The Flowers of Evil – Review
Darkness lurks everywhere, in every human heart, and sometimes it takes just a second of weakness for it to take root. For Kasuga Takao, that germination begins when his obsession with his beautiful classmate Nanako meets the opportunity to borrow her used gym clothes. Unfortunately, his loathsome act of laundry theft is witnessed by Sawa, the strange girl who sits behind him in class. Soon, Sawa’s own dark obsessions begin to hook their twisted tendrils into Takao’s miserable existence.
Considering its rather evocative title, The Flowers of Evil begins rather innocently as a simple yet odd tale of teenage romance amidst a bustling high school setting. It is a premise we all have probably seen numerous times within anime before, an element of the medium we have grown particularly accustomed to due to it being a staple of the medium as a whole. But one should always remember that initial impressions can indeed be quite deceiving, and what starts out as an ordinary expression of adolescent adoration soon enters into a psychological exploration and subsequent exhibition of some of the most detestable human behavior imaginable. Based on the manga series from author Shuzo Oshimi, The Flowers of Evil is definitely not a series for the lighthearted, but it is one that sincerely explores some of the darkest reaches of human depravity in a visually and thematically powerful fashion.
Expounding upon what was stated earlier, The Flowers of Evil is not necessarily a series that many viewers may enjoy due to its challenging material. Working more as a graphic exploration of nihilism within modern Japanese society, the series showcases the emotional and psychological turmoil that Takao experiences with the twisted Sawa. Sawa is seen as a conniving, cruel, and emotionally detached individual who holds no qualms with making Takao suffer for what she perceives as utterly perverted behavior on his behalf. She then justifies her own sadomasochistic behavior by blackmailing Takao, proclaiming that she alone has discovered Takao’s ‘true’ nature and will expose him if need be. The severe psychological tendencies expressed by Sawa provides the series with a frightening introspection into the mind of a sociopath, with her manipulative practices often being terrifying examples of just how far she will go to control Takao both emotionally and physically.
The series showcases this struggle rather vividly through inner monologues and surrealism that encapsulates the confusing mental state of its characters quite well, bringing us as viewers into a disturbing world where extreme cruelty reigns supreme and the truth can be reshaped to fit one’s personal bidding. We slowly begin to feel the frustration that Takao faces as he continuously attempts to reconcile his conflict between telling the truth to Nanako or keeping it a secret under the threatening guise of Sawa if he does not satisfy her increasingly deviating requests. It is this extortion by Sawa that showcases Takao as a highly misunderstood individual whose standard of morality is continually pushed to its limits as he questions his worth as human being. There is plenty of self loathing expressed by Takao throughout the series, but it never feels redundant or dishonest, instead showing us how truly despairing his situation has become.
But the plausibility surrounding Takao’s apparent theft of Nanako’s clothing and his subsequent actions involving Sawa are a somewhat questionable element of the series. Firstly, seeing that Takao could have easily put back Nanako’s clothing despite Sawa’s threats would seem to be the most reasonable solution given that only Takao and Sawa knew the truth of the matter. Takao could have wipe his hands clean of the incident even if Sawa exposed him, choosing to publicly deny the accusations would have been sufficient enough, especially given Sawa’s rather bad reputation and standing within class. Of course, this approach would have clashed more with Japan’s societal issues concerning guilt, but then again, would have also perhaps been a more believable take on the matter. Secondly, Takao seems all too concerned about his public image becoming tarnished more so than actively opposing the disturbing requests made by Sawa. Many viewers will perceive him as appearing too ‘weak’ or ‘docile’, which for the most part they are correct, but then again, that is also very descriptive of the character himself and his growth throughout the series.
Perhaps the strongest contributing element to the series is its innovative use of ‘rotoscoping’, an animation technique in which animators trace over real life footage therein delivering realistic visuals. This animation approach works effectively well here considering the sincerity of the narrative, in turn making important scenes within the series all the more genuine, not only in the scope of narrative but also visually as well. Some viewers may not enjoy the use of such animation techniques if they are a fan of the manga series though, as the manga’s character designs are entirely different from what is presented here, but it is also creatively handled in a matter that reinforces the series’ being based more in reality than not. It is surprising to see it work effectively here, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy with ease as we jump in and out of the psychological framework of Takao. The entire tone of the series is extremely atmospheric, bringing about an underlying sense of creepiness through its visuals alone. One could easily suggest that The Flowers of Evil could have been a live-action venture, but it remains strangely exotic due to its unique combination of live-action with that of animation.
Considering that The Flowers of Evil is based upon french poet Charles Baudelaire’s collection of poems of the same name – a collection whose themes centered around eroticism and immorality – it should come at relatively little surprise then that it is a series delving into the dark mental landscapes of its characters. Presented more as a tale concerning the depravities that can encompass relationships, The Flowers of Evil does not take its narrative lightly and may be entirely too depressingly tragic for some viewers. It is a series that reflects upon some of the more taboo aspects of human interaction, seemingly inverting the foundations of public perception and how one views themselves personally in the world versus who they truly are. The Flowers of Evil may not be a series for everyone due to its exceedingly dark nature, but it is undeniably one of the most powerfully visceral anime series to be released in quite some time.
Author: Miguel Douglas
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