I’ve not watched a lot of anime lately as you can probably tell. Too much coming out of Japan these days is tripe littered with moe faces, slice of life without any comedy, or harem shows. Mostly all of that rolled together into a sticky-bun of awful. Ever since summer, though, Aku no Hana has been on my radar. The premise and title card were intriguing enough to stay buried in my mind until recently when, trapped by the snows of winter, I pulled it out and finally watched it. I was not disappointed. If there were a single word to describe Aku no Hana, it would be visceral.

Aku-no-Hana

The simplistic plot of the currently one-season anime is as follows. An introverted and socially awkward middle-schooler by the name of Kasuga has a crush on the class beauty Saeki. He considers her his muse and goddess after having feelings for her for over a year, but he cannot approach her. His love of old and obscure books, in particular, Les Fleurs du mal by Charles Baudelaire, makes him feel at once above the world and yet not worthy of it. One evening, he returns to his classroom to retrieve his forgotten book and finds Saeki’s gym clothes on the floor. In a moment of weakness he steals them and takes them home. However, the social outcast girl Nakamura has witnessed his crime and blackmails him into making a contract with her such that she can expose him for the true pervert she assumes him to be. What follows is a series of increasingly cruel events that take place between all of these characters.

Aku-no-Hana-1-1Before delving into a spoiler filled analysis, I’d like to give a review of the show for you. Go watch it. No, really, right now. If you have any predisposition to psychological morality plays or just Japanese literary motifs in general, go find this show and devour it. Throughout it’s run, Aku no Hana keeps the viewer in an almost constant state of feeling the same gut rending anxiety that Kasuga has. It’s a feeling that sits in your stomach like a stone, weighing you down with the same social pressure and mounting animalistic tension that he feels. It’s an effect achieved through the almost insane decision to animate Aku no Hana using rotoscoping (filming live actors and then tracing their outlines into animation). A lot of fans of the mange became infuriated by the choice to not go full “anime” even after the author said that he loved it, and I can see why. The almost, but not quite, realism of the show balances the real and imagined vices whirling around in Kasuga’s adolescent mind, it heightens beauty and twists ugliness to uncomfortable levels. Really, if they had gone all anime, it would have been as empathetic, but if they had gone live action, it would have felt like a soap opera.

Aku no Hana is at its core, though, an expression of what it is like to be an adolescent boy in Japan, or honestly, in any western culture. The choices presented to him and his attitudes on life mirror that which every boy must go through to get a man. Kasuga, though, seems to choose all the wrong paths along his journey, making his not a journey to manhood, but a journey to depravity. The anime, as of this writing, only covers the first half of Kasuga’s middle-school years and there very much should be a second season to cover the ultimate conclusion of his actions. I know not of any plans to make a second season a reality yet, but it would be a disservice to the Japanese arts to not have one. Aku no Hana is more akin to the works of classical literature it sets as one of its own motifs than it does anything else that it shares a media genre with. The morals are complex, the choices overwhelming, the atmosphere almost oppressive, and the experience a twist of the gut.  Go see it now.

Analysis (contains anime & manga spoilers)

In the end, the questions about Kasuga, Saeki, and Nakamura that are not yet answered make a deep statement about the world they, and by extension, we live in. The animation style shows us that this is fantasy, yet this is also our world. Our own answers to these questions make us who we are and shape our being. If you want to experience this as well, go watch Aku no Hana.

Rating: ★★★★½

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