First Impressions: The Flowers of Evil

[gg]_Aku_no_Hana_-_01_[88C4AA88]_6-apr.-2013 13.53.53

Alternate Titles: Aku No Hana, Les Fleurs Du Mal
Manga Adaptation by ZEXCS
Simulcast on Crunchyroll

Premise: Takao Kasuga (Shinichirou Ueda) is an introverted high school student who takes pride in his taste in literature. Particularly obsessed with the works of Charles Baudelaire, Takao pends most of his days daydreaming, trying to get along with his frat boy friends and drooling over Nanako Saeki (Yoko Hikasa), the prettiest girl in class. One day, however, a wholly different girl crashes headfirst into his world. When the rather homely Sawa Nakamura (Mariya Ise) is chewed out by the teacher, she promptly calls him a ‘piece of shit’. Dazed by Nakamura’s renegade behaviour, Takao forgets his copy of Baudelaire’s The Flowers Of Evil, though when he rushes back to school to retrieve it, he finds something wholly different…

Aqua‘s Verdict: Not for the faint of taste

There is not a First Impressions post that could have come fast enough for The Flowers of Evil. Within mere hours, the reception to this show which popped out like a sore thumb snowballed into an apocalyptic avalanche of disappointment and ridicule. This is the show that turned anime forums and blogs into pellets of spit hurled at whoever could be blamed and filled up your average anime fan with more hate than a Nine Inch Nails record. It is not exactly uncommon for an anime to instill extreme reactions, but hardly ever has it been this venomous. If you need any examples, just scroll down a bit and witness my colleagues unleashing the flaming fury of a thousand suns upon these flowers of evil. What is even more surprising is that for once, the scale seems to be almost unanimously balanced in favour of The Flowers of Evil being the “worst anime of all time”. What could this one anime do so wrong that it fails to meet even the standards of  those who think Sword Art Online and Ro-kyu-bu! are masterpieces of our generation?

Books are a boy's best friends.

Books are a boy’s best friends.

It is that one word. Rotoscoping. A word that, apparently, should fill every fan of animation with a moticum of respect for themselves and the medium they love with seething hatred. A word that indicates something the people that claim to be disgusted by it probably can not even define. Maybe that does not matter, though, as long as that which you hate has a name. Rotoscoping is a technique where actual live action footage is drawn and animated over. In other words, it is live action footage that is directly turned into animation. Many people think this looks stilted, but I believe the entire opposite is the case. The Flowers of Evil looks remarkably human, with characters constantly moving, fidgeting and becoming more and more detailled as they come closer to the screen. Entirely analogous to the works of Shaft and recent zero-budget hit Inferno Cop, ZEXCS tries to turn limited resources into something worthwhile. This adaptation of The Flowers of Evil oozes with an ambition to do things different, a desire to spark controversy and a longing to instill extreme reactions.

I can see why people deride, or worse, outright mock The Flowers of Evil for being ugly, because it is. The Flowers of Evil is very ugly. Characters often look dopey and undetailed, entire sequences are rehashed and the spellbinding true star of the manga, Sawa Nakamura, gets hit very hard with the wrong end of the realism stick. You get no colourful cast of übermenschen here. However, that is exactly what the manga is all about. The anime just chooses to go even further. The world is plain and ugly. People are plain and ugly. Why would we sugarcoat a story about the inherent perversity of humankind with character designs reminiscent of a genre that has built a reputation for itself as the prime means of escaping this ugly world? While I will gladly admit that The Flowers of Evil very easily threads close to the dreaded uncanny valley and the lining up of lip movements or facial expressions with dialogue leaves a lot to be deserved, I salute it for its daring crossover between realistic and corrupt. Normal animation would be too by the numbers, and live-action would be too clean and restrictive. I have heard people yell that this anime, as a visual medium, betrays its audience by being appalling in the visual department, but I think The Flowers of Evil is one of the few anime that dares to use visuals to support its atmosphere, rather than as a mere means of conveying it.

There's a diference in artistic direction, and then there is this.

There’s a diference in artistic direction, and then there is this.

Nevertheless, it would not be fair to say that I am particularly fond of the art style at work here. I would be lying if I said I am not sad in the slightest we will probably never see Sawa’s succulent psychopathic antics in all their animated glory. On the other hand, however, I can see why they turned her into what she is here. She is no longer the bewitching agent of chaos the manga portrayed her as. She is just a girl; an ugly, vile girl who is fed up with this ugly, vile world. While the manga is known for tearing the masks off the traditional happy-go-lucky anime love story, the anime lifts this desecrating of the medium to whole new levels – including the visual one. In this roaring rampage, The Flowers of Evil even ends up alienating those who loved the manga’s obsessive corruption, but I, for one, am glad it decided to use a visual motive as primal and universally derided as being unceremoniously ugly to kick the entire concept of what anime has become in the shins.

That said, I do not blame you for hating the rotoscoping. What I am disappointed by, however, is that in the collective rage over an animation style already worthy of its own scare chord, everyone has forgotten about the many other aspects that make up an anime. Take the sound design, for instance. The Flowers of Evil is an absolute glory to unleash upon your eardrums. Spoken dialogue smoothly segues from one line into another with remarkable intonation rarely seen in the usual very stilted, line-by-line approach to voice acting anime often takes. While voice actors and actresses often seem to live in their respective worlds, in The Flowers of Evil they seem to be standing in the very same room, picking up the flow of dialogue where their colleagues left off. The soundtrack consists of eerie, oppressive ambient drones, quietly looming in the background until they blossom into nightmarish bellows that carry and lift the dark clouds threatening the entire show to the skies. It is a very simple, yet incredibly effective method of creating a constant sense of misanthropy and dread, brought to a stunning conclusion with an ending “song” so deliciously brilliant, it deserves a blog post of its own.

"Dude, check out my unibrow! Chicks dig unibrows!"

“Dude, check out my unibrow! Chicks dig unibrows!”

Which leaves us – in true “last, but not least” fashion – with what I think to be the most important and defining characteristic of The Flowers of Evil. Aside from the controversial animation, The Flowers of Evil is first and formost an anime focused on creating a mood. This adaptation excels at copying the dreadful, nihilistic vibes of the manga, taking its time to build up Takao’s character as an introverted boy who fails to fit in with his single-minded friends and quietly escalating to an unsettling finale that will determine the remainder of the series. This anime’s naturalistic, minimalistic approach to creating an atmosphere, with a strong focus on backgrounds, nervous movements and a uniform soundtrack, shows that its creators, despite the risk they took eventually signing their own death treaty, most definitely want to make The Flowers of Evil into something worthwhile. It filters out those that look only at the pretty pictures by hitting them where it hurts. If anything, I will take a debilitatingly flawed, yet different anime, over a decent, but boring one every day.

Lifesong’s Verdict: Why Does This Exist

The Flowers of Evil is the worst thing I’ve ever subjected my eyes to. The “animation” is actually rotoscoping and looks hideous. Aside from establishing that our protagonist suffers from depression, basically nothing happens in this episode. The story is hard to focus on thanks to the “animation” and even if you manage to get over that, the atmosphere it builds fails to evoke any emotion other than disgust. Maybe there is something to appreciate in what it tries to be, but I can only see it as a faliure.

Iro’s Verdict:

Zigg’s Verdict: Different in many ways

There’s some fascinating, insidious atmosphere permeating this show, helped in no part by excellent sound design and some sharply observed directional decisions. I feel it captures well the realistic grind of school life, something anime is famously poor at doing. The flipside is that very little actually happens this episode, so we’re mostly left to muse over possibilities. I like the undercurrent of creepy sexuality from the boys and the mysterious stone faced girl certainly provides the episode with its highlight point. It’s nice to see a show that appreciates that slowness and stillness can also convey a strong message.

On the other hand, there’s no way to get away from the fact that it looks like crap. Rotoscoping was a brave and interesting stylistic choice, and one that partially pays off with the fluidity and naturalness of the motions – look at the way the boys fidget and twitch. But as is very common with rotoscoped productions, the quality of the art cannot keep up with the movement, and the result varies between naff and creepy. The uncanny valley is particularly bad in held still shots, where the lack of detail is jarring – look at Saeki smiling for an example. I think a limited, traditional style would have offered more artistic nuance, and also given them more control. I’m interested enough to be onboard for an episode two however.

Jel’s Verdict: We Demand To Be Taken Seriously

I’ve been trying to decide whether I think Flowers of Evil looks hideous as an artistic choice or if they are just simply not capable of making it look better. I’ve come to the conclusion that either way we lose. If it’s by choice then it just comes off as a desperate attempt to be different, and not in the good, exciting way but in the obnoxious “different for the sake of being different” way.

If it’s more a lack of resources, I agree with Zigg and think more traditional low budget methods would have been a better choice (see: Bakemonogatari). Either way it’s kind of a shame the visuals are such a distraction because I kind of like the sinister, menacing vibe otherwise. Whether or not that turns out be more than immature teenage angst is hard to say since almost nothing happens, and even the interesting bit towards the end probably wouldn’t make sense if you didn’t read the manga or the series description beforehand. Part of me wants to know what happens, but I have a feeling this adaptation will only disappoint.

10 thoughts on “First Impressions: The Flowers of Evil

  1. This show has the potential to be the Anti-Madoka. Instead of growing through its fandom and becoming an experience beyond the show itself, Aku no Hana will grow through its hatedom and the bile spilled over it will elevate it to strange new heights.

    Incidentally, thinking about what Aqua said about the sound, I wonder if anyone’s tried to watch the show by covering up the parts of the screen where subtitles aren’t, and just listening to it.

  2. Interesting review. I will keep this series on the radar. Worst anime this season at present for me has to go to Photo Kano though. I felt physical excruciating pain watching the first episode.

    • Yeah the only proper way of watching that show is getting a few friends and just ragging on it the entire time like we did.

  3. Man, judging by the screenshots and video here this show wants to be live action so freaking hard. If they were planning to go through this much effort to make the art style that realistic they should have just went all the way with it.

  4. I can’t for the life of me see why people would hate this show so much. Crying over rotoscoping? Really? Anime fandom, for the most part, seems to be filled with whiny, unproductive, and unmotivated nit-pickers who have nothing to contribute but their biased opinion that lacks any credibility.

    Get your head out of kawaii-land and perhaps appreciate other mediums of art. It’s not just rotoscoping; It’s a stylistic choice that blends film direction with a stylized animation. They’re not just tracing live action actors here. They’re actually adding little details here and there, choosing still frames, and doing a couple of unique things with the original film footage that can best be portrayed by animation.

    The sound in this show is amazing and the way this adaptation portrayed makes the story that much more believable. This adds to the overall tension, i feel.

    Either way, try something different. Expand your horizons. Try actually producing something that the whole world is free to criticize before you go blabbing about how “horrible” something is. I have a feeling many of you need a good lesson in humility.

    • It is a stylistic choice that I personally consider to be hideous in a show that was otherwise entirely boring for me while offering nothing to keep me watching. I am all for expanding my horizons with storytelling, but when it comes to the look of the artwork itself it just isn’t very hard to form a final opinion here. I am being superficial and I know it, but the superficial side of anime is an important detail for me.

  5. Is a movie critic not allowed to have an opinion if he’s never directed a film? Is a food critic not allowed to have an opinion if he doesn’t own his own restaurant? The fact is we have produced something: a website with our “biased opinions”, which honestly is a redundant term. You and the whole world are free to criticize us and we are free to call things horrible if we think they are horrible.

    We are also not so arrogant as to think our opinions are the final word but instead write our anime coverage to encourage discussion with our readers and even among ourselves. That’s why we try to offer as many points of view as possible, especially with our first impressions. You’re likely to find some that you agree with and some you don’t, and we would love for everyone to share their own thoughts.

    As far as this show is concerned, I don’t agree with your opinion on it (for the reasons I already mention in my section), but I’m glad we’ve sparked some discussion on it. It sounds like you have a similar point of view as Aquagaze, so I hope you can check out his weekly coverage and share what you think.

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