“O douleur! O douleur! Le Temps mange la vie.” (Oh pain! Oh pain! Time eats life.) – Charles Baudelaire.
Flowers of Evil was one of the more controversial anime of recent years, primarily due to its unusual artistic style that was different to the original manga version. Many people thought it deviated too far from its source. However, if you go along with it, you will see that this style does at times help to make the series more dramatic.
Takao Kasuga is boy in middle school whose main passions are divided between a girl in his class Nanako Saeki, and his love of obscure literature, his favourite book being Charles Baudelaire’s collection of poetry entitled The Flowers of Evil. After one school day finishes, he realises he left his copy of the book in his desk and goes to collect it. When he arrives in the classroom he also discovers that Saeki has forgotten her gym kit. He takes the clothes, planning to return them to her, but in fact just ends up stealing them. The next day Saeki reports the kit stolen.
Takao wonders if he has got away with his crime, but then learns there was a witness: Sawa Nakamura, the most troublesome girl in his class, who is always swearing at teachers and not doing anything she is told to do. Nakamura ends up blackmailing Takao into a “contract”, getting him to do what she considers acts that will show the he is a pervert, such as making Takao ask Saeki out on a day, and then on the actual day forcing Takao to wear Saeki’s gym kit under his normal clothes. Takao ends up becoming increasingly torn between Saeki and Nakamura. Should he confess to his crime? Should he become more romantically involved with Saeki? Should he go with Nakamura and hope to get away from their boring lives? Can he even cope with the pressure that has been put on him by all of these incidents?
The stand-out element of Flowers of Evil is the style of animation. It uses “rotoscoping”, which involves tracing over live-action stills and then creating a very realistic animation style. The animation therefore is acted out by the voice actors. At the time it went out, many people disliked it, believing it was too unfaithful to Shuzo Oshimi’s manga. Others disliked the re-used of backgrounds, or the fact that the faces were less animated. When I first watched it, I felt a bit annoyed that it was not as fluid as most anime are.
However, as you watch it, the more you are sucked into this twisted view of the world, the more you realise just how appropriate the use of rotoscoping actually is. When you combine this with the rather ambient soundtrack, and the psychological drama written in the original manga, it all comes together wonderfully. There is one famous scene in the seventh episode, where Takao finally “loses it” as it were and commits this gigantic act of rebellion with Nakamura. The start of the eighth episode follows on after this, with this very long scene of a very messy Takao and Nakamura slowly walking down the town streets in the early hours of the morning, hand-in-hand, without saying a word. This rather sombre scene, mixed with the music, the events that have occurred and the animation, make this one of the most brilliant anime scenes I can recall. It shows that sometimes a lot can be done when in fact hardly anything is going on. It is hard to make an anime work well when it is done slowly. Some of the worst anime I have seen are ones which just drag along because nothing happens, but in Flowers of Evil they can create a situation which can actually support such a scene. It is about five minutes long, but you still want to keep watching it. There are other more experimental moments, too: one episode is mostly set outdoors at night, and for much of it is very dark, set on an unlit mountain road. It makes for a gloomy, more atmospheric viewing.
It should be mentioned that people who find the animation style not to their liking may have other problems with this collection. For starters, you can only have it in a Japanese dub. It only adapts about a third of the original manga. There are no real extras to speak of; the only ones available are trailers for other shows and “disc credits” – a list of four people and groups responsible for making the DVD collection. You do not even get textless opening and closing, but this is mainly because there are no real animated titles sequences at all. The ending is all text, and the only animations in the openings are previews of that particular episode. Speaking of DVDs, you can only buy it as a DVD in the UK, whereas the Americans have released it on Blu-ray, so you can guess which version people are most likely to buy.
However, most of this series is really enjoyable. It makes for a nice change from the big action shows we normally see. It mixes an innovative animation style with a gripping plot and a good soundtrack. In terms of the music used in the titles, the most interesting is the ending, “A Last Flower” by Asa-Chang & Junray, which appears to be spoken-word and recorded using a rather distorting microphone. The opening song is “Aku no Hana” by Uchujin, and features three different performers over the course of the series, the best of which is probably the second one, Mariko Goto.
Flowers of Evil is a series for people who want to try something that is a bit more experimental, outside of the normal anime material we see. If you are annoyed by the fact it only adapts a small part of the story, then it should be mentioned that the show ends with a clear indication that they want to create a second series.