We all have a little evil inside.
What They Say:
Darkness lurks everywhere, in every human heart, and sometimes it takes just a second of weakness for it to take root. For Takao Kasuga, that germination begins when his obsession with his beautiful classmate Nanako meets the opportunity to “borrow” her used gym clothes. Unfortunately, his loathsome act of laundry theft is witnessed by Nakamura, the strange girl who sits behind him in class. Soon, Nakamura’s own dark obsessions begin to hook their twisted tendrils into Takao’s miserable existence.
Blackmailed into a “contract” under the threat of having his guilt revealed to his entire class, the former bookworm who could spend hours reading Beaudelaire’s “The Flowers of Evil” now finds himself entwined in Nakamura’s growing fantasies as she leads him down the garden path to damnation. As their blossoming relationship becomes ever darker, even the seemingly innocent Nanako is pulled into the nightmare.
Just what are Nakumura’s ultimate plans, and will the increasingly trapped Takao really be willing to carry them out? What you sow, you must ultimately reap, and there’s certain to be a harrowing harvest ahead!
The audio presentation for this release gives us the original Japanese language track only which is in stereo and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that is very much dialogue driven that gets some additional push from the incidental sounds of the world, things that come across a bit more distinct here. But the same can be said of the quiet that fills so many scenes and adds to the oppressive nature of the series, which is hugely important. The main presentation with the dialogue is well handled as we get some good placement across the series and the few key scenes where some actual depth is useful as well in making you feel like the placement of everything fits naturally as it adds to the tension and drama of the scene. The dialogue itself comes across well and problem free and the show as a whole, though not one with much overt material, really does work well for what it’s intending to do in creating the right mood and doing so in an excellent way.
Originally airing in the spring of 2013, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s spread across two discs, even being a monolingual release, with nine episodes on the first and four on the second. The series was divisive among fans for its rotoscoping approach to creating the program as there are many that won’t even call it anime because of it. The look of the show is pretty distinctive, but that fades away as it progresses and you adjust to the style and become caught up in it. The transfer captures this process very well as there’s a lot of detail, a lot of good movement that’s represented here, and some very distinct color choices made to give it an earthy and worn feeling. The transfer itself really does the job well and there’s no real issues to be had, though the banding will bother some that’s fairly regular in a number of scenes but that’s inherent in the animation style itself and not an encoding issue.
The packaging for this release gives us the two disc show inside a standard sized Blu-ray case where the front cover artwork certainly gives you something evil to tie into the title itself. With a murky green background the descends into darker shades and black, we get the flower and its eye staring directly at you, something that can be pretty unsettling when you get down to it. The logo is kept simple along the bottom and they push the show a bit more with a green strip along the bottom that provides some choice review quotes for the property. The back cover works some similar color designs to it with a simple tagline while laying out the disc and episode count as well. The premise is done a bit creatively, but it’s still very easy to read overall, though the font is a touch small. The shots from the show definitely highlights the style of it and we get a standard but solid and accurate bottom third that breaks down the production credits and the technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release mirrors the front cover pretty well, though it uses a few more shades in the background and expands upon a bit to give it a more worn and earthen look that definitely fits well. The right side has the flower itself, with the eyelid at a lower point than the cover, while the logo is kept simple in the lower center. The left side has the navigation strip which breaks down the episodes by number only as there are no episode titles and it’s done in a rather workable shade of yellow that brings in some of the roots aspects from the opening animation in a good way. It all comes across even creepier when used as the pop-up menu during playback.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga by Shuzo Oshimi, which just concluded with its eleventh volume this past spring, The Flowers of Evil is a thirteen episode series that is basically the first part of a larger story. A larger story that I suspect won’t be animated, but that’s a non-issue in the end. The series got a lot of attention prior to its debut in the spring 2013 season because it used some very sparingly done promotional videos that was working off of an anticipated title as the manga definitely has a strong and vocal fanbase to it. With the decision to rotoscope the show using real actors performing all the scenes and then animating over it, that caused quite a division. I had only watched the first episode myself as the time as I wanted to see how it looked and I was definitely intrigued. Watching it here as a marathon session, I find myself wishing that we’d get a couple of shows like this a year since it offers a different feeling to certain projects.
The series works the second year middle school world in a pretty interesting way as it explores what it is that some kids, if not all kids, experience in some form or another. The premise is simple in that we meet your mostly normal kid, Takao, who has a few friends but is struggling to find his place in the complicated world that it feels like to someone his age. He’s found his niche in a way by being into some obscure books, namely the book of poetry by Charles Baudelaire that the series is named after, which makes him feel like he’s different and better than everyone else. He’s a bookworm, same as his father, and the feeling that he’s the only one in town that even knows of this book’s existence makes him feel special. That’s a big feeling to someone his age, even if he doesn’t quite get all of it and struggles with it. Just having it gives him that edge.
And like many boys his age – I can’t speak for girls as I’m not one but I’ll presume they’re largely similar – he has his crush that he dreams about regularly. She’s a classmate named Saeki who is definitely pretty, fairly popular in the class and fits his vision of the pure and almost angelic girl. You can see the dangers in it right away with how he idolizes her, but that’s also par for the course for many boys. He watches her from a distance, struggles with his feelings and with the way some of the more outgoing boys talk about her during gym class and the like, and with the way he wants to say something to her. You can easily like Saeki, for how little you know of her for a lot of it, and why he’s interested in her in a kind of superficial way. Where things go south for him is when he goes back to the classroom after school one afternoon to get his book and he stumbles across her gym bag with her shorts and t-shirt in it that aren’t clean. He’s fully tempted by it, what it represents and the kind of primal aspect of touching it, but he takes it a step too far but panicking and running home with it.
Such is the start of his downfall in a way, even if he doesn’t actually do anything with it that you’d expect from your typical pervert. He’s guilty, he’s ashamed of what he’s done, but he has a piece of her all to himself now and that helps to cement the kind of idolized bond that he has. The real problem though is that the problem child of the class, Nakamura, discovers that he’s the guilty party which has her holding a real bit of blackmail over his head when it’s discovered in class that Saeki’s uniform is gone. For Nakamura, she sees this as an opportunity to establish a contract with the panicked Takao and use it to make him her plaything. Nakamura’s a harder nut to crack as she comes across as someone who has a lot of anger issues at the world that are built up from an early age. A lot of hate, a lot of control issues, and she views everyone as dirt and beneath her. So when she discovers what Takao has done, realizes that he’s just as much a piece of shit as she is and just as much a pervert in fact and uses that to get him to do all sorts of things.
Things that in the end gives him what he wants, which is a relationship with Saeki as she forces him into all sorts of demeaning and uncomfortable roles that emasculates him. But by connecting with Saeki, where you figure most boys don’t because they see her as out of their league and unattainable, she’s drawn to him for a number of reasons that do get expressed. But her interest doubles his shame in a fascinating way. He’s ashamed of what he’s done with the uniform and what Nakamura has had him do with it. But he’s also ashamed that he’s interacting with her in a way that ruins his angelic and pure vision of her. The more he gets to know of her, and that she actually likes him and wants to be in a relationship of some sort, removes that innocence and purity. And that sends him further down a spiral that Nakamura is all too eager to exploit and push further. But for Nakamura, she ends up drawn to him as well, more so than she originally intended, but is unable to get that out there in a clear way unlike Saeki. Her feelings are more complicated in a way and watching the two of them engage in the dance they do over the course of the series is painful and heartrending.
This series has a lot of layers to it as it explores the main trio, touches on their parents involvement (and shame) and the actions that they all take which leads to a beautifully done sequence of destruction, an escape attempt and a slow fall into slumber for awhile that empties their souls until they potentially find a way to move forward. While you would expect based on the title and just the few snippets that were originally out there that we’d see something about the flowers causing evil in people or some such, what we get is a haunting and insightful look at what these kids are going through, things that so many kids and many adults can identify with, and to feel it ring so true that it can cause some anguish in your own life. So many shows are superficial and simply fun or enjoyable, but few really make you think, engage and deconstruct some of your own choices in your life and past like this one does. Watching as these three kids go through this, trying to understand each of them and what they’re feeling, is disturbingly beautiful.
The show does some nice little nods that I also got into just from a design perspective. Since I watch so many shows, I do like ones that change things up a little bit and Flowers of Evil does just that. The opening credits changes slowly across the whole season but in design, subtly, and in color, also subtly. With it being largely static in a way, these little changes as events move forward are fun and nice to see with what it presents. Similar, I really liked the ending piece in each episode where as it moved on, the black screen with the preview narration for the next episode would feature one of the flowers appearing from the darkness. Each episode adds one more to it so that by the twelfth episode, you’d have twelve of them taking up a lot of real estate and looking positively creepy. It’s a small thing, but you come to appreciate these kinds of things along the way.
I had no idea what to expect with this series overall as I didn’t watch the simulcast and avoided a lot of chatter about it because I simply wanted to experience it. And what an experience it is. This thirteen episode series, an opening arc really of a larger story apparently, stands very well on its own as a deconstruction of what certain kinds of middle school kids are like and the struggles they face within themselves. The seeds of evil are certainly within them and seeing it blossom slowly here is saddening but hugely engaging to watch. While there are “outs” that you can see along the way, especially if you’re outside of the social culture that exists within it, it may be a bit frustrating from that regard. But when you look at what it wants to explore, how it does it and how it draws the pain to the surface to be dealt with, you can look past that. A series like this is one that really needed to be produced the way it was. I can’t imagine it having half the impact if it was animated like most other shows, no matter how high quality the designs and animation. This has more life to it, more meaning to it, than pretty much the majority of shows out there because of the acting, the story and the presentation. This is definitely the kind of work that can start some seriously great if difficult conversations and is worth exploring, even if only for yourself.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: A+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: July 8th, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.