of its incarnations it’s the story we ultimately deserve, a portrayal of unflinching horror so vivid that it supersedes reality. Just as Neon Genesis Evangelion struck back against its own fanbase in the 90s, Flowers of Evil gives us exactly what we think we want, only to reveal those expectations to be hollow and problematic.
This episode called upon Kasuga, the protagonist, to make a choice: between his idol Saeki and a “normal” life, achieving his dream while locking him forever inside a rusty cage; and Nakamura, a monster who has led him to commit grievous crimes against himself and others, who offers him a way out beyond the mountains. At first glance, the choice is obvious. Choosing Saeki would lead to happiness, Nakamura to further acts of deviancy and depravity. One leads to a Good End, the other to a Bad End. Unfortunately, the truth is not so clear-cut. Saeki is a “better” person than Nakamura, but only in that she is better able to disguise her own foibles in order to fit into society. Nakamura, on the other hand, may be poisonous, but she is honest, and refuses to buy into the obsessive group-think perpetrated by the rest of her classmates. In addition, Kasuga’s obsession with Saeki renders it impossible for him to actually communicate with her, while a clear connection exists between him and Nakamura. She is the only one both able to see their hometown for the cage it is and whom is willing to escape, and the ability to transcend the borders of society and reach towards fulfillment is really, really tempting for Kasuga, who has spent the last several episodes rebelling in his own way.
The truth, though, is that the whole paradigm of “choice” in this circumstance is bullshit. In any other circumstance, the centerpiece of episode 10 would be a harem fantasy, the bland protagonist torn between two women who both appeal to completely different sides of him and also love him to pieces. Flowers of Evil transforms it into a nightmare, an emotional breakdown in the rain as two damaged adolescent girls scream at their prospective boyfriend, telling him to choose. In the end, going with Saeki would consign Kasuga to a life bound by society, incapable of expressing himself, while going with Nakamura would push Kasuga further and further away from society until it disappears all together. There is no right choice, just as there is no wrong choice. There are only choices with consequences, both good and bad, but consequences that Kasuga will have to face up to if he is to grow up and become a stronger person. But in the end, Kasuga doesn’t choose. When given a choice between sanity and deviancy, he chooses neither, instead shouting that he is neither good nor bad nor sane nor mad but empty. A hollow shell so caught up in his own presumption that when push came to shove, he couldn’t back up his own rhetoric with substance. Rather than deal with the consequences of his decisions he chooses to evade, and that hesitance exposes him to both Saeki and Nakamura for what he really is: a mundane, petty, pretentious person.
Of course, the punch line is that Kasuga is us. Chances are that when you too were in middle school, you were mundane, petty and pretentious, just like he was. Chances are that there were times when you were told to make a hard choice, and chose to delay rather than move forward. There is very little that is noble or brilliant or even exceptional about Kasuga, but in most cases the same could be said for the viewer. In a sense, Flowers of Evil is a narrative of self-flagellation, trotting out our worst fears and anxieties about our identities and our early years and then setting them on the torture rack for all to observe. It verges on sadistic at times, but director Nagahama grounds the proceedings in emotional honesty. Kasuga fails to make a choice, and disgusts both Saeki and Nakamura in one sweep, because of his own insecurities, but in recognizing his own deficiencies he comes one step closer towards self-realization. Flowers of Evil has been a polarizing show for many, and it can be a difficult and painful series to watch at the best of times. But it is held aloft by the hope that if there are no right or wrong choices, no good or bad, then if Kasuga still has a chance to mature and grow than we do too. Even if that path is weathered by rain and covered foot by foot with black thorns.
illegenes: I thought I said that nothing could really quite top off Episode 7, guys.
Well, I kind of guess I was wrong.
If Episode 7 is a climax – a building point for the relationship between Nakamura and Kasuga, and a shift in the hold these two young women hold over Kasuga, then Episode 10 is a crisis. It’s a cycle. It is where some things end (Kasuga’s relationship with Nakamura) , and others begin anew (Kasuga and perhaps Saeki’s relationship?). And with 3 episodes left, we may be very well asking, “Can this show wrap it up?”
As someone who’s read most of the manga (I’ve made it so that I know what happens next, but not next next, so the suspense still holds), I can say that Flowers of Evil will not reach the extreme, actual climax of the manga. In a way, it’s a bit of a loss, because it’s a great setup, and the point of views shared throughout the way pave for some really fascinating character development. Most notably is Saeki herself, who begins to crumble apart in this very episode, revealing some very disturbing skin underneath. I would hope that Flowers of Evil would be popular and acclaimed enough to achieve a second season so that this climax could be adapted, but I presume that depends on future sales, and based on the audience reception for the animation, chances are slim. That said, there are two ways this show could go to create a dynamic, lasting conclusion that manages to tie in the prevailing themes of sexuality and identity throughout the episodes, as well as the building character development.
- We could [SPOILERS FOLLOW, HIGHLIGHT AT YOUR OWN RISK] end at the scene where Kasuga is once again drawn in by Nakamura’s twisted charm; mainly the scene where he lies down on the floor in their tent, and she down at him, giving him her classic evil grin. I feel like this would be a decent way to end the show because it establishes three things: how each of these teenagers are fucked up in their own way, how Nakamura and Kasuga’s relationship is something that can’t actually be torn down, despite the pulls and nagging of Saeki, and really, the summary of Nakamura and Kasuga’s relationship itself. I don’t necessarily mean dominant and submissive, sexually, or in terms of power tug-of-war, but perhaps the idea that these two have cast society’s expectations on them completely to the point where they’re alone, left with each other. Is it romantic? Not at all. It’s stifling and disturbing, because it leaves room for an unhealthy relationship that only continues to spiral further downward. However, my minor gripe with this option would be that it leaves Saeki out in the open, a castaway character, used as a buffer for Kasuga’s naivety when she is actually quite her own individual.
- We could get an original ending. I have more than enough faith to believe in Nagahama’s skill, and it’s clear from the opening title every week that he’s set out a plan for these thirteen episodes. Whether it be an ultimate confrontation between the three – though I believe nothing can quite top off the confrontation of this week’s episode – or something entirely different, I’m not really sure. It does seem odd to put all of my hope into a director when anime tend to be encumbered by an unfulfilling ending, but with what Flowers of Evil has proven to me so far, I have no doubt that he understands these characters and their walls enough to make a deeply satisfying finale.
Whichever route it may be, I think it’s enough to point out that Flowers of Evil has made an impact on all of us, burgeoning into a new piece that’s anything but prosaic. I’m excited to see how this fiasco will conclude, and if these kids will ever find the answer they’re looking for.