I Will Follow You Into the Dark; Flowers of Evil Episode 11

Aku_no_Hana_-_11_[78602FB9]_Jun 25, 2013 7.00.19 PM

With farewells and returns, Aku no Hana this week makes for some interesting progress!

 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.

– Wendeego, Episode 10’s review

illegenes: Wendeego made a very concise and particular statement in last week’s review, which I think comes back in full circle with this week’s episode. Episode 11 marks a calm before the storm, and while we immediately come to believe that this episode was filled with taut symbolism through walking and surreal dreams, there’s also an incredibly powerful moment that marks a different rite of passage in Kasuga’s life. That is the very last few minutes of the episode, when Kasuga condemns himself – his past self and Baudelaire – and chooses to be with Nakamura, ultimately leaving his relationship with Saeki (or whatever is left) and his own future to wither into despair.

What makes this last scene so interesting is that previously, Kasuga was a person who was pushed by other forces of nature. Before he met Nakamura, Kasuga’s life was defined by novels. His head was wrapped around flowery text and the smell of paper books, of contrasting images (divinity and sin) that perhaps reflected whatever he thought of himself. Kasuga was influenced by Fleurs de Mal to see himself as a petty being, not worthy of being in Saeki’s grace. After establishing a relationship with Nakamura, Kasuga’s life revolved around her simple but exaggerated whims. He indulged in his own sin by wearing Saeki’s gym clothes. He started a relationship with Saeki only after Nakamura’s consent, despite having given into his own impulses twice. Kasuga is pressured into making something of his life – whether it breaks him or makes him better – which results in the beautiful but horrifying scene in Episode 7 where both happens. Kasuga breaks himself and is born anew, finally giving into corruption and throwing redemption out the door. This is all spurred by Nakamura and her hand of deviancy, however. And thus, up to this point, Kasuga is nothing more than an empty vessel who can only validate his existence through the commands and nurturing of others – clearly seen in Episode 10, where he can’t even choose which life he wants to lead when forced to choose. He opts the easy way out, telling himself that he is empty, that “there is nothing to lay bare.”

Both girls leave him. Kasuga is alone more than ever in Episode 11 and is perhaps, emptier than he was in the first episode. Here, there are no books to console him, to give him the illusion that he is well-read and secretly more knowledgeable than anyone else in the room. His parents grieve at his actions and give him no sympathy whatsoever. The classroom and pool are even more awkward as he’s forced to see the faces of the people he has betrayed. But what Episode 11 is about the most is how Kasuga has betrayed himself, more than anyone. He has stepped on all of the ideals he held so dear, and has ultimately become nothing in the process.

That all changes when he sees this surreal dream, but the change really happens when Kasuga turns his back on the life he led, despite its falseness. This is not an action of forgetting, of delusion – things Kasuga has done to himself over and over again throughout this show. This is not a reclaiming of identity either, as Kasuga has reaped what he has sown (aka nothing) and has set fire to any roots that had grown through Nakamura and others’ tending to. Kasuga has made his own choice, not by anyone, not from anyone, and not through anyone but himself. He is aware of what he is leading himself into as much as he’s aware of what he’s leaving behind. There is no happy end here, and yet, it’s because Kasuga chooses it that it feels like a sort of victory.

The thing is, Aku no Hana at heart, is show about self destructional kids who make their own choices not just because of manipulation, but because they forcefully lead themselves to thinking that this choice is the only way “out.” It is the delusion that has tempted Kasuga over and over again, to trample his own roots and join Nakamura’s. It is the delusion that makes Saeki take her bicycle out in the night and chase a man who can never really fufill what she wants in the end. And it is the desire that isolates and twists Nakamura day and night into insanity. All of these children are the same: empty and alone, seeking to find another kindred soul. Kasuga has made his choice and has taken steps to make a new “him,” but what are the consequences? And how will these two girls respond? We have passed the eye of the storm – the final wreck has yet to been seen.

gallifreyians: Episode eleven is incredibly similar to episode eight as they are both dominated by walking scenes, but that is where the similarities end. While parallel structure is often used as a way to highlight the similarities between events, here the parallel structure between the walking scenes of episodes eight and eleven are used to highlight the key differences .

Running scenes are generally, by nature, existential. What comes to mind first is Akira’s running scene in Hirokazu Koreeda’s 2004 film Nobody Knows — Akira is physically running away from an offer to help him escape the horrible life he has been straddled with and towards home (where all of his problems lie), but symbolically is running to try and get away from the difficulties he faces — the soul-searching and contradiction in that scene make it existential in nature. This holds true for many scenes in film where characters are running for extended periods of time (It’s a thing.) and applies here with both of the scenes in the anime. In episode eight, after delving deeper into depravity than they ever have before, Kasuga and Nakamura left the school and walked home; symbolically they walked away from depravity and back into normalcy, yet they left the school in order to preserve their ability to be deviants — if they had stayed, they would’ve been discovered and their ‘fun’ would’ve been put to a premature end. And (at least in Kasuga’s mind) there must’ve been a conflict about what had occurred and the possibility of facing repercussions for what they had done in the real world. BOOM, existential.

The climax of episode seven is diametrically opposed to the climax of episode ten; episode seven sees all of Nakamura’s work on Kasuga as a deviant come to fruition but then episode ten sees all of that ‘progress’ fall apart as Kasuga embraces his the fact that he is normal and empty. So then, just as there is an internal struggle in Kasuga in episode eight over what had happened in episode seven, there is an internal struggle in episode eleven about what happened in episode ten — which is explored in the walking scene. Before telling both Nakamura and Saeki that he wasn’t what they wanted, that he was a normal and empty person, I would argue that Kasuga was actually happy — Kasuga had found two people who, while being royally fucked up, took a genuine interest in him and wanted to be around him. But, the act of coming clean in episode ten wrecked both of his relationships with these wonderful women. The walking scene is Kasuga realizing that he made a horrible mistake, that he threw away two of the most meaningful relationships that he had ever had in favor of being pitifully alone. The regret and bitter loneliness that have filled Kasuga’s existence over these past few months make this scene more than existential.

Now that I have convinced you of the existentialism filled in the scenes of episodes eight and eleven, it’s time to talk about how  they both are about Kasuga’s feelings about the choices he has made, yet are diametrically opposed. On another level of symbolism, Kasuga walked away from deviancy and towards normalcy in episode eight yet away from a normal life and towards being a pervert with Nakamura in episode eleven. Both episodes seven and ten (which precede our walking scenes) are climaxes, but climaxes of opposing themes — like I’ve said before, episode seven is where the theme of deviancy comes to fruition, but in episode ten we have the theme of being pedestrian. We then have to look at where both of these walking scenes actually take Kasuga and the audience. After wrecking the classroom Kasuga walks home, but specifically away from the school and into the town: the town, being the epitome of the idea of dull and boring and normal. Thematically Kasuga rejects everything about debauchery and accepts living a normal life, and the continual pressure on all sides to be a pervert led him to confess how he felt to everyone. Immediately after all of that though, we have the diametrically opposed episode eleven; and now you can see what the hell I’ve been talking about. In Kasuga’s dream, he walked out of his house, through the town, away from the town and to Nakamura. The journey Kasuga went on in episode eleven is one from being a plebeian and towards accepting being a creepy bastard: aka the exact reverse of what he has been doing.

I think that one of the things at the heart of Aku no Hana is Kasuga and his search for identity. Kasuga has an immense drive to be different from everyone, yet all the while feels that he is completely empty like everyone else in town. We have seen this theme play out a lot in the recent episodes, with Kasuga going back and forth with himself and with everyone else around him. With all of the dynamic changes going on within Kasuga about his personal identity, I cannot wait to see how Nagahama will end this series, and with which identity Kasuga will eventually settle upon.

wendeego: Let’s roll back time a few months. Back when the controversial first episode of Flowers of Evil aired, fellow aniblogger Click (of Pretense with Glasses) mentioned during a Skype rewatch of infamous animated disaster Guilty Crown that he wasn’t sure what to make of Flowers’s first episode. Others had faulted the slow pacing, the occasionally poorly-done rotoscoping, but Click said something that was difficult for me to dismiss: if the great gift of animation was the freedom to do anything, to indulge in flights of fancy or convey emotion through warping character designs, then wouldn’t an anime series bound to “real life” be inherently lifeless? Besides one or two touches of the weird (the titular Flower of Evil opening its eye, the repetition of various sites around Kasuga’s town that would become a series visual motif) the first episode of the anime was firmly grounded–perhaps too grounded–in the mundane. Subsequent episodes dabbled more and more in visual strangeness, eventually reaching the frenzied heights of Kasuga and Nakamura trashing their classroom in the seventh episode. But it isn’t until episode eleven, in many ways a “calm before the storm,” that the staff of the Flowers of Evil anime finally went all out and plunged their character into an honest-to-goodness dream sequence. One that took the delicate line the series had thus far trod between the reality of live action and the hysteria of animation, and muddied it fantasy overwhelmed reality. A town in flames, Nakamura surveying the industrial hellscape, and flowers of evil everywhere, growing out of every crevice like weeds.

It’s really very clever the way it is executed. The series treats the viewer to yet another walking scene, Kasuga wandering through town at an exaggeratedly slow pace. We’ve already seen this before with Kasuga and Nakamura in episode eight, and so the first reaction is annoyance. Then uncertainty. “Why are they making us watch Kasuga walk through the town again? Wasn’t once enough?” It isn’t until Kasuga walks past a one-eyed withered black flower (are your eyes deceiving you?) and then three more (perhaps not) that it becomes clear we are in for something different. That rather than walking home, Kasuga is walking away from home, out of his reality and into the city beneath the city Kasuga sees every day. Kasuga remains rotoscoped, a live action teenager drawn over, but his surroundings become stranger and stranger until they become the kind of surreal allegory we’d expect from an Ikuhara anime. It’s the kind of melding of reality and fiction that I’ve been hoping for the entire series, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the staff definitely delivered.

Think for a moment about how another director might have handled this series. A Flowers of Evil directed by Akiyuki Shinbou would probably result in at least one of these dream landscapes every episode, with the cast constantly swimming in the abstract. But throughout the series, director Nagahama has been very careful about when exactly to take the cast deep into the strange. Most of Flowers is framed using what are essentially live-action techniques, with the absolute minimum of obvious visual flourishes. It’s only during episodes like this that the gloves come off and what some claimed to be “anti-animation” reveals itself to be anything but. Honestly, were another director to have taken a different approach, the series might have been overwhelmed. The plot of Flowers of Evil is already intense enough that keeping anything but a firm hand on the characters and their stories might have ruined it. But Nagahama smartly put the true meat of the story at the center of the adaptation, grounding the proceedings in the character’s emotions and treating what could have been totally ridiculous with a great deal of respect. It’s moments like this where it becomes clear exactly how horribly the Flowers of Evil anime could have gone wrong, and how brilliant the direction really is.

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