Recap: Kasuga sneaks into Nakamura’s room and discovers her secret diary. When she barges in however, he soon finds himself in a whole new world of trouble.
“It’s better to burn out than to fade away” was one of the last things Kurt Cobain wrote down before he shot a bullet through his own skull. Why slowly wither into misery and obscurity when you can go out in a blaze? All things considered, The Flowers of Evil could not have wished for a more fitting end. It died just like how it lived, taking controversy with it to its grave. With one whopping summary of things yet to come, seamlessly weaved into a big flashback showing Kasuga reflecting on his entire life and his actions up to now, The Flowers of Evil skillfully avoids drifting into obscurity as a result of lacking the number of episodes needed to reach a point in the manga that could pass as an ending. In stead, it opts to burn out by giving us a summary of what is yet to come in mere minutes. It is load, chaotic, fast paced, and therefore most of all, completely unlike the show we have been watching for the past twelve weeks. Yet it would not be The Flowers of Evil if this move was not a very divisive one. Did the show masterfully raise the stakes to get viewers pumped for what is yet to come, or did it just effectively commit suicide by spoiling every single bit of the story left?
At first glance, there seems to be one important thing many detractors of this episode forgot, namely that despite being fairly uneventful, this finale did manage to provide the overall show with a satisfying conclusion. As I briefly mentioned in last week’s post, the anime adaptation seems to focus above all else on the mystery of Sawa Nakamura. While we will never get any real answers about the hows and whys that drive her, this episode at least confirmed that she’s not just in it for the laughs. The Flowers of Evil is about how hanging around with some severely messed up people drags a boy with some serious self-esteem issues to the pits of hell. The shocking swerves surrounding those bits of characterization previewed in the big flash forward at the end of this episode are just as subordinate as the giant robot battles in Neon Genesis Evangelion. By cramming all the moments of madness of future chapters into a single compilation, The Flowers of Evil essentially admits that those are far less essential than the many quiet moments that characterized this adaptation. What is important is that the audience now knows the characters, and with Kasuga finally embracing his deviant fate and teaming up with Nakamura, these short hints are all they need to figure out how quickly this will all go very wrong.
If we look at it from that perspective, it feels appropriate to bring up Neon Genesis Evangelion once again. In many ways, this ending is pretty similar to the controversial original ending of the Gainax masterpiece. Instead of wrapping up the confusing dangling plot threads concerning the Angels, the Human Instrumentality Project and the Third Impact, the televised ending of Evangelion focused entirely on the protagonist’s inner struggles. It essentially admitted that none of that really mattered, and that the show contained more than enough hints for the viewers themselves to interpret whatever the heck was going on outside of Shinji’s head. Just like The Flowers of Evil, Evangelion decided to shove everything else aside in favour of its characters, provoking the audience in the process. Yet unlike Evangelion, The Flowers of Evil actually does have a clear-cut continuation. The manga is right there for the taking, and there is nothing holding you back from giving it a go.
There is no better evidence of this ending being essentially an act of rebellion than the fact that in general, it has been much better received by those who have not read the manga than by those who swear by it. For the former, it was an incredibly compelling teaser that could easily pass as an open ending, for the latter it counted as complete and utter betrayal. Yet what is most important in the end is that with this episode, the Flowers of Evil anime has managed to craft an identity of its own, an interpretation of the same story that is remarkably faithful, yet entirely different. The anime is a more morose, more introverted, more human mirror image of the story provided by the vile, shock-heavy manga. With its controversial ending, it essentially distances itself from its source material, of which it knows it will eventually outlast its legacy. In an ideal world, the Flowers of Evil anime we got would have had the budget, the number of episodes and the animation it needed to convey the manga in its entirely from A to Z. Yet on planet Earth, the anime we got certainly did everything it could to struggle for the attention it deserved with what little resources it had been given. For pulling that off, and even daring to respectfully kick its daddy in the shins on its way out, it deserves all the praise it can get.
The Flowers of Evil should not have worked. Despite all the praise I have given it, the fact remains that it is not particularly appealing to look at, nor as perfectly paced as it likes to think it is. Nevertheless there has not been a show so fun to ponder on for a very, very long time. What The Flowers of Evil does with its small budget is often breathtaking. The primitive rotoscoping allows for beautifully fluid motions and little details. The resulting uncanny valley frequently causes chuckles where there should be none, but at other times it conveys a confrontational sense of realism few other “conventional” series can replicate. The non-existing music budget resulted in a wonderfully minimalistic soundtrack. On almost every level, The Flowers of Evil miraculously manages to turn its inherent flaws into some of its most defining strengths.
In a way, my final opinion on The Flowers of Evil has been evident from the very first time I wrote about it, and it has never really changed. It is far from the perfect adaptation it could have been, but there is no point in judging something that does not exist when what we do have is interesting enough. With splendid direction and great performances, the anime is every bit as thought provoking as the manga. Certainly, it is ugly, and with its long, pensive sequences and disturbingly incompetent oaf of a protagonist, sometimes even frustrating, but that’s just the nature of the story. We have been skipping about in flowery fantasy worlds where underwear is the dress code and colourful all-girl high schools that have seemingly no expectations from their students whatsoever for way too long now. So maybe the show’s initial detractors were right after all. Maybe The Flowers of Evil indeed is “not anime”. After all, the term has nowadays pretty much become synonymous with escapism, idealism and positivity, three traits that are few and far between in The Flowers of Evil. No, this anime is crude, confrontational and occasionally downright misanthropic, but you know what? At the very least The Flowers of Evil has a trait that most other “real” anime severely lack: It is actually damn good.
Note: I have avoided mentioning a second season because as long as that has not been explicitly announced, this anime still stands on its own and should be judged as such. At the moment, I do not think we can actually count on one, despite the “preview” and the “End of Part One” message. That could just as well be a reference to the different parts the original manga is split up in, and the ending stood strong enough on its own to be regarded as a mere preview. Besides, if a second season had been green-lighted already, it most likely would have been announced as soon as the episode ended. That is just how anime tends to do it, as evidenced by Valvrave the Liberator and Date A Live last week.