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[Crunchyroll promo art]
AKA: Aku no Hana, 惡の華 (Japanese)
Genre: High school psychological drama
Length: Television series, 13 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently licensed by Sentai Filmworks, also available on Crunchyroll
Content Rating: 17+ (fan service, violence, suggestive themes)
Related Series: None
Also Recommended: Serial Experiments Lain
Notes: Based on the manga by Shuuzou Oshimi, currently running in Kodansha's Bessatsu Shounen Magazine. The manga is currently available in North America through Vertical.
Rating:
 

Flowers of Evil

Synopsis

Takao Kasuga is a junior high school kid who is love with his class' most popular girl, Nanako Saeki. One day when he's alone in the classroom, he takes her gym uniform out of impulse. He tries to return them the next day, but when a report on the theft of Saeki's clothes is spread across the school, he's reluctant to do so. This gets the attention of one Sawa Nakamura, an unapproachable girl with a dirty mouth and grumpy demeanor who forces Kasuga to make a contract with her and do whatever she says, or she'll blab about the uniform incident (she was the only other one there at the time who saw him take it). Having no chance, Kasuga reluctantly agrees, starting a tangled relationship between the two.

Review

One of the main reasons for my lowered output of reviews in the past year is finding new anime to really talk about. Yes, I could review and talk about the typical random schoolgirl comedy / mecha show of the season, but sometimes I just want to look at something a bit more interesting, dark, or out there. And Flowers of Evil happens to be just that. Yes, it's a series about school kids, but it's like the anti-thesis of the modern, perky high school anime comedy we're all used to. There aren't any random cutaways, chibis, or spotlight stealing supporting characters to distract viewers in this series. And aside from the antics of one minor character (Masakazu) and his friends, there's also almost no comedy at all. Flowers is Evil is dark, unhappy, and at times even downright unpleasant, and I love it for it.

Flowers of Evil's main cast certainly looks like your archetypical listing of characters at first glance. You have a shy boy for a lead and two girls: a foul-mouthed delinquent and the pretty nice girl the male lead has a crush on. This changes rather quickly, though, as it deconstructs the hell out of all three of them. Kasuga seems like a relatable, typical boy who likes books, until you learn that he's a bit of a snob about it just because he does read, and looks down on his class. Then we see him do things irrationally against his shy nature, like stealing a girl's gym uniform, because of his teenage urges. No outside pressure, no bullying, no dare from his friends; he just does it on a whim when the opportunity is given to him. Who hasn't had a moment of spontaneous decision like that? He contemplates giving it back, but is worried that doing so will only make the problem (which gets reported to the school rather quickly) much worse. Though Kasuga is not a nice fellow, it's hard not to sympathize with his inner struggles from this one event that literally drives the rest of the show. There is no filler in Flowers of Evil, and never does the series leave his side for long.

Nakamura isn't what she seems, either. In a typical school-based anime she would just be a jerk with a hidden soft side, but not here. Nakamura is a little on the insane side of the spectrum, pushy, selfish, and not afraid of expressing herself, even to her teachers. Even her belittling/blackmailing of Kasuga, which at first looks like harmless (albeit humiliating) pushing, is set up as much more than that over the series' run. Their interaction builds up and up like a very shook-up soda bottle, one let loose at the end of episode 7. It ends with an event built up from the very first episode up, resulting in one of the series' most chaotic and memorable scenes, if not THE most. Around this time we also found out why Nakamura chose Kasuga of all boys to make a contract with. There's plenty of development here with a character who typically is treated as an angry girl with a heart of gold in most of these series.

For our final lead we have Saeki. She's pot rayed at first as the perky, cheerful, pretty girl, and for a while she is. It takes her the longest of the three leads for her real personality to surface, but once she does, it's actually a bit surprising to see how she reacts. It definitely surprised me, at least.

All three of Flowers of Evil's leads are pretty well-developed, and who they start off as in the beginning of the series is not how they end up as. Not one of the leads is an angel, or (in the cast of Kasuga and Nakamura) even a halfway nice person. But it also helps making them easy to relate to. Most of us can safely say that junior high (or high) school is one of the toughest parts of childhood, and there were a lot of creeps then. Flowers of Evil is not afraid to show the creeps, the perverts, the snobs, the depressing, and the unpleasant. (As mentioned earlier, there is little comedic antics in the series period to offset everything.)

Well, time to point out the elephant in the room concerning the animated adaptation of Flowers of Evil. I'm referring to the rotoscoped animation the series uses. Not unlike Ralph Baskhi's animated films, the animation in this series is entirely rotoscoped, with the characters resembling their actors more than they do the original manga's illustrations. Up-close the characters look incredibly detailed. But put them at a distance of more than 5 or so feet from each other and a lot of detail is lost. Characters with unique facial features turn into stringless marionettes when far away. The effect at times looks downtime comical and off-putting in a series that's primarily a drama. Eventually one gets used to the series' unique artistry, though.

On the other hand, Flowers of Evil's art and cinematography is gorgeous, putting most other anime to complete shame. The backgrounds reach levels at times that even Studio Ghibli would be jealous of. Roads have bumps and cracks, signs have worn, decayed metal, and buildings have graffiti on them. I can't even imagine the workload the animators in ZEXCS had to put in to make this look so good across the entire run time.

In a time where high school comedies are made literally by the dozen, it's nice to see one that isn't a harem, a bunch of goof-offs in a club, or someone trying to believe in themselves. Flowers of Evil shows school life exactly for what it really is; a dark, depressing, and at times even scary part of one's life. Hiroshi Nagahama and his team tell more with three characters in 13 episodes than more bloated high school anime series do with quadruple the cast and double the length. You don't just get to watch Nakamura, Kasuga, and Saeki; you begin to feel like you're right there with them. It wastes no time drawing you in, and the amount of filler in the entire series can be counted in just a handful of humorous scenes.

Flowers of Evil is a show I would gladly watch another season if it continued. I can't recommend it enough to those who like (or even don't like) anime.

The rotoscoped animation style might be distracting, but Flowers of Evil more than makes up for it with incredibly fleshed-out characters and a fanatically told story arc.Tim Jones

Recommended Audience: The leads might be 14 or so years old, but this is not a show for the younger teenager. There's violence, blood, suggestive content, and scenes that look like/are attempted rape. Viewer discretion advised.



Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Flowers of Evil © 2013 King Records Company Ltd. / Shuuzou Oshimi / Kodansha