Anime First Impressions: Flowers of Evil
The divisive power of rotoscoping
By Joseph Luster
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I decided to wait until at least episode three to gather my thoughts on the Flowers of Evil anime adaptation for a few reasons. The primary factor is pacing. While I've read all five volumes of Shuzo Oshimi's manga (you can read the latest review here) that Vertical Inc. has published thus far, the anime enjoys a much more languid pace. This ends up working in its favor narratively, for the most part, but the truly divisive aspect of Flowers of Evil has been its distinct aesthetic choice.
Flowers of Evil doesn't look like your typical anime. It uses rotoscoped versions of real actors to convey the story of Takao Kasuga and his increasingly twisted encounters with class weirdo Sawa Nakamura. Does that mean it's a bad thing? Absolutely not. Some have gone as far as to call the characters here straight up ugly, and maybe some of them are, but why does it matter? Would anyone really be that much happier if Flowers of Evil looked like every other anime out this season? The studio responsible, ZEXCS (Rental Magica, Cuticle Detective Inaba), could have easily gone down that path, and I'm really happy they chose not to.
For those who haven't read the manga, Flowers of Evil follows the quiet, bookish Kasuga, who lives a fairly uninteresting life until one slightly perverted impulse sends him down a dreadful spiral of blackmail and confused middle school emotions. When his nose isn't buried in the poetry of Baudelaire, he's staring down the barrel of it at his school crush, Nanako Saeki. One day, after the classroom has emptied, he sees it: Saeki's gym uniform lying slumped in its bag on the floor. Curiosity and hormones draw him closer, and in a moment of panic he swoops down, picks it up, and runs off with it.
Next thing you know, the whole class suspects that some deviant creep came in and took Saeki's outfit, when in reality it's just the telltale heart in Kasuga's sweaty-palmed possession. Everything can go back to normal, though, right? He can just put it back and be done with it, surely. If only his classmate Nakamura hadn't seen it all go down. She quickly becomes a whispering voice in his ear. A non-stop reminder of the perversion deep within, refusing to leave him be until he reveals his true self to her, lest she tell the whole class what a maniac he really is.
And maybe she's not totally off. She bores so deep into Kasuga's psyche in such a short amount of time that his already fragilely forming self-image is rocked. Now he's in this precarious situation where he wants to develop some kind of relationship with Saeki, but has Nakamura pretty much literally on his back at all times. Never letting him forget. Never letting him move on. It seems like the kind of thing that could be easily resolved, but Flowers of Evil does a great job of creating a cloud of misery over a seemingly innocent mistake, and burrows further and further from that surface drop-off.
In the hands of director Hiroshi Nagahama (Mushi-Shi, Detroit Metal City) and writer Aki Itami (scripts for Fruits Basket and Mushi-Shi), Flowers of Evil pretty much perfectly captures the spirit of the original manga. Shinichiroh Ueda is spot-on as Kasuga, adding just the right amount of flailing comedy to his sheepish, self-doubting nature. Mariya Ise likewise does a great job of conveying Nakamura's wicked smile and her ability to go from cold and calculating to a whirlwind of intensity in a matter of seconds. Do they look exactly like their manga counterparts? Not really, and it's a non-issue.
Just like Oshimi's manga, there's a special kind of authenticity to the Flowers of Evil anime, and a lot of it has to do with the style to which ZEXCS committed. It's the anime equivalent of the real-life locations and explanations thereof scattered throughout the comic. The live-action foundation makes way for the type of details that probably wouldn't have made it through the normal animation process, and it complements the hypnotic pacing that's kind of like, I don't know, dangling your feet in the water and staring out at the riverbank. It's not boring, but it sure as hell isn't a thriller. It's just tough for me to imagine how this show is received by anyone who hasn't read the manga at all, because I know what's going to happen and I'm just along for the ride.
There are a lot of things I enjoy about Flowers of Evil. I love the exciting opening theme, full of youthful energy that contrasts nicely with the show's contents. The ending theme is its own strangely appropriate oddity, too. All in all, Flowers of Evil nearly makes it to the end of the first manga volume over the course of three episodes, with thirteen planned in total. Therefore, my only true concern is how much ground ZEXCS will be able to cover. The way things are going, I don't want anything to be rushed, but I also don't want this thing to end prematurely unless there's going to be more. We'll see how it plays out as the season progresses, but I definitely recommend adding it to your watch list.
You can currently stream Flowers of Evil over at Crunchyroll, and Sentai Filmworks has licensed the series for digital and home video release.